Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Mission to Worship: How Preventing Abuse Fits in the Mission of the Church


I will be part of the speaker panel at a conference entitled: Mission to Worship: With Heart, Hands, Voices, October 16-19, 2013. The catch is (for my N. American readers)…it is in South Africa! The conference is sponsored by North-West University theology faculty and the World Reformed Fellowship. I and Diane Langberg will be doing both plenary and breakout sessions on the topic of trauma counseling and the matter of responding well to abuse allegations in the church. There are other tracks so check the schedule for those topics.

It is exciting to see a theology department, seminary, and Reformed para-church organization take on the matter of sexual abuse and trafficking. Should be an exciting time.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership

Why do some spiritual leaders abuse power?


The topic of spiritual abuse has been in the news of late. In looking at the problem of cover-ups of sexual abuse within the church, we can see that not only bodies are violated and harmed, but spiritual abuse also happens to victims, their families, and those in the community who know about the abuse but are coerced to remain silent and still. Of course spiritual abuse happens outside of sexual abuse. In fact, I would hazard a guess that most of spiritual abuse happens apart from sexual abuse.

As I defined it in an earlier post, spiritual abuse is: the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Over at www.whitbyforum.com, Carolyn Custis James is blogging each Monday about the problem of spiritual abuse. You can see the first post here along with the topics she’ll look at over the next 6 weeks. Today, she will be raising some questions about the abuser and I may comment on her site as I can [note: this is written earlier and if all happens as planned, I am traveling in Rwanda today]. For those of you who don’t know of Carolyn, she is the author of Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women.

What Do We Know About Those Who Abuse?

The truth is we do not have empirical survey evidence for those who use spiritual tools to harm or manipulate others. But, we can say something about the kinds of reasons why someone might want to coerce and manipulate. We know things about this activity because we all have participated in coercive acts. We have used others for our own purposes. In the words of an old Larry Crabb book, we have chosen manipulation of over ministry to those we love. So, in this way, we can learn a bit about why some try to control others by looking at why we try to control others:

  • Fear. We fear losing control, having someone disrupt our plans. We worry that we will be left, abandoned, rejected. We worry that what is important to us will not be cherished and valued by others so we seek to control the outcome. Notice that much of what we want as outcomes are good things. In spiritual matters, it is not good for people to do things that dishonor God. So, we may try to force our kids or parishioners to do what they ought to do. But force violates the picture of love God gives us in the Scriptures. He does not force us to come to him. He draws and woos us.
  • Love of Power. We must admit that we sometimes control others because we like seeing the evidence of our own power. Ever had someone trying to do something to you and you wanted to prove that you could beat them at their game? Maybe you thought, “I’ll show you who’s the boss around here!” This is nothing less than a love of one’s own power. God gives us power. Power is not wrong. But the use of it to serve self (even if in the name of God) is an abuse of power. Spiritual leaders have power of words and these words can be easily used to glorify self.
  • Efficiency. Power works. It gets us what we want. If the outcome is good, then the means seem good. End of story. Spiritual abuse works. People fall in line. They remain orderly and do not disturb church leader’s good goals.
  • Ego. Self is part of why we treat others as objects. We think about self, needs, desires, wants, and expectations. The stronger the ego, the more confidence we have that our way of seeing the world, our expectations, our outcomes are the right ones. And the stronger our confidence, the deafer we become to other ways of seeing the world. Narcissism sometimes operates out of fear (see bullet point 1) but also operates out of arrogance and pride. We become blind to others, insensitive to needs of others. Ego in ministry is a worship of self in place of worship of God—a God who illustrates sacrificial leadership! 
  • Habit. I would argue that many of us engage in controlling behaviors without much thought at all. It is habit or learned behaviors from others. It is said, rather crassly, that starving people tend to starve others. It means that we who have been controlled or manipulated tend to learn the habits of controlling behavior (like tug-of-war, it is natural to pull back in the opposite direction). But in doing so we may become controlling ourselves. So, many are unaware that they may be attempting to control others. Spiritual abuse has been passed down in the name of godly leadership and so many are just doing what they learned from others.

 What Can We Do From Inside The System?

