Biblical Counseling Wounds, Abuse, and EMDR

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/worthy-celebrating-the-value-of-women/id1497732229

Since you have found your way to my website, chances are you have interest in biblical counseling. I am so glad you are here!! There are many ways to describe biblical counseling. Here is one that sums it up. Biblical counseling is “focused on the application of God’s Word and walking in God’s Spirit when dealing with matters of life as a whole.” But biblical counseling is still a work in progress. We have much to learn and many horizons to still explore as we hold tightly to the timeless Word of God.

I recently had the privilege to talk about my continued experience in the world of biblical counseling and share about some things I have learned and am still learning. On this podcast I discuss three areas of unique importance and interest. They are:

What should we do when someone has been hurt by biblical counseling. Let’s be honest, it happens. What we do with these situations has huge implications on the movement as a whole.

What does the church need to know about abusers and the abused. Pastors, leaders, helpers, and counselors take warning. We are not immune from being duped by an abuser which can lead us to give wrong counsel or take inappropriate action.

What is EMDR? These days, more and more people are suffering from the impact of trauma in their lives. The world is not a safe and peaceful place. Relationships cause deep harm. We are witnesses to constant horrifying news and events. Anxiety has turned to panic in our lives. EMDR therapy is proving to be a helpful resource for those suffering from distressing memories of events or situations.

The church can and should be a place where sufferers are provided with life-giving care that is humble, relevant, and rooted in God’s eternal promises.

LISTEN HERE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/worthy-celebrating-the-value-of-women/id1497732229

Responding to Someone Hurt by Biblical Counseling

Not everyone’s experience with biblical counseling is positive. I am not talking about situations where a person is running from God or holding tightly to sin. Biblical counseling will not land well on a hard heart.  Instead, I am talking about experiences where people have humbly sought out biblical care and have sadly come away more wounded by the experience.

As counselors, we must be willing to admit that sometimes people encounter poor applications of biblical counseling. Sometimes counselors fall very short in incarnating Christ when engaging the fallen, broken, or downcast brother or sister. Sadly as biblical counselors, we do not always express thoughtful love or engaging compassion as faithfully as we confess

I assume I am not alone in hearing stories of people hurt by their engagement with a biblical counselor. You, like me, may have been cautiously questioned about your counseling approach by a believer still carrying wounds and shame received from a hurtful counseling experience in their church. What we do when we encounter brothers and sisters whose engagement with biblical counseling was hurtful is extremely important. Our response can solidify their concerns, wound them further, or give them hope. I pray that this article will lead us all to the later. The following tips on what to do and what not to do should be reviewed as regularly as we encounter those hurt by biblical counseling.

What to do.

Listen

As counselors this should be our default, but it is worth emphasizing here. Take care that you are intent on hearing their story. Give plenty of time and space to let them unfold it. Allow them to share their experience and actively engage in hearing them. Let your words be primarily questions that encourage them to share more. Listening will elicit the trust that was likely broken in their past experiences. The first step in loving someone hurt by counseling is to let them know their story is important to you and you want to hear all of it. James 1:19 is an unfailing guide for this.

Empathize

As you listen, seek to identify and understand the emotional weight of their experience. Enter their world by seeking to grasp the reality of their pain. Carry their burden with them in the spirit of Galatians 6:2. Empathy will help you respond appropriately. It will assist you to offer encouragement, comfort, and support in a way that validates that sorrow, grief, and pain are normal responses to being hurt.

Self-reflect

Not everything you hear in their hurtful experience will be solely due to the counsel or counselor. They bring their own stuff to the table as well. Lord willing, there will be a time and place to work through that further with them. This is not that time. It is crucial that biblical counselors examine themselves when they hear stories of counseling hurt. How is hearing this story impacting you? What feelings and emotions are coming up in you as you listen? Humbly reflect on the way you bring care. What in this person’s story could be true of your care? Where is needed change in your own approach to caring for people being revealed?

What not to do.

Gossip

It is incredibly easy to slip into gossip when someone shares the hurt they have encountered from biblical counseling. In an effort to sympathize, the desire may arise to confirm what you also may have heard or experienced from a counselor or ministry. Maybe you have even had previous engagement with that specific biblical counselor, church, or ministry and you can add a tasty morsel to confirm their evaluation. This is not helpful. It does not bring healing and only solidifies distrust for those in biblical counseling. Do not do it.

Defend

As you hear a story of hurt, you may feel like defending yourself as a biblical counselor. Avoid the temptation to personalize what you are hearing. Even if the things are about the ministry or organization where you serve or received your training, a defensive response is not a humble response. Biblical counselors are not perfect people. We are in process just like our counselees. Taking up a defensive posture may be an indication of the work needed in our own hearts. Hearing someone’s pain should rouse understanding in us, not defense. To do otherwise is the way of the fool (Proverbs 18:2).

Dismiss

You may not agree with everything the person is sharing. You might see holes in how they have assessed their situation. There could be glaring over-reactions. Avoid being dismissive. Dismissing their pain will only affirm their experience. A wise counselor ascertains the appropriate time to address these things. Wisdom includes being able to hear emotional and sometimes irrational thinking for a time, in order to carefully build the trust needed to engage the person’s heart later. Don’t dismiss or make light of their pain to jump to what you assess as more important matters.

