Reliving memories long after trauma. Why does it happen?


I just returned from a week’s trip to Lebanon to train participants in a Scripture-Engaged mental health-informed trauma healing program. It was a wonderful experience. I made new friends, heard important stories of hardship and God’s faithfulness. I ate good (no, great!) food, and saw some beautiful scenery. Now, as I try to get my body clock back on home time zone, I’m waking early. In those wee hours of the morning, many of these memories come without any seeming effort on my part. There are great ones–laughter, sweet times, a poignant story of pain and heartache, a story of courage–and the brief moments of terror in several taxi rides. Since we survived the taxi rides, these latter memories are no longer negative as much as they invoke a chuckle or two.

In a small way, I’m reliving and recalling memories. I can smell the smells. I can feel the tension of riding in the front seat of a taxi going 60 miles an hour on a city street or the driver’s attempt to squeeze between a barrier and a large truck at a high rate of speed with only inches to spare. I can feel it and see it. And I didn’t even try to recall either the good or the bad. They just appeared.

This is how traumatic memory works. You experience a trauma and later flashes of memory–painful, shocking, unwanted–appear after the subtlest of triggers. You do not merely remember it, you feel it. You taste it, as if it were happening again. They come in bits and pieces, flashes and images; rarely in a linear sequential fashion.

While most good and bad memories fade and are replaced by new and more salient experiences, some memories stay powerfully strong and consistently intrude into the present. Even when we tell ourselves, “We’re safe now. We are no longer in danger” or “You’re not a child anymore, you are grown up and don’t have to be afraid of being hit,” the memories and associated feelings keep coming. It is as if your logic and perceptions aren’t able to moderate the response.

Let me give you a little silly example. I once became violently ill  for 4 days after eating deli turkey. To this day I cringe and feel stomach pain when presented with deli turkey. That experience was more than 12 years ago. Yet still I react. I know that what is in front of me is not tainted but it doesn’t seem to matter to my stomach.  Sure, the reaction I have is minimal and faded compared to immediately after my illness. But it is not gone.

Why does this happen? What are the processes in play that keep us experiencing and reliving what may be old and distant–as if it were still present? What follows is brief and a relatively simplistic summary of two very complex processes. Use them to help you understand yourself or a friend and to increase your empathy for those trapped in such processes.

Memory and the Connected Self

Psychology focuses much of its work on the individual person–the self. However, the self never exists outside of social connections (or disconnections) with others. Our understanding of our self begins at birth with billions of interactions (smiles, frowns, words, touch, etc.) with others. As we develop and become aware of ourselves, we often have key experiences of success or failure that continue to shape our sense of self long into the future. Find someone with a powerful sense of failure and you will find someone who will struggle to interpret present success as indicative of who they are. Whether success or failure oriented, both outlooks form on the basis of how we perceive that others see us. It seems that shame and humiliation act as intensifiers making it hard to alter our sense of self even after corrective experiences. They turn me from “bad things happened to me” into “I am bad.”

Memory and the (dis)Connected Brain

In simplistic language, the brain is an amazingly connected and efficient organ firing constantly day and night. Memories are stored and accessed, intensified or eroded, and often altered through the firing of neurons. The efficient brain “learns” to access information quickly. Just as you no longer have to think to insert your key into a lock the right side up, you also no longer have to consciously recall a memory–it just happens. Because multiple hormones and structures in the brain are involved in memory formation, it stands to reason that ignoring a life-altering memory (and the full-bodied experience of it) is next to impossible. Structures like the brainstem, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus are evaluating and communicating (or not) with high-level processing within the cortex even before you know it. Thus, a memory and its reaction is already well-underway before a person can think and critique such a memory.

So, are we doomed to be controlled by our past?

No. There is ample evidence that we can form new connections and minimize intrusive and unwanted memories. The brain is plastic. It is adaptable and changeable. And yet, we are not in the age of the MiB neuralyzer. God does not usually remove us from our histories or make them so distant they have no effect on us. Adaptation takes time and energy and rarely is so complete that the person no longer feels nothing when they recall a painful event (in fact, feeling nothing might be rather dangerous as it would be a denial of reality).

So, the next time you are beating yourself up for still struggling with the past (or are questioning why a loved one can’t move beyond a trauma), be gentle. Consider instead how you might develop a corrective response that accepts what has happened and gives opportunity for a new second response after the first automatic reaction.