There is little that we can do to stop others who want to abuse, especially when they are knowingly predatory. However, much of the above motives do not fall into intentional abuse—even the love of power. In the cases of naïve or unthoughtful abuse, we can bring truth to light in a couple of ways:

  1. Validate: “What?” you might be asking, “Won’t that encourage them?” On the contrary, validation often opens the validated to conversation and dialog where bare confrontation leads to defense and counter-attack. So, if you see someone who is seeking a good end (e.g., obedient children) but using coercive means, try to validate the good goal even as you suggest alternatives or point out that the means seems to be control oriented or objectifying.
  2. Raise questions: What outcomes are you seeking? How do you think the manipulated person might be feeling? How might you convey concern for the person as well as the situation? How might a good goal become perverted in the intensity by which we seek that goal?
  3. Say ouch. Sometimes just saying, “I’m hurt” can signal to some that they have over-stepped boundaries.

Not all should stay inside an abusive system. But, for those who feel they can stay, these are some of the things they can do. I would love to hear what else others have tried.

8 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, conflicts, counseling, Psychology, Uncategorized

How one church has taken up the task of addressing sexual abuse


As a christian psychologist, I work with disasters of the church. No one comes to me to tell me how their abuse was handled in a fabulous way. I get to hear all the mistakes. So, it can be tempting for me to believe that no church handles sexual abuse or abuse allegations in a healing manner.

But that would not be true. Many churches do a phenomenal job addressing this problem. Below is a link to a site illustrating how one church handled the topic. This church put a lot of time into crafting an event with aftercare, resources, and prevention plans. Check out this link to see what pastor and counselor Brad Hambrick’s church did: the sermon, video of the after service care, additional resources including other media and policy on dealing with child abuse allegations.

1 Comment

Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling

Pastors as chaplains to child victims of abuse


Over at the Seminary’s  blog site, I have a post on the role of pastors with victims of abuse. It is designed to correct the all-too-common failure of church leaders to support (publicly) victims as they go through the legal system.

You can read it here: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/faculty-blog/96-regular-content/716-pastors-as-chaplains-to-victims-of-abuse

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastors and pastoring

Abuse in the Church: Pastoral Responsibilities, Ministry Opportunities


This afternoon I will be speaking to pastors, ministers, elders, and key ministry leaders of the Bible Fellowship Church denomination at their annual conference. Their website states they have over 65 churches and over 10,000 in worship on a given Sunday.

It is a wonderful opportunity to talk about a difficult subject: abuse in the church.

We would like to believe that it happens elsewhere. But the church is not free from those who would harm children. The church has never been free from matters of abuse. The Apostle Paul takes a church to task for putting up with what sounds like abuse and incest. Thankfully, the evangelical church is waking up to the need to educate leaders about sexual abuse and how to care for both victims and perpetrators.

If you are interested in seeing what I will be talking about, here’s the slide show: Abuse In the Church

NEED MORE RESOURCES?

If you are new to this blog, use the search engine to find many other posts about preventing and responding abuse in the church. Or, click the image to the right for a 5 plus hour DVD on this very topic. Or check out www.netgrace.org for excellent resources and help on dealing with abuse in Christian settings.

1 Comment

Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, trauma

Getting the Right Treatment for Sexual Abuse? 7 Questions to Consider


You will find the theme of sexual abuse all over the news these days, from clergy sexual abuse to teacher-student improprieties. This level of public discussion allows some victims to feel empowered to speak about past abuse. Hopefully these same individuals find the courage to seek out a counselor to address ongoing struggles with memories, shame, and self-doubt.

But will just any counselor do?

How can you know if the counselor you’ve picked is the right one? Are there questions you can ask to determine whether you are getting good care? Check out the following questions.

How does my counselor handle my disclosure of sexual abuse?

It takes great courage to tell another person about violations of body and soul. Victims fear not being believed, blamed, or worse, having their secret told to others. Thus, when a person sets aside those fears and speaks of what has been hidden, it is a great honor to be blessed with that story. Consider these questions to see how your counselor rates:

