Helping victims of trauma is not a simple process. Trauma is a unique form of suffering and requires, then, a unique approach to care and counsel. Trauma impacts a person’s sense of time, experience of the body, and ability to communicate. Biblical counseling that seeks to be effective must be able to speak to each of these dynamics.
Over the next few posts I hope to address each of these in an introductory manner. This is not a comprehensive treatment plan for victims of trauma, and it should not be read that way. Instead, it should be viewed as an introduction to the key issues involved in Biblical Counseling’s approach to caring for those who have suffered trauma. In this first post, however, I am simply going to introduce the nature of the three-fold impact.
Trauma alters a victim’s sense of time. We understand time in three categories: past, present, and future. Trauma dismantles those categories and merges the past and present into one. Traumatic events in the past perpetually invade the present. Victims may often live as though the past events were still happening, flashbacks may be triggered at any moment, and ongoing symptoms of past trauma haunt present experience. Their sense of time has been completely altered.
Esther, for example, had an unexpected and visceral reaction to the Lord’s Supper. While sitting in the pew and preparing to take communion, as she had often done before, she was overcome with vivid reminders of horrific events she had seen. The pastor’s words about the “blood of Christ” triggered a response in her that flooded her mind with memories. It was as if the injuries of her past were happening right in front of her.
In addition a trauma survivor’s experience of their own body can be altered. We might note the ways in which survivors of certain types of trauma come to be disgusted with their bodies, or stand in judgment over their limbs and various body parts. They hate their body because of what happened to them, even blaming their body for the trauma. We might also mention the cognitive defense mechanisms that, in the moment of the trauma, felt an emotional overload and inhibited the experience of physical sensation. Such defense mechanisms can become maladaptive if, in the long-term, physical sensation remains impaired. A victim’s sense of their body is dramatically altered.
Tommy, for example, had a sense that his body was not his own. He knew at some level that it was his hand, for example, but often he felt as though he was watching himself do something that he didn’t make a choice to do. It wasn’t his hand acting out, it was his arm making the movements. It was and it wasn’t all at the same time.
Likewise, a victim of trauma often lacks the language they need to communicate their experience. This is not a defect in the individual but a testimony to the complexity of trauma. What words seem adequate to describe such experiences? Often victims will lament their inability to make sense of such events, to find words to describe how they feel (or their lack of feeling). Trauma can rob us of a sense of meaning, of a connection to language. So, a victim’s ability to communicate is challenged.
These three components, then, can completely alter a person’s world. They feel disconnected from time, unfamiliar to themselves, and isolated from others. Any hope of offering help requires Biblical Counselors to speak into these three areas of impact. Thank God, that His Word offers us insight into each area. Next week we will begin to explore how God speaks to each of these components that trauma impacts.