 

 

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Trauma-informed churches?


Yesterday I wrote a bit about trauma-informed organizations that seek to ensure that the ministries they provide neither harm recipients or staff members. That post focused on para-church organizations serving highly-traumatized populations and encouraged them to do some self-evaluation. But, today I’d like to add just a few additional thoughts on how churches might improve care for traumatized people in their pews.

Types of Trauma in the Church

Churches, by definition, are filled with broken people. That is just as God intended. And also as God intended, most find the church a safe place to heal and be restored–to God and to neighbor. But some find it a bit harder to feel safe in a church setting. In particular, those,

  • who have been harmed (spiritually, physically, emotionally) by church leaders
  • who have deep and hidden shame from interpersonal betrayals (sexual abuse, domestic abuse, forced perpetration, etc.)
  • who have experiences difficult to be understood by many (e.g., veterans)
  • who have secondary trauma (more invisible than most traumas) and who think they should be over it already

How can churches evaluate current policies and practices to ensure that both congregants and staff are cared well for and not unintentionally compounding trauma experiences? Consider the following list as a starting point for conversations among pastors, elders, staff, and lay leaders.

  1. Do we have a basic understanding of the nature, causes, and symptoms of trauma?
    • Search this site for many resources on this topic
    • Watch free videos here about making the church a safe place for victims
  2. Do we understand key features of systemic abuse that might infect our church
    • Use the link just above to explore the symptoms of narcissistic systems and leaders
    • Search this site for more resources as well
  3. Do we have a child abuse prevention plan? Preventing future abuse also provides some level of healing from past victims.
  4. Does our child abuse prevention plan also include ongoing training, care for staff, and a robust response plan when abuse allegations surface?
  5. Are we aware of subtle forms of spiritual abuse? How do we protect vulnerable populations?
    • Explore the dangers of “sin-leveling” (making victim responses on par with offender actions)
  6. Victims often develop poor coping mechanisms (e.g., addictions, resistance to authority, reactive moods, withdrawal, etc. Do we respond to all sins the same or is there recognition that traumatized victims need a different form a response?
  7. Do we have regular spaces for pastors and leaders to address secondary trauma (the result of being deeply involved in the ongoing traumas of congregants)?
    • Explore local resources outside the church so leadership does not need to be expert on every form of trauma and trauma response.

These are just a few questions to start with and will likely elicit many more as you go. By asking the questions you are taking serious the call by God to watch after the flock (including the sheep leading other sheep).

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, Uncategorized

What is trauma-informed care? Filling a gap within care ministries


Yesterday I had the good pleasure of sitting with key leaders of organizations involved in trauma healing around the world. Much of our focus was on what these organizations were doing around the world (successes and challenges) and how would we function together in an alliance. You might expect we spent most of our time talking about projects and activities. You would be right.

However, I was given a few minutes in the afternoon to open up a dialogue about how we ensure that our organizations are adequately trauma-informed, for the sake of both our target populations as well as our own staff members.

What is trauma-informed care?

Last year I did this podcast for The Samaritan Women to introduce the topic of TIC. The idea, in short is that organizations serving traumatized individuals and communities would have a base understanding of trauma (what it is, how it impacts bodies, behaviors, spirits, relationships, etc.) and how to provide quality care that does not re-traumatize or hinder recovery. Of course, all human service and ministry agencies want to help. But, we know that not all that we do, even when well-intended, is helpful. Thus, there is a need to review policies and procedures to see how well we are serving others. If trauma victims tend to lose voice (power), relationships, and meaning, then do our organizational activities support the reversal of these losses?

For agencies seeking to self-evaluate around TIC categories (safety, trustworthy and transparent, peer-support, mutuality, empowerment/choice, and considering culture) start with assessment tools found at samhsa.gov or other TIC websites. The tools can help you consider gaps in training, policies, and interventions.

But don’t forget…

No organization will be adequately trauma-informed without caring also for staff members. It is tempting to put all the focus on how we care for our target population and completely forget about the staff who are doing the work of trauma-recovery. We can neglect their self-care, neglect the reality of secondary trauma. Most who are attracted to trauma healing (or as we said yesterday, those who get bit by the bug) are likely to neglect their  own emotional and physical health for the sake of helping others.

