Together We Heal

Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. We are here to provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal, give direction to those seeking guidance and to expose sexual predators for what they are and their methods of getting into our lives.


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7 Ways Churches Should Begin To Welcome Survivors of Abuse

The following article was written by a friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. It has been my honor and privilege to become friends with Boz and to begin working together with his organization, G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose abuse occurred at the hands of the church. Boz does not try to defend the actions of churches who failed to protect victims; to the contrary, he wants to see real change take place within the church. Thank you Boz.

I did take the liberty of redoing his title for the purpose of emphasizing my personal perspective on how churches should begin acting. The original title is shown below.

7 Ways To Welcome Abuse Survivors In Our Churches

Churches should be some of the safest and most welcoming communities for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Sadly, today these are some of the places survivors feel most vulnerable as they are often shamed, silenced, and judged.

This is most tragically illustrated by the case of a young girl who was sexually abused by a missionary doctor on the mission field. When she finally stepped forward and reported the abuse, the missionary leaders made this little 13-year-old girl sign a “confession” letter in which she had to acknowledge having “participated in a physical relationship” with the offender and end the letter with “…I know what I did was very wrong, and I am very sorry for it.” Years later this survivor told me that this damning letter is what shamed her into decades of feeling worthless and being silent. It doesn’t take a demand to sign a confession for a church to become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for survivors. Hurtful comments, the embracing of alleged perpetrators, the failure to offer assistance, and the pretending that this offense doesn’t exist in the Christian community are just a handful of ways that further wound survivors and drive them out of the very places that should be their refuge.

I want to share seven ways that I believe will help transform our churches into some of the safest and most welcoming communities for survivors of abuse.

Be a friend and listen: One of the best ways to serve survivors is to simply be their friend and listen. This does NOT mean we pity them and turn them into our special project. It means that we spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and support them. It means that we validate them as human beings made in the image of God. It means that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s ok. Too many survivors have been traumatized by churches that fail to protect them, and then turn around and ignore them or tell them what to do. Perhaps we can help these amazing survivors shed the shame by being a safe person in a safe place.

Know the available resources: Survivors often need professional assistance to help shed the shame fueled by abuse. Becoming familiar with local resources such as qualified therapists, victims’ advocates, attorneys, and support groups will enable us to introduce them to our church communities and to any survivor who may need their services.

Acknowledge & address spiritual struggles: Those who have been sexually abused often struggle with many spiritual doubts, concerns, and questions. Criticizing or judging these struggles will only fuel more shame as survivors are pushed away from yet another unsafe place. On the other hand, offering no response or simply providing oversimplified answers can minimize the importance of these struggles in the lives of these individuals. Sometimes we answer best by simply connecting individuals with sound spiritual resources that may provide them a starting point to address their particular spiritual struggles. This can be anything from recommending a book, blog, or podcast to encouraging them to become part of an abuse-survivor support group at the church. It could also mean connecting them with a clergy member or other professional who has worked through many of these spiritual issues. Before recommending any particular spiritual resource, it is critical that we seek the counsel of Christian child-protection experts and other Christians who have the training for and experience with serving survivors. Organizations such as GRACE and Together-We-Heal are equipped to provide such assistance.

Connect with local law enforcement: Developing a relationship between our faith communities and local law enforcement is invaluable. Believe it or not, most law enforcement officers are thrilled when people in the community seek them out for advice and help. Our churches would greatly benefit from the guidance provided by law enforcement on issues such as child protection, dealing with known sex offenders, status of pending cases, and available community resources for survivors. In most cases, this as easy as calling the local law enforcement office and scheduling an appointment with the officer who supervises the investigation of abuse cases. Simply let him/her know that your church is seeking guidance on issues related to abuse. I highly recommend having a member of the church leadership be a part of this meeting. Connecting with law enforcement will communicate a strong message to the survivors in our churches that we take this issue seriously as we seek to love and protect them with excellence.