  • Does my counselor show evidence of great care for my story? Do they treat it as precious? Once you have told the story, what do they do next? While we counselors hear many tales of woe, it can be tempting to ignore sexual trauma, especially if it happened many years ago or is especially horrific. Some counselors think that past experiences should remain there. They choose to focus only on present problems. Or, counselors can dive into the story and unintentionally force the client to talk too much about the abuse before trust has been fully established.
  • Does my counselor seem in a rush to “get beyond” my abuse to forgiveness, confrontation or reconciliation? There is a place and time to talk about these matters. However, if you have just started telling your story and these topics are their prime focus, then you know that they are most interested in getting to the end of the story, the happily ever after part. The impulse to get to the end will inevitably make you feel like your abuse was a mere trifle.
  • Does my counselor seem to have an unhealthy interest in all the details of my abuse? Counselors who ignore your abuse story are not the only danger. Counselors who dive into your story with great relish may cause you to feel re-victimized. There is a time and place for telling the story in greater detail (so as to process what you have come to believe about yourself and others). Those who rush in to the gory details seem to think that all story-telling is beneficial (see this link for the difference between bad and good trauma storytelling). By the way, a counselor who offers you private access (texting, emailing, late-night phone calls, house visits) without limits and boundaries may be offering you something that is for them and NOT you.
  • Does my counselor let me set the pace of counseling? The heart of abuse is oppression and stealing voice and power (I’ve written more about that in my chapter in this book). A good therapist may unintentionally re-enact abuse when they use their position to coerce clients to meet their own agenda. A benign dictator is still an oppressor! A common question I have received from beginning counselors goes something like this, “How can I make [name] tell me about her abuse?” My answer? You should not try to force her. What happened to her was coercion. You can provide a small modicum of healing by allowing her to decide when and if she will tell you anything. “But, won’t that mean that [name] will not get better?” Yes, it means her recovery will take longer. But consider this: you are undoing her abuse experience by giving her power to decide what she does with her body, including her mouth. It is true that there will be some pushing and prodding, but it should be gentle with the client feeling that he or she has the power to say no or to slow down the process.
  • Does my counselor educate me about trauma symptoms and typical treatments? Trauma symptoms (intrusive memories, hypervigilance, attempts to avoid triggers, numbing, etc.) are not just a psychological phenomenon. The whole body has been traumatized. Your counselor should be able to talk about the effect of trauma on the brain at a lay person level. Further, your counselor should be able to tell you what we *think* we know about the biology of trauma and what we still do not know. (By the way, if they are too enamored with one particular theory or cure-all treatment…RUN).

 A quality counselor will also talk to you about the typical 3 phase model of trauma recovery. They will educate you why it is important to develop good self-care strategies and to eliminate harmful behaviors (addictions, cutting, risky behaviors) before entering into the work of processing memories. They will tell you that safety and stabilization phase (first and ongoing) is about finding ways to stay in the present and to reduce dissociation. When you do tell your story in greater detail, the effective counselor always leaves room in each session to help you leave the office well.

  • When my memories are fuzzy, does my counselor urge me to try to remember? The very nature of talking about past events (whether happy or horrific) brings old memories to the surface. Inevitably, a client will recall some feature of their abuse they had not remembered for some period of time. Or, they will recall something in a very different light and as a result it will feel like a brand new memory. However, your counselor should not be intent on finding lost memories. There are two reasons for this. First, memories can be constructed. When details are vague, our minds may have ways of filling in the blanks with false ideas (However, the likelihood of constructing an entire memory of abuse ex nihilo is rather rare. In my 24 years of counseling, no abuse victims in my office ever reported having NO lasting memory of abuse. All recalled many details even if some details were not). Second, God may have a reason for keeping certain memories from you. Not everything needs to be remembered to get well.
  • What goal does my counselor seek? Counseling works best when counselee and counselor agree on goals and the means to get to those goals. Do the goals your counselor seeks make sense to you? Some goals are unrealistic and even dangerous. “Completely healed” or “as if it never happened” are unlikely and could even be dangerous in that they would make you vulnerable to re-victimization. Goals to confront, cut-off, or reconcile may be legitimate but expectations and safety plans must be reviewed ahead of time. Consider also that reconciliation may not be a good idea.

Your Questions?

I have just touched the surface on a few questions. You might have many other questions you’d like answered. Feel free to suggest questions here and I will attempt to answer some over the next few days.

7 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Christianity, counseling science, counseling skills

Important series on abuse this week at www.rachelheldevans.com


This week, Rachel Held Evans will be blogging about the topic of abuse in Christian settings. Each day she will be making AM and PM postings by giving voice to victims and professionals, respectively. For example, this morning’s post is a guest post by Mary Demuth (see link below). This afternoon, she will post and interview with my friend, Boz Tchividjian, executive director of GRACE (and this year’s graduation speaker at Biblical Seminary).

Check the blog each day. I believe she will post a blog by me tomorrow afternoon!

2 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Christianity

Trauma and Trafficking DVDs on Amazon


Nearly 2 years ago (March 2011), Biblical Seminary put on a conference about the problem of sexual trauma and trafficking. Our speakers included Dr. Diane Langberg (a noted psychologist), Bethany Hoang (IJM), Robert Morrison (a grassroots organizer), and Pearl Kim (now ADA for 2 Philadelphia counties). The sessions covered domestic and international sex trTrauma and Traffickingafficking, abuse and violence against women worldwide, the problem of sexual abuse in christian organizations, and how to mobilize community action without expending energy on non-profit status.

