Can People Recover from Trauma and Abuse?
It is with both pride and embarrassment that America has become known as a victims’ society. We can be proud that we prosecute perpetrators of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse at least as severely as most developed nations. But we should be ashamed that these punishments have not deterred perpetrators as effectively as they have been stimulated by the violence and sexuality they see so graphically portrayed in movies, porn, and video games.
Child abuse, rape, and domestic violence are crimes committed against mostly women and children, and they are still quite common in America. The Centers for Disease Control just reported that 18.3% of American women have experienced being raped, and 19% of all female college students have experienced either rape or attempted rape (sexual assault) during their college years. And in 2011 alone, the last year where national statistics are all in, a whopping 13.8% of all children in America were confirmed by their state’s Child Protective Services as having been abused in some way (physical neglect, custodial interference, or abuse that was physical, emotional, or sexual in nature). This number means that more often than not, one child on average at every table or in every row of seats in every classroom gets abused every year. And that’s just the ones that got reported and confirmed!
It is also embarrassing that America is not a leader in helping these victims find healing and recovery from their troubles. For every time you hear someone say they have been healed or they are in recovery from traumatic abuse, I believe there are a good dozen or so that seem to have adopted the posture of being a lifelong victim of the frightening experiences of their past. So often they settle for palliative treatment of their symptoms. Anxiety-reducing treatments and methods include medications and a therapeutic techniques aimed only at calming the body and clearing the mind. Outside the office, loved ones may offer financial support, or mere emotional sympathy that comes without encouragement for them to work through all the fallout. What would working it through look like?
In recovery, medicines that relieve the symptoms of anxiety are not considered cures. They are merely used to facilitate treatments that really do solve the problem. The problem of course is FEAR, Fantasied Events Appearing Real. Insecurity is the plague terrorists love to spread. Counselors and support groups should both be used if needed to guide trauma victims through the different stages of recovery from bondage to fear. When people get stuck in one of these phases as many do, their entire emotional lives are stuck in a rut, and healing is not possible.
The first stage of recovery (variously referred to as Crisis/Dialog/Decision-making) involves telling loved ones and professional helpers what has happened. This establishes safety, and does what can be done to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions. Without this action, the anger at the perpetrator stays inside the injured party, where it will later be acted out unintentionally in decisions and lifestyles that keep that person down. Such people often take their anger at the perpetrator out on themselves, and even though they don’t believe it, they act as if they are to blame. Or they may take it out on other people the same gender or race or profession as the perpetrator, making them pay the price now for the perpetrator’s vice back then.
The second phase of Emotional Shock may come before, during, or after the first phase. Not much can be done during this stage except getting an education about recovery, gathering support, and letting time pass until they are ready to go back and face the painful memories. In the third phase of Grief/Ambivalence, the hurt feelings are talked out. This allows hurt people to grieve the losses of the safety and relationships they thought they had. Only after this weeping and gnashing of teeth can frightened and abused people move on into the next stage of Repair, where they learn to set healthy boundaries, and start building or rebuilding safe and emotionally fulfilling lives.
The final stage is Growth/Healing, in which people move on into their new lives as no longer victims, but as victors. They have disengaged from all people who would treat them badly. They trust themselves to hold future abusers responsible, and hold themselves responsible for going back through the healing process. They believe they get stronger, wiser, and more helpful to others with each recovering cycle. Only then can recalling the trauma or abuse bring more gratitude than pain. Only then can people realize they have found a life that is safer and better than they could otherwise have ever known. That’s what healing looks like.
As either an adjunct or as an alternative to this process of trauma recovery, faster procedures are available. Some of the most popular are Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). All combine techniques that are like mild hypnosis to help clients relax and focus their attention clearly back on traumatic memories, without feeling the usual distress. These approaches also put in and draw out of clients new insights about themselves and their abusers, new ways of looking at what did and didn’t happen to both parties in the abusive events. The success of these therapeutic procedures may be somewhat relative to both the faith and strength of the client, and the faith, training, and skill of the counselor.
If you want to get healing and full recovery for yourself or your child, call several counselors on the phone to interview them for this important job. Tell them briefly in a minute or two who has experienced the trauma or abuse (age, gender, family situation, etc.). Explain just as briefly what has happened (the trauma or abuse), and then ask them questions like this:
I assume your counseling will reduce symptoms of fear and anxiety, but will it provide a complete cure, and full recovery? Will I/my child be able to face the perpetrator again, and respond with confidence to other abusive people in the future? (if answer is yes) Please explain how this happens in your office.
