All counseling is theological in nature. Since all counseling operates within some vision of life it necessarily involves theology, beliefs about the world and the way we were made to live in it. This cannot be avoided, and so all counselors are theologians, of a sort. The question, of course, is what sort of theologian. In Restoring the Shattered Self, Heather Davediuk Gingrich writes as a Christian counselor, yet her book reflects significant shortcomings in theological awareness. Restoring the Shattered Self is consistently more psychological than Biblical.
An evolution of sorts has been taking place within the field of trauma counseling. For many years the dominant area of focus has been Post -traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many who experienced various forms of trauma were treated as having PTSD. But Gignrich, rightly, notes that there are some who do not match the criteria for PTSD and treating them as such may not help them navigate their struggles well. Her book, then, is intended to bridge a gap, as she sees it, in the professional training of counselors. With the increasing acknowledgement of the uniqueness of Complex Trauma, there is an increased need for educational assistance in treatment. Gingrich aims her sights on helping readers understanding both the uniqueness of CTSD and the three phases of treatment.
Phase I describes the development of safety and stabilization in the counseling process. The goal is to develop a sense of “safety within the therapeutic relationship” (64), that is becoming a safe person for the counselee. As counselors build a report, and earn trust, they can then help individuals with CTSD navigate safety from others and safety from self. This safety aims to help individuals stabilize their traumatic symptoms so that navigation of them can begin.
Phase II starts that navigation of trauma. “The counselor’s goal in Phase II is to help clients process an integrate specific trauma memories into a deepened awareness of their life story, identity, and relationships” (97). Gingrich helps counselors learn to assess a counselee’s readiness for Phase II work, and then addresses issues of memory and integration. She also helps counselors to assist counselees in their navigation and management of intense emotions, which accompany the experience of traumatic memories.
Phase III focuses on helping a counselee adjust to a new way of living. As they have managed their symptoms, and integrated their traumatic memories the goal now is to help them develop healthier relational patterns. Learning to live as whole and healthy people requires some guidance and so Gingrich gives counselors to the tools to assist counselees in this final process. She also walks readers through the best way to prepare individuals for the termination of formal counseling.
Overall there is much to appreciate about this book. Gingrich’s familiarity with the psychological literature is deep. She can introduce readers to a broad swath of research on trauma, ranging from PTSD and early childhood trauma to EMDR approaches. She adds to this her own experience as a counselor. She can commend approaches based both on research and trial and error.
Gingrich also writes as a Christian and integrates as much of her faith into the counseling process as she can. She holds prayer in very high esteem and speaks frequently of it throughout the book. She also acknowledges the power of God, the hope of Jesus Christ, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and makes use of Scripture at times to reference the compassionate model of Jesus. But the weight of her work is very clearly on the psychological, not the theological.
Despite being written by a Christian counselor, there is very little within Restoring the Shattered Self that a non-Christian would reject. She makes very little use of redemptive treatments found in the gospel. Her affirmation of person-centered approaches and mindfulness exercises were particularly disappointing. Furthermore, one can’t help but wonder where the deep and powerful theological truths of union and identity to Christ, justification, adoption, and sanctification fit into her psychological framework. The lack of meaningful engagement with theological truth is noticeable in this volume.
Restoring the Shattered Self is a good book. There’s a lot of useful help and research available to the discerning counselor in this volume. In the absence of insightful and detailed literature from within the Biblical Counseling community on subjects like CTSD this volume offers some guidance. But, as with most integrationist works, there is simply no theological depth to this work. Dr. Eric Johnson said it best in his review. He wrote:
As with most books that exemplify an “integrationist” orientation, the book’s familiarity with the secular literature on the topic and its significant psychological sophistication is not matched by a familiarity with relevant theological literature and a comparable biblical and theological sophistication. (Themelios, Nov. 2014)
Counseling is always theological, and to be truly helpful it must be as equally strong on sound doctrine as it is on psychological methods. Restoring the Shattered Self simply isn’t balanced enough to offer as much help as it could.