It was a powerful conference…and you can own it for a mere $19.99. Here’s the link to Amazon. Or, you can find it here at Vision Video (along with MP4 options as well) for 20% off.

This DVD set (3 DVDs) are an excellent starting point if you or your church group want to think more deeply about the biblical call to justice in the area of trafficking, trauma, and violence against women, whether “out there” or in the church.

Look for information on purchasing our most recent DVD series, Abuse in the Church, in the next week.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Diane Langberg, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

The problem of abuse and avoidance of grief


Last Monday night we had the privilege of having Dr. Diane Langberg on campus to speak to our counseling students. One of the 4 talks she did was entitled, “The Spiritual Impact of Child Sexual Abuse.” She stated that it was material that she developed after publishing her book, Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse. As you can imagine, she gave us a very powerful talk. But of all the things she said, one idea seemed to hit students and faculty alike. I do not have her quoted here but rather the essence,

  • Grief may be the most powerful emotion in sexual abuse survivors, more powerful than the pain of the abuse
  • Most clients work really hard to avoid grief; encouraging good grief is difficult work

I’m not doing justice to her thoughts here. But, I think she nails it. Sexual abuse destroys relationships, faith, trust, identity, and physical bodies. To grieve is to name and acknowledge what was lost, broken, stolen, etc. and to admit that many of the broken things cannot be restored in this life–at least to the levels that we desire. The work of counseling surely includes coming to a correct understanding about guilt, shame, love, boundaries. The work of counseling is about reconnecting with God and others. The work of counseling is about rebuilding identity. But, all of these activities require grieving what did take place, grieving what was lost (real or symbolic).

Most of us, whether we have suffered abuse or not, would rather not sit with grief. And so, we run. However, if the heart of God is shown in lament for the world that is not as it should be, then we ought not to run from grief.

May God show us how to lament and live in peace at the same time.

2 Comments

Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, counseling, Diane Langberg

Dissociation (amnesia) and remembering abuse anew?


How is it that someone could forget a horrific event or experience? What is happening when something new is remembered about a very old event? Is it possible to forget (lose the capacity to recall) for long periods of time but then later remember?

Continuing my series on memory, abuse, and the controversies of recovered memories [you can read my previous posts: here, here, and here], I now want to address the issue of dissociation, amnesia, and remembering abuse. In those previous posts we have looked at how memory can be degraded by intent (conscious denial or unconscious rejection), by other overwhelming stimuli, or by failure to encode. But, since I have not spent much time on the topic of dissociation and repression, I want to say just a few words about these two ideas–in part because they are frequently used but poorly defined.

What is Dissociation? Is Amnesia a better term?

People define dissociation in a variety of ways but most definitions include some disconnection from present reality–sensations of disconnection from self, others, or time–and exists on a continuum. The most mundane forms happen everyday. You are driving from point A to point B but realize you cannot remember what you saw along the way. While we could describe this as a failure to encode data into memory, we could also describe the process, a disconnecting from what is happening in the present. Some dissociation is even beneficial. If you have ever been in pain but then got a distracting phone call, your pain perceptions probably decreased. You were, in effect, dissociating from the present experience of pain.

Now, when we talk about dissociation from a counseling perspective, we are talking about a more significant disconnection from present experiences, one that often seems to happen outside the conscious control of the person (but may be a practiced habit that happens without mindful decision). Dissociative experiences include feeling unreal, disconnected from the body, unable to engage the present, unable to remember salient portions of pesonal identity, or even, rarely, the presentation of alternate personality states that appear to fight for control of the individual.

You can imagine that if you are in the position of a repeated trauma (such as child sexual abuse by a parent figure) and unable to escape it, you might develop ways of dealing with the pain by disconnecting from the present. As a result, you might find that any time you begin to feel unsafe, you naturally disappear in some minor or major way. What happens during that “disappearance” depends on the individual. For some, they are reliving some other experience (I’m no longer present but reliving a painful event in my life). For others, they report being blank–thinking and feeling absolutely nothing. The most telling sign to a therapist is that the client no longer seems to be present in the room (nonreactive or reacting clearly to something other than is going on in the present). Whatever the form of disconnection, most then experience some level of inability to remember portions of the trauma.