So, ask a few questions:

  1. Are your trauma healing specialists given voice for how to serve others, in building strategic plans?
  2. Are their ample opportunity for staff to voice concerns and complaints from staff policies to implementation? Can they evaluate their superiors in appropriate ways?
  3. What organic self-care opportunities are built into the organization?
  4. If a staff member begins to show signs of their own trauma, will they be cared for or will they be seen as weak and suspect? Is help only provided after the fact or as a prevention strategy?
  5. What opportunities for continuing education and mentoring exist?
  6. When was the last time you surveyed emotional, relational, spiritual safety within your organization?

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Injustice of minorities at the hands of authorities: It begins with stories


In life we start with experience long before we can articulate reality. As we grow and mature we try to make sense of the world and our place in it. As we develop, we come to recognize that our experiences are always biased and in need of correction. Yet, no matter the need for correction, our experiences still shape us in powerful ways. Thus, if we are going to get a handle on the complex sociopolitical issues involved in the current distress of Black men being shot or mistreated by police officers, we need to start with their stories—not because these stories are all we have but because they are fundamentally shaping experiences for these men.

Full disclosure: I am lily white. While I am the father of two African American sons, I myself can never fully understand their experience. I have never felt that others are afraid of me solely based on the color of my skin. However, what follows may help majority readers prepare to listen to heart-breaking stories and to become a bit more aware of what it might be like to be a Black man in America.

Two personal stories first.

Since it is my blog, let me tell two of my own stories of interactions with authorities. First, many years ago I was driving my little VW late one Friday night through the rural pine barrens of New Jersey, on my way to a youth group retreat. I was by myself. At some point a car came up on my rear at a high rate of speed. I hoped he would pass me but he didn’t. After a few minutes, blue lights flashed. I was being pulled over. I checked my speed and was sure I had not done anything wrong. After stopping, I turned off my music, lowered my window and awaited the officer’s approach. With his bright flashlight in hand, he asked me if I knew why I was being stopped. I didn’t. He asked me to get out of the car. Now my heart started racing a bit. He told me I had been weaving (I’m sure I hadn’t) and whether I had been drinking (I know I hadn’t). He put me through my paces with touching my nose, walking in a straight line. Had I been doing drugs, he asked. Why were my eyes so bloodshot (hard contacts did that to me)? He asked me if I would allow him to search my car and to move to the back. He proceeded to take the next 15 minutes to rifle through my car: glove box, under seats, through my packed bag. The longer it took and the more silent he was, the more anxious I became. I found myself starting to panic. Why? I hadn’t done anything wrong. Intermittently, he would stop, shine the light on me and ask me quite gruffly, why I was anxious (which made me jump and become more anxious). At one point I put my hands on my head so as to get a bit more oxygen into my lungs–like you might do after running an 800 meter race. Finally, he stopped looking through my things and help up a small tube containing a tiny suction cup (used to removed a hard contact that had become stuck in the corner of my eye). What’s this? I tried to explain but stumbled over my words until I could show him out it worked. Abruptly, the officer told me he could give me a ticket for weaving and driving tired. He wouldn’t this time but he was going to follow me for the next two miles to a nearby convenience store where he expected me to stop and buy a caffeinated drink. Those two miles were the longest I’ve driven. I probably choked that steering wheel to death!

Thus ends my scariest interaction with American police. Not much of a scare really. It was, however, unnerving. I was not anywhere near home. I didn’t have any power. I hadn’t done anything wrong but was being suspected of many wrong things. You might argue that he was just doing his job but my experience was that I wasn’t believed when I gave my answers. Even though I passed the balance tests, I still wasn’t believed. I didn’t really have the right to refuse the search of my car even though the law said I did. He had all the power, I had none. I wasn’t really mistreated and went on my way no worse for wear. When I drove back by at the end of the retreat, I noticed being a bit on edge, looking around for police and being doubly sure I was driving in a straight line.

But stick with my story for just a minute more. Imagine further now that this happened on a semi-regular basis, maybe even only once a year. How would that shape my sense of self or my reaction to police anywhere? And what if the outcome were undeserved fines or handcuffs just to keep the officers safe? How would that influence my sense of place in the community, a place where evidently you are a cause of fear merely due to the color of your skin?