Start an abuse-survivor support group: Support groups often create safe places within our churches for survivors to be honest and vulnerable as they continue to walk the long and difficult road of healing. Giving survivors a safe place to speak freely about their abuse and struggles can offer real healing from the isolation they have experienced. When survivors know they are not alone, they can encourage one another by walking through the often difficult journey together. Though one doesn’t have to be a survivor to start such a group, I highly recommended that we seek out the invaluable input and assistance of survivors when putting together such a group. Developing and supporting this group is a powerful way a church can communicate that it values, protects, and cares for those suffering in its midst.

Develop response protocols: Work with the church leadership and outside child-advocate experts to develop a protocol for responding to abuse disclosures. How we respond to abuse disclosures is perhaps the single most important way we demonstrate value to those who have been abused. A protocol that follows the law and places the needs of the survivor first is needed in every church. I will be writing more about this in future posts.

Speak Up: We serve survivors best when we are their biggest advocates. Those who have been abused should find their greatest and most vocal supporters inside the church. Shaming, silencing, and judging have no home in a community that loves and advocates on behalf of abuse victims. Unfortunately, there are still many within the walls of the church that don’t see it that way. That is where we step in and speak up. We speak up for these amazing survivors, constantly encouraging them with our words and actions to hold their heads up high and walk away from shame and silence. We speak up because it is these unsung heroes who so often teach us, inspire us, and reflect Jesus. We speak up because Jesus speaks up for all of us. We speak up because it is our privilege.

Transforming our churches and faith communities into places of refuge for those who have been violated, judged, and marginalized is what the Gospel is all about. If God is our refuge, then our churches must be the places where these precious souls find safety and rest.

Let’s begin this transformation today…

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This article was published with permission from Boz Tchividjian.

It’s original publication can be found here – http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/05/16/7-ways-welcome-abuse-survivors-churches/


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The Abused Addict – Roads To Recovery *Updated 2013*

Over the last few weeks as a guest blogger on Rachel Grant Coaching, we have talked about childhood sexual abuse as it relates to addiction, depression, anxiety, abandonment, PTSD, the impact it may have on our DNA…Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY!!! I only make a joke not to make light of our situation as survivors, but rather to bring a little levity to a situation that for some of feels like the sky is falling and we are being attacked on multiple fronts by creatures that can devour us. So with all of these potential pitfalls and problems seeming to lurk around every corner, what do we do?

Having done my usual research and even stepping into waters just being tested, I have come across both the usual suspects of therapy and a couple not so well-known. It is my hope that no matter whether one of these specific therapies helps you or a loved one or not, you find one that does, because what I do know is that healing from abuse is not something that happens naturally. It takes help, it takes time and it takes work. So please do whatever you need to reach out and find the help that is available.

Under the category of “usual but relatively proven” therapies we find Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, and Self-Help Groups.

Psychotherapy consists of a series of techniques for treating mental health, emotional and some psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapy helps the patient understand what helps them feel positive or anxious, as well as accepting their strong and weak points. If people can identify their feelings and ways of thinking they become better at coping with difficult situations.

Psychotherapy is commonly used for psychological problems that have had a number of years to accumulate. It only works if a trusting relationship can be built up between the client and the psychotherapist. Treatment can continue for several months, and even years.

Some people refer to psychotherapy as “talking treatment” because it is generally based on talking to the therapist or group of people with similar problems. Some forms of psychotherapy also use other forms of communication, including writing, artwork, drama, narrative story or music. Sessions take place within a structured encounter between a qualified therapist and a client or clients. Purposeful, theoretically based psychotherapy started in the 19th century with psychoanalysis; it has developed significantly since then.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally short-term and focused on helping clients deal with a very specific problem. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior.

The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior. For example, a person who spends a lot of time thinking about plane crashes, runway accidents and other air disasters may find themselves avoiding air travel. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment. Because CBT is usually a short-term treatment option, it is often more affordable than some other types of therapy. CBT is also empirically supported and has been shown to effectively help patients overcome a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors.