Interestingly, there is some evidence that those who dissociate have greater capacity to self-hypnotize. In addition, McNally describes a study (in Remembering Trauma) that followed a person with psychogenic amnesia who had altered brain function when in amnestic states.

Does dissociation lead to forgetting traumatic data?

Can a person dissociate enough to create a persistent amnesia for a traumatic event? There is evidence that those who experience frequent disconnected states have greater difficulty remembering important details of traumatic events. However, many would say that repression is a better conceptual tool to explain such forgetting. But then, repression is not well-defined either (even Freud himself interchanged repression and suppression when talking about decisional vs. unconscious forms of forgetting). Despite the frequent use of repression in common parlance (and without the Freudian baggage) I would suggest that amnesia or motivated forgetting may be better terms, a bit more descriptive and less connected to psychoanalytic theory.

Whatever you call it, some level of forgetting can happen to those experiencing relentless traumas.

  • a young Jewish woman forced into an internment camp has her infant child ripped from her and killed. After the war, a relative asks the woman about the child and the woman responds, “what baby?” Only much later does she remember having a child or how this child died.
  • A young male cannot remember much about his childhood. When asked about his Uncle (only 5 years older than he), he can only remember a vague uncomfortable feeling. His younger brother recounts this uncle would routinely enter their bedroom at night to sodomize both boys. Only after numerous conversations does the older brother begin to remember abuse details, even beyond those supplied to him by his younger brother.

Forgetting then Remembering anew?

In my 23 years of counseling I have never encountered someone who recovered memories of a trauma after completely blocking all memory (I believe it is theoretically possible but extremely rare). I have, however, had a number of clients recall previously long forgotten or vaguely remembered traumas. Often when they recall events with VASTLY new interpretations, so new that it feels like an entirely new memory even as they admit the memory isn’t new to them. Here’s a real example (with details changed to disguise identity),

Alice, a 52-year-old elementary school principal, enters individual therapy at her husband’s insistence to deal with her irritability at home. She admits she has developed a fantasy of leaving her husband for the new (and younger) president of the school board. She discloses that this fantasy began not long after her husband suffered a work-related accident rendering him partially disabled. During the initial intake Alice denied any history of trauma or abuse. As the therapy progressed, it became evident that Alice connected her personal identity to that of being pursued–something that her husband no longer attempted. In addition, her attempts to flirt with the school board president had been ignored. In a moment of frustration, Alice exclaimed, “I’ve always known that men found me very enticing, ever since I developed [breasts] at an early age. I’ve always had to be so careful around men, especially married men. I knew they wanted me and that made me feel dangerous but desirable. Now, who am I if no one wants me?” Alice’s therapist asked her to recount a bit of her early sexual history and without much delay Alice reported her first sexual experience at age 12 with her 35-year-old, married Sunday School teacher. She recalled her teacher hugging and fondling her breasts while telling her about his failing marriage and the need for the two of them to avoid further sexual temptation. At age 16, she reported that she and a 4o-something father of a child she babysat engaged in a 6 month sexual relationship.  Alice’s counselor indicated some surprise at how Alice described both experiences. She asked Alice how she would describe the same interactions between one of her current 6th grade students and a school teacher. Alice immediately flushed with horror. “Why, it would be child abuse!” Once Alice regained her composure, she explored how she had always remembered herself as the protagonist in both experiences. In that session and over the next several weeks, Alice reported a flood of new memories, mostly about things done or said by the two sexually abusing men and now interpreted to be predatory behavior. On several occasions she reported that it felt like she had never had these memories before even though she recounted that she never forgot the sexual encounters. The new interpretations and labels created the experience of recovering long-lost memories–ones that seemed blocked as long as she was responsible for the trysts but freed in light of her victim interpretation.

In this little vignette I want to illustrate that memories of abuse can be forgotten, whether only small portions or large, and remembered anew. Recalled or recovered memories are frequent as individuals gain the freedom to explore events from different vantage points. A therapist does not need to go on an abuse hunt or attempt to conjure up forgotten memories for this to happen. Merely exploring the narrative of a prior difficult experience can be all the priming a client needs to begin to experience “new” remembering.

But here’s where good therapy differs from unethical therapy: how the therapist responds to or pursues memories may be the determining factor when it comes to the development of false memories of past abuse. In the next post we will take up the ethics of memory work and explore therapist habits that may produce false memories of abuse.

7 Comments

Filed under Abuse, counseling, counseling science, memory, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, Uncategorized