I did have another police interaction worth telling here. I attended a tiny bible college in Lenox, MA between 1984 and 1986. This school was situated on the edge of Tanglewood Music Center (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), a most beautiful and wealthy (and white) part of the state. Our study body, though small, was diverse with a number of students from the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA. One day, several of us decided to go play basketball at a local school. We piled into one of the Daye brother’s mammoth car. Likely there were 6 of us going to shoot hoops. What I know is that I was the only white person in the car, sitting in the back seat between two much larger African American men. On the way, (which couldn’t be more than 2 miles at the most) we were pulled over. No tickets were given but we were questioned as to where we were headed. What I most remember from this event is the questions I was asked. On several occasions I was ask, “Are you okay?” Taken off guard and, frankly, naïve to what he might be asking, I must have stammered out a yes. Either I was unconvincing or he couldn’t imagine why I would be with this group of friends. So, he asked at least 2 more times. As far as I recall, we went on to play basketball and never (sadly) spoke of that event. It wasn’t until later that I realized what the officer was asking and what message that spoke to my brothers–that they were a threat to me, that I must be there against my will.

Why and How to Listen?

In previous blogs I have covered the why and the how of listening to those who seem different from ourselves. Consider reading “Loving Your Cultural Enemies” and “On having Substantive Conversations about Race Relations.” Each of these short essays suggest the way forward is through listening and validating personal experiences because being heard, seen and understood tend to move us more quickly beyond simplistic diagnoses and blame-shifting. Think about the most recent argument you had with a family member. Did you make more progress debating or by acknowledging key points?

Try These Steps

  1.  Remember your own minority experience. Before you start listening to the stories of others, recall your own experiences of being different or objectified. Maybe it was the time you were the only one of your kind (e.g., a Baptist among paedobaptists, a man among women, an English speaker among non-English speakers, a democrat among republicans, etc.). While these minority experiences may have been a passing, superficial experience, they teach us about what it is like to feel like an “other.” Recall the experience and then try to imagine it happening every day.
  2. Read widely of minority experiences. Start here with Brian Crooks’ experience of growing up Black in Naperville, IL. Remember, our goal is not to verify a person’s facts so much as it is to understand that perspective. Look for the common threads of systemic cultural/racial blindness and/or oppression.
  3. Imagine how you would want others to respond if you had a story of mis-treatment by authorities. Likely, you would want to be believed and you might want them to ask how they could help. Work to name injustices without excuses, blame-shifting or “sin-leveling.” For example, just as you don’t ask a rape victim if she was wearing a suggestive outfit, you don’t ask a minority male if he was wearing a hoodie.

These are starter ideas to get ourselves immersed in the stories of others. Next we will consider what responsibilities we have when we learn of individual and systemic injustices.

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Reading the Bible as a Refugee


Because we are enculturated people, we always read Scripture from a particular vantage point. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider the lens we use and to try reading the Bible from the vantage point of others. I’d like to suggest that you take a tour of the Bible through the eyes of a refugee–a displaced person. Some 60 million people in the world today live displaced from their homes due to human and natural caused disasters. They have lost most if not all of their comforts (language, home, family, land, food, community, protection, job, etc).

Does the bible have anything to say about their experiences?

Right off, we see Adam and Eve, forcibly displaced from their lovely home, barred by an angel with a flaming sword, never to return. We often think about their culpability. It was their own sin that caused this trouble. Set aside that fact. Imagine what it was like for them to be removed from the best place ever to live for over 900 years in exile where nothing could compare to what was lost.

At the other end of the Bible we have John writing Revelation from…wait for it…exile on Patmos. In between these bookends, we have Abraham as sojourner. Israel moves to Egypt to escape a famine only to be enslaved for 400 years. Generations later David in on the run from Saul. Still later, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are sent off to exile with only a small remnant able to return after 70 years. Displacement doesn’t stop at the end of the Old Testament. Jesus’ first life experience is on the run from King Herod. Later, after Pentecost, Christians flee Jerusalem to avoid Jewish and Roman persecution.