(if answer is vague:) How long will it take for you to lay out a treatment plan, one that will explain how many months or years, and how many sessions and dollars, this treatment will require?
Those who go through with this counseling and do all the homework become incredibly resilient people. They are some of the strongest, most confident and positive people you will ever meet. They can have the very best marriages and love lives. They know abusers are out there, and that something could happen to them or their loved ones in the future. But they believe what they have experienced, that full healing in recovery is available to all. With the people and principles, prayers, and practices of recovery, all God’s children can learn to live in faith, not fear.
For those who wonder how I work with such problems, I have had two weeks of training recently in Arizona from the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, and I am now internationally certified for treating trauma victims. Also, the internship for my doctorate gave me a full year’s work in hospital settings with traumatized war veterans, teenagers, and children. My first job after graduate school was in a psychiatric hospital for teenagers who had been severely traumatized or abused.
The healing method which has been supported by the most research was pioneered by Dr. David Seamands, a now deceased professor emeritus at Asbury Theological Seminary outside of Lexington. I was trained by him personally, and he has won several national awards from various counseling organizations in recognition of his pioneering work. One of his books that was very popular in the 1990s was Healing for Damaged Emotions, and it tells the story of many people who benefited from this type of counseling. I have used this method successfully with well over 100 people now, and here is how this “healing prayer” works:
At least one session is needed to identify the damaged memories or emotions that need repair. Sometimes it’s a bad feeling without any memory of where it came from. Other times the memory is there without any feeling, but usually both emotions and memory our painful. This first session sets up the healing by going through the procedure for informed consent. This involves walking through a trial run of what is called the healing prayer: (1) being led through some light hypnosis to relax muscles and nerves and to clear the mind for focusing on visual imagery, and then (2) asking God together for a vision or message that will confirm that God is wanting to lead the hurt person back into the memory, and provide healing for the damage that was done.
The actual healing is done in the following session. The counselor leads the client back into that relaxed and focused state of mind, and asks God on her behalf to speak to her in a vision to confirm that God will lead her back into the memory for healing. Once the counselor has heard that this has happened, he invites God to take her mind back and recall the trauma. From then on, he serves as a witness and recording secretary for what she tells him she is seeing, hearing, feeling, and experiencing with God. The counselor invites her to talk out loud as she recalls the trauma vividly, saying what happened and how she felt until the incident was reaching its conclusion. At that point the hypnosis has protected her physically from fresh injury that would otherwise come from flooding sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Then before the perpetrator has left the scene, the counselor speaks up to invite God to come into the picture. Most often God comes in the form of Jesus or an angel. Usually the counselor is nearly as surprised and inspired by what happens as the client is.
Finally the counselor resumes his posture of listening and writing down what he hears. The counselor is also there for insight, support and guidance in the unlikely event that she does not get a clear or positive vision of the healing. The session closes with her being led out of the physically relaxed and mentally focused mindset. She opens her eyes again, and starts discussing what has happened and how her life can now be different. The session generally takes over two hours, which allows time for the recall, and then afterwards for her to receive whatever explanations, affirmations, and protections she might need. Clients who have an opposite-sex therapist are always welcome to bring someone along with them for safety when they are revisiting a sexual trauma.
The healing comes from changing the memory. The frightening event is now recalled with the new and happier ending it had in the counselor’s office. Here, God somehow confronts and frightens the perpetrator, and provides protection, healing, and affirmation for the client. She now realizes that God was there when the event first happened, wanting to provide both preventive protection before the fact, and afterwards, not only the healing benefits of comfort, affirmation, and explanation for the client, but also the discipline of the perpetrator that would greatly reduce the risk of future harm to anyone. Depending on whether or not the perpetrator vision that is given to the client, the purpose is either loved or scared into straightening up and flying right period at the very least, pork is scared to mess with the client, because he doesn’t want to run into God again.
The only reason God was not able to accomplish these things before is that until the healing, there was no person through whom these helpful words, actions, and experiences could be provided. Now that the client is embodying God, she will never again have to fear the lack of those channels of grace. In the future, she will realize that she can produce the words and actions herself, that she can both provide on the spot and later reach out to receive all the help she needs to heal up stronger than ever. She can channel God’s power and grace herself, both to herself, and to any future perpetrator she might encounter. She will then be stronger and more confident than most of the women she knows. She will be a healed person, walking tall in her recovery.