Conclusion

We need to lovingly engage people who have been hurt by biblical counseling. Not doing so will only distance sufferers from communities of care that God has provided. We have a responsibility to compassionately care for those who are hurt, all the more when they have been hurt by us. Let us model the way of the wonderful Counselor who draws near to the crushed and brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

When Stay-at-Home Orders Increase Threat

“Out of the abundance of caution,” is the familiar phrase that preceded numerous statements of change enacted due to the ominous predictions of COVID-19. One after the other the announcements rolled out. School closures, businesses required to shut their doors, and recreational activities halted. Then came the announcement of the executive orders to stay at home. It is still a little hard to believe that the nation and even the entire world is shut in by a microscopic attacker.

Many people are finding the COVID-19 stay-at-home regulations to be challenging for various reasons. While it is necessary to stay at home in order to stay healthy and safe, for others staying home brings inescapable threat. Stay-At-Home regulations, while helpful to prevent the spreading of a virus, can increase the emotional and physical danger for those living in abusive relationships.

We are now finding that some areas such as China and France saw elevated incidents of domestic violence and abuse during the period stay-at-home regulations were enacted. We have good reason to be concerned that this will be the reality in the United States as well. National and local domestic abuse hotlines can provide support and resources, but what can the church do?

Caring for those who are in abusive relationships is tricky enough, add in strict regulations on social engagement and it gets even trickier. One of the best things the church can do is become aware of signs of domestic abuse and when we see it, do something. Abuse can be hard to spot. Knowing what to look for is the first step in caring well for those who are facing challenging times in isolation. The following signs are evidence of abusive relationships.

8 Signs of the abuser:

  1. Humiliates or puts their partner down both privately and publicly.
  2. Continually blames.
  3. Controls what their partner wears, what they eat, how they spend money.
  4. Isolates their partner from friends and family.
  5. Threatens their partner. Threatens what their partner values (sentimental items, pets, children).
  6. Yells at their partner.
  7. Throws things or hits things in anger.
  8. Postures themselves to have power over their partner. Blocks or restrains them from leaving a room or a conversation.

8 Signs of the abused:

  1. Low self-esteem.
  2. Thinks they are the crazy one.
  3. Feels like they can’t do anything right and that this situation is their fault.
  4. Feels afraid of their partner most of the time.
  5. Avoids things that may upset their partner. Manages their environment to keep them happy.
  6. Engages in self harm.
  7. Has PTSD responses.
  8. Feels emotionally helpless or numb.

If you have seen these signs in someone’s relationship it can be hard to know what you should do. The following tips will help you as you seek to care for the person.

8 Things you can do to help the abused:

  1. Confirm they are not crazy.
  2. Help them lean into the Lord. Pray for them. Pray with them. Send them regular spiritual encouragements. Affirm to them that the Lord is for the oppressed and sees their plight and is moved with compassion for them.
  3. Be supportive. Listen to them and let them make their own decisions.
  4. Check in on them frequently. Be committed to being with them in the future.
  5. Empower them with a plan. Even a packed bag can give a sense of having options. However, this must be kept secret and safe. Making plans to leave often makes the abuser feel threatened and elevates potential threat.
  6. Help them focus on healthy behaviors and self-care. Even the smallest thing like taking a walk around the neighborhood provides a little reprieve.
  7. Don’t over promise but give the help you can. Avoid blaming language if they don’t accept help right away.
  8. Affirm to them that wanting to get out of the situation is appropriate and normal and the Lord agrees with their desire for relief.

If you are aware of a situation where stay-at-home measures may be putting someone at greater risk, stay connected to that person. Know the number to your local domestic violence hotline and share it with them.

Prayerfully consider other ways you may be able to provide help. Having emergency housing options like a prepaid hotel room can be a way to provide safety and protection in cases where being at home is too risky. I have known churches to cover the cost of a hotel and provide emergency overnight bags filled with personal needs for those who need to spend a few days away to ensure safety. Establishing code words or code messages that can be sent to alert caregivers that help is needed are valuable avenues of care. Sometimes just knowing they have someone willing to help brings great encouragement to an otherwise hopeless situation.

During these difficult days, the church must be on the frontlines in unique ways. While awareness goes a long way in helping, ultimately, we must align ourselves with the heart of God. The Lord advocates for the cause of the oppressed and so should we. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9 NIV).”

God’s word says we ought to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17). This does not have to be in grandiose actions. The simple confirmation of a friend that “you are not crazy” can do good. The recognition that it is a normal and healthy response to want to get out of an abusive situation can be the start of great relief. The reality that you are not alone can bring incredible hope.

Domestic violence is often a missed issue in times like these. And one reason is because it can be hard to spot, especially when we are no longer able to engage in one another’s lives as closely as before. While it is encouraging and necessary to focus on keeping everyone safe from this virus, COVID-19 has brought a sobering reality to light. Sometimes the most dangerous threats are unseen.

Other resources for helping those in abusive relationships are below.

Resources:

http://www.chrismoles.org/

https://www.darbystrickland.com/resources

https://www.myplanapp.org/home

(This article was focused on domestic abuse and violence. Abuse against children is likely to also see a significant increase during this time of stay-at-home regulations. If you suspect child abuse of any kind, consider yourself a mandated reporter. Many states name specific professionals as mandated reporters, but you do not have to be a professional to make a report. If you have reasonable suspicion of the abuse of a child contact your local department of social services for help in reporting child abuse.)