But there is much more to see in the Bible than examples of displacement. Consider these biblical themes that relate to refugee experiences:Refugees from Syria

  1. God pursues displaced peoples. God chases down Adam and Eve after their sin. During the time of the Judges, God becomes impatient with Israel’s misery (10:16)
  2. God protects even within trouble. When Cain is exiled for murdering Abel, God marks Cain in order to protect him. Israel grows while enslaved. Exiles in Babylon rise to leadership.
  3. God sees our troubles and his moved by it. Notice God’s special kindness to Hagar.
  4. God wants to hear our complaints. With 1/3 of the Psalms in the form of laments, it is clear God desires our complaints and groaning.
  5. God invites us to share in his life by willingly displacing himself to share in ours. The incarnation reveals a God who willingly leaves perfection in relationship and community and lowers himself into a world of war and brokenness. His work enables us to enter in with those who have been displaced, “for such a time as this.”
  6. God prepares a place where we will one day be at home again. One day, we will all be at home in our true country with bodies that work as they were originally designed.

These truths do not remove the pain of displacement now. God’s protection in this world is not one that keeps us from all harm. In fact, our relationship with him promises that sharing in his death and resurrection we will face sorrow upon sorrow. However, knowing that God pursues us, sits with us, listening to our complaints, and provides blessings in the midst of hardship gives us hope for the day with all will be made right.

So, the next time you hear about the political and social challenges due to illegal immigration in the United States or the crisis in the Middle East and Europe, let that be a reminder to go to your Bible and read as if you are yourself displaced. Surely, we all need to work together to find solutions to these problems we face today. I suspect, however, we will be more prepared when we have the mind of Christ regarding displaced peoples. See how that perspective shapes how you live your life today and how you decide to respond to those in greater need than yourself.

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Is there a best practice in international trauma recovery work?


Yesterday I presented with Marianne Millen at the 2016 Humanitarian Disaster Institute conference here in Wheaton, IL. We reviewed some of the lessons learned through our experiences partnering with Rwandan institutions like the Bible Society (BSR) and with local counselors and caregivers. Check out our presentation here if you want to see our slides.

In short, partnerships are the way forward. But partnerships are not merely so that “we” can help “them.” True partnerships share resources, knowledge, and skills. They enrich both parties. I can attest that I have learned much from my Rwandan friends as they from me. I am a better therapist (and maybe teacher) from what I have received.

Partnerships rarely form quickly. They take time, can be messy, are likely more expensive than other intervention strategies. But as the Rwandan proverb says, “If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And yesterday during a conference plenary, Sheryl Haw (Micah Global) had this to say, “partnerships are the realization of being on God’s mission and not our own.”

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Filed under christian psychology, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda, trauma

4 Reasons I Promote Scripture-Based Trauma Healing


[Note: broken link fixed. If anyone is interested in taking this course with me this summer, see here.]

As a psychologist I have had a front row seat to observe the destruction that traumatic experiences have on individuals and families. And as a professor training future counselors I see the necessity of passing on best practices for treating those with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New understandings of trauma’s impact on bodies, minds, souls, and relationships appear on the pages of our academic and clinical journals. As a result, I read daily about innovative attempts to hasten trauma recovery for individuals and even whole communities.

With a world filled with trauma, it is clear to me we need an army of psychologists and mental health practitioners. How else could we address problems faced by 60 million displaced peoples in the world at present? How else could we address the scourge of sexual abuse, where worldwide 1:4 women and 1:6 men have experienced sexual violation before they reach the age of 18?

So, given the needs I have just mentioned, why would I spend considerable time and effort to promote a bible-based trauma healing training program? Let me tell you four key reasons I think this program is essential to address the world-wide problem of trauma. [Note, this is NOT a paid advertisement.]

Trauma disrupts faith and identity. The church must be at the center of the response

While many practitioners recognize the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD, fewer have noticed that trauma disrupts and disables faith and connection to faith practices. Just now the scientific community is beginning to track this problem and acknowledge the role faith plays in the recovery process. Some are brave enough to suggest that failing to utilize faith practices and communities in the recovery process is tantamount to unethical practice! But most mental health practitioners have had zero training and experience engaging faith questions as part of treatment. The field of psychology is waking up from more than 100 years of training practitioners to ignore, even reject, faith as essential to healthy personhood. If faith is essential to most people on the planet then any intervention must engage faith and spiritual practices if it is going to consider the whole person.

Dr. Diane Langberg recently reminded a world gathering of national Bible Society leaders that trauma needs in the world are far too large for any government to handle. The only “organization” in the world situated to respond to at both a micro and a macro level is the Church. But is the church prepared? We need the church willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses. These responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.

The Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) program fills this void. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples and provides simple yet effective care responses average believers can enact without being professional caregivers.HWT_USA_2014

While I believe we psychologists with specialized skill sets are essential to trauma recovery, much of what we do can be done by every day individuals. I tell my students that most of counseling is not rocket-science. Being present, listening well, building trust, validating, asking good questions, and walking with someone in pain is largely what helps counselees get better. With a little training, the church can be at the forefront of the trauma healing.

But we need an army…of capable trainers who reproduce

There are approximately 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. If we decided (and I am not suggesting this AT ALL!) to only serve traumatized Christians, we do not have enough capable practitioners to serve those in need. The ONLY way we would be able to serve this population is to train up capable trainers (wise, able to work well with others, understand group dynamics, know when to be quiet, etc.) who are then able to reproduce themselves and make even more trainers who subsequently serve ever increasing populations. This creates a cascade effect—1 trains another who each, in turn, trains others. Conservatively speaking, one training of 35 future trainers could reach up to 15,000 traumatized people in 3 training generations.

To maintain quality, the program must be able to be delivered and passed on in a consistent manner. The HWT program is designed not merely to educate participants regarding trauma symptoms and good care/healing practices but how to pass on such knowledge and skill to others. The facilitator (trainer) handbook provides a wealth of information to ensure that the quality does not erode as the information is passed on.

Experiential learning trumps lectures every time

In the West, we cherish academic lectures as the primary training mode. Lectures enable a speaker to give a large amount of information in a short period of time, with minimal interruption. A good lecture casts vision, identifies problems, and points to effective responses. But a lecture cannot produce skilled practitioners. Any academic mental health program worth attending will require practicums where head knowledge is put into repeated practice.

Consider this scenario. My father is capable of building a house. He sits me down and he spends hours gong over the steps to building an addition to my house. I listen, take notes, and even handle the tools that will be used. Am I prepared now to build the addition? No! If I am to build a proper addition, I will need to do so under his close supervision. In fact, most of the hours of lectures are not necessary at all. What will be more effective is his teaching me as we build together.

The HWT program is all about experiential learning. Participants learn as they experience trauma and trauma healing through story, dialogue, and practice. First applied to self and then in consideration of others. This is in stark contrast to most continuing education programs that amount to little more than monologues and passive audiences. While the monologue may give more information, it is highly unlikely that participants can in turn teach what they heard to others. The HWT program is not designed to deliver large amounts of new academic information. And yet, what participants get via experience and practice will be far more easily passed on when they become the teacher. There will be no army of trainers if we cannot quickly get experience and practice and pass on what we learn in simple everyday language.

Good training hinges on contextualization

If trauma is universal, then it might be thought easy to deliver trauma healing training across cultures. This is not so. If I prepare a lecture or training on trauma in my context (the megalopolis of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States) but deliver it on a different continent, my training may be of minimal value. The reason it is sure to fail is that what I had to offer didn’t fit the context; it didn’t speak to the heart of that audience. Good training must be contextualized so that participants immediately recognize trauma in their settings and that interventions make sense. Imagine if I deliver a talk on good conflict skills to a hierarchical society but emphasize the need to speak in “I” language (I need, I feel, I would like)? Such interventions will rightly be rejected as inappropriate. And if experience holds, whatever else I say will also be rejected.

The HWT program is founded on contextualization. Not only has it been translated into many different heart languages, the central stories and illustrations are also contextualized so that the participants can see themselves in the stories and interventions. At heart of each lesson, participants are asked about their own culture’s take on the particular problem. In dialogue, they compare responses to that of biblical passages highlighting trauma, grief, loss, and pastoral care. Nearly every major training point addresses context and encourages participants to develop creative interventions in keeping with key biblical and psychological foundations.

Is the HWT program all a traumatized person needs? No, it doesn’t assume this. Is the HWT program perfect? Of course not. I continue to make suggestions for improvement and the authors and developers are some of the most flexible I know, always looking for ways to improve the materials and training program. There are many other solid programs out there, but few programs I know have refined the content and delivery systems to be able to scale out across the globe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Mission: Trauma Healing team at the American Bible Society as co-chair of their advisory council and occasional trainer.

For a more visual exposure to this training, see this downloadable documentary.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, teaching counseling, trauma, Uncategorized

Immigrant or refugee? 