(Note from Rachel Grant: As as little aside, the Beyond Surviving program she developed for adult survivors of abuse draws upon many of the techniques used in CBT.)

Delivered in a group of people, Group Therapy and Self-Help Groups are for people who have experienced abuse and can be an extremely cathartic experience. Individuals who feel different, ashamed, or guilty as a result of the abuse will benefit immensely from discovering other people who have lived through similar experiences. Although not limited to groups like SNAP and The Lamplighters, they are certainly organizations that have proven themselves to be helpful for survivors of CSA.

(Note: Rachel Grant leads an Adult Survivors of Child Abuse support group every month in San Francisco http://www.rachelgrantcoaching.com and I am the South Florida Area support group leader for SNAP-Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests- http://www.snapnetwork.org – Additionally, Together We Heal helps to provide counseling for those in need. Be sure to contact either of us and we can tell you more).

Next we have some relatively newer therapies, with regard to years of experience in the realm of psychology. TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) is one. TRE is a simple technique that uses exercises to release stress or tension from the body that accumulates from every day circumstances of life, from difficult situations, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences.

TRE is a set of six exercises that help to release deep tension from the body by evoking a self-controlled muscular shaking process in the body called neurogenic muscle tremors. The uniqueness of this technique is that this shaking originates deep in the core of the body of the psoas muscles. These gentle tremors reverberate outwards along the spine releasing tension from the sacrum to the cranium.

Another is by a former associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s educational and counseling psychology department, Kate Chard and it centers on Cognitive Processing. “It was the first NIMH-funded treatment outcome study on childhood sexual abuse,” she says. This three-year study of women (Chard has done an equivalent study with men) took adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse through a 17-week, manual-based program, with individual or a combination of individual and group sessions.

“What you think affects what you feel, which, in turn, affects what you do,” Chard says, summing up the basic theory behind cognitive therapy. “We build on this by saying that due to the traumatic event, the ability to process cognitively has become impaired. Biologists can look at the neurotransmitter connections in the brain and actually see differences between people who’ve been through traumatic events, such as childhood abuse, and people who have not.”

Another option is coaching. While still fairly new, coaching is a great option for survivors of abuse who are ready to move into the final stage of recovery. If you would like to learn more about coaching, you can of course give Rachel a call or email her. She’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about how coaching works.

While these are by no means all of the potential therapies out there, the point I am hoping comes through today is that no matter which type of therapy you seek as a survivor of abuse, the point is that you indeed seek one, and don’t stop until you find the one that works for you. As I mentioned earlier, it is of the utmost importance that you find professional help. Just as a police officer or military person is required to see a therapist when they go through an extraordinary time of trauma, so we as survivors of childhood sexual abuse must get assistance. What we have been through is beyond an extraordinary event, it’s beyond the pale. And seeking help does not mean we are weak, it shows no signs of lacking anything. To the contrary, it means you care enough about yourself and the ones that love you that you will take the necessary steps to ensure your continued growth as a person. Let me say this again, you aren’t weak, you are human, it’s ok for others to help you.

***UPDATE***

I had a reader ask me if I had heard of any therapy for survivors as they related to the use of animals, they spoke specifically of horses. And while I did not find any with horses, what I DID find was some exciting news. I discovered the following article and subsequent foundation that uses dogs to help survivors of all types of trauma, and other therapeutic needs. While its not specific for CSA, I have no doubt that it has the potential to help both children and adults, as it does with other forms of trauma. So please look into it if you are finding that what you have tried has not been successful for you. As I mentioned in this article, the main objective is to keep trying until you find what works for you. We are all different and what works for one might not work for another. But I know you can find something that WILL work for you as long as you look.

http://www.safehorizon.org/index/get-involved-14/volunteer-8/pet-therapy-helping-child-abuse-victims-187.html

http://thegooddogfoundation.org/

And thank you to the reader that brought this to my attention. You may never know who all will be helped with this knowledge…but you can rest assured that someone will benefit from it. Thank you!

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