Forest, VA — The American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) gathered panels of experts during its 2018 Mega National Christian Counseling Conference in Dallas focused on providing the latest research and resources to help counselors treat sexual trauma, abuse and violence in the #MeToo era.
The AACC announced that it will develop a new 15-hour curriculum about sexual trauma, abuse and violence that will be offered as continuing education training for licensed and credentialed professionals. To help ensure the curriculum is comprehensive, the AACC has solicited the experience of national experts to provide feedback about the trends and issues they’re currently seeing and hearing as they treat sexual trauma patients.
Leslie Vernick, best-selling author of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, noted that too many victims believe the myth that “if only I were strong enough I wouldn’t have been traumatized,” or even “if I were a better Christian this wouldn’t have happened.” Others suggested that some Christians believe the myth Christians shouldn’t involve the authorities but “let the church handle” abuse allegations.
Martha Shuping, M.D., reflecting on how treatment methods need to change as society changes, suggested that counselors must be ready to help victims process trauma that occurs at the hands of the clergy. Recent revelations of systemic abuse within the Catholic church underscore her point, and she added such abuse perpetrated by religious leaders has the power to “distort the victim’s view of God.”
Along those lines, Jennifer Cisney Ellers, Executive Director of the Institute for Compassionate Care, suggested more work is necessary to bring awareness to the role of power and authority, lamenting that “many victims believe they’re in a consensual relationship, but they’re not, their abuser is often a boss, a leader or someone in their life with authority or influence.”
Molly-Catherine Goodson, a North Carolina attorney and advocate, suggested that our society has romanticized sadistic abuse. She referenced multiple cases she has observed in which domestic and sexual abuse has occurred explicitly from an attempt to replicate a “50 Shades of Grey perspective on sex.”
Recent cultural shifts have also brought rise to the #MeToo movement, with unprecedented numbers of women feeling empowered to speak out about the abuse they’ve experienced. The panel believed a generational failure within our culture and the church to disciple, mentor and educate millions of young men about what it means to be a man and how to respect women has contributed to such terrible abuse.
Yet, the church must also understand that sexual trauma, abuse and violence must not be treated as only a women’s issue. Men are frequently perpetrators, but statistics show they are frequently also victims.
Therefore, it’s important for pastors and churches to develop practical systems for how they respond to the men, women, teens and children who come forward to reveal that they’ve experienced abuse, being careful to listen and receive victims’ stories.
Pastors and church leaders should not feel responsible to personally provide treatment. Ben O’Dell, program specialist at the HHS Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, reasoned that a pastor knows he won’t be asked to administer chemotherapy to someone in his congregation with cancer. It’s “his responsibility to know there are others whose expertise should be sought.” The pastor’s role, the group readily agreed, is primarily to care for the spiritual and emotional needs of those seeking treatment services.
The group closed by addressing how to impart hope to traumatized individuals. Sharmen Kimbrough, M.A., noted a primary goal should be to “get them back to the foundation of who they are,” making sure to remind them of who God says they are.
HHS Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives Director Shannon Royce added that victims must be encouraged to report abuse and that those around them must stand with them when they do, because “stepping forward allows the victim to take a piece of control back in their lives.”
The American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) is the world’s largest and most diverse association of Christian counseling professionals. The AACC’s mission is to equip the entire community of care, including licensed professionals, pastors and lay caregivers, with biblical truth and psychosocial insights so they can minister to hurting persons and help them move to personal wholeness, interpersonal competence and mental stability. The AACC accomplishes this mission through its widely attended events, its educational programs and materials available via Light University and its other publications.
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