Most Americans can tell the story of how their forefathers and mothers came to this country to settle as new Americans. They came for opportunity. They came to be with other family already arrived. But not everyone comes here out of desire to leave their own country. Some come only because home became “the mouth of a shark” (first heard this poem in a presentation by Diane Langberg this Spring).

To this point, you might find this Fresh Air podcast aired today with listening to. The Pulitzer Prize winning author frequently refers to his identity as a refugee, one who is in the US due to US waged war in Vietnam. Does he look like a refugee? As a professor and someone who appears to be well off, he appears as American as anyone else. And yet, his experience is one of being a refugee.

What is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? Not quality of life but it seems free choice. And I would add the component of time. His heirs will likely feel proud of their heritage but feel they are less refugee and more American. I do suspect, however, that it was easier for Irish and other Europeans to quickly integrate into the American persona than it is for most non-Caucasians.

What would make you feel more like an immigrant and less like a refugee? Or vice versa?

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New resource for adult males with child sexual abuse histories


Take a look at most books and resources for adults with abuse histories and you will discover that they do a great job illustrating the experience of females. The vignettes are often about the experience of young girls. The pronouns used tend to be female. These books are incredibly important and I wouldn’t suggest for a second that there are too many such books. But if you are a male and you have a history of sexual abuse, you may have to look far and wide to find resources that tell your story.

Look no further. Andrew Schmutzer, Daniel Gorski, and David Carlson have published, Naming Our Abuse: God’s Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016). All three tell their stories but do so in a way for other survivors to process (and re-write) their narratives as well. The book is written in 4 sections and is in the form of a journal with ample room for the reader to write along with the authors. The sections, The Wreck, Accident Report, Rehabilitation, and Driving Again, enable the reader to reflect on his own experience as well as move into next steps and ways to cope–first illustrated by three different voices and then followed by a good number of questions to engage. I would highly recommend that readers share the experience with a trusted friend and/or counselor so as to manage the response to the subject matter. As I said in my blurb, “…work slowly through this book, examining how you might tell your story (which has not ended!) to yourself.” Our stories are not over and it is important to examine how we may distort our own stories (or have them distorted for us by voices from our past or present).

One of the little treasures in this book are the letters the three men write to their little boy selves long ago. Read these letters and consider what you would say to your younger self from your present self (but avoid shaming and judging that child that you were).

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Filed under Abuse, sexual abuse, sexual violence

Alternative to talk or pharmacological therapies for depression?


For many of my clients, medications are necessary for their moderate to severe depression. With SSRIs or mood stabilizers, they are able to function at home and at work and can better benefit from talk therapy. But in every case my clients report side effects from their meds. It is always a bit of art-form to balance benefits and side effects. That is the world we live in and the best we can do now. One of the key problems with all psychopharmacological interventions is that drugs provide a systemic solution when often we may need a targeted approach. Consider a person with ADHD who takes a stimulant that will help them focus in class yet must deal with increased blood pressure, heart rate and potential for insomnia. The stimulant does not just target the frontal lobe but impacts the whole body.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could target an intervention to a particular part of the brain?

“The brain is not a bowl of soup and you add the chemical and you stir,” she says. “Chemicals work within networks, within systems, within pathways. And where in the brain a chemical may be working is as important as knowing what chemical you should use.”

I read the above quote in this news item about the problem of rumination in treatment resistant depression. Helen Mayberg, author of the above quote, is researching Broadman Area 25 and its connection to the problem of rumination–where a person struggles to turn off negative thoughts about self and the world. She and other researchers are wondering why some people do well with talk therapy while others seem not to benefit. Instead of looking at the possibility of a less helpful form of talk therapy, they wondered whether the problem is that the person cannot get away from their negative thoughts enough to engage in the work of counseling.

One of the interventions being tried is to practice disconnecting from ruminations by paying attention to what is going on in the present. To help with the learning of this skill one researcher is testing whether 5 sessions of having an electrode on your wrist create an itching sensation while the patient practices paying attention to a decreasing amount of electrical stimulation.

Sound crazy? It just might be. I am always wary of any “5 sessions or less” advertisement. But before we toss out the idea, if a targeted treatment could help turn down the volume on a rumination, wouldn’t that be a help to many?

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Filed under Depression, news, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology, Uncategorized