[Editor’s Note: Everyone has mental health experiences on the spectrum between thriving and struggling. Perhaps you (or a friend) are in a season where you need extra mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical support. In this #mentalhealth series we want to balance personal experience/story with input from mental health and medical professionals. We want to also explore, “How does our faith in Jesus relate to our mental health?” Our desire is to support you as you work towards mental well-being.
If you are considering hurting yourself or someone else, or you know someone who is, please contact a mental health emergency hotline. If you need urgent counselling support, Kids Help Phone is also available for young adults up to age 29 for phone calls, Facebook Messenger, or texting conversations.
Written by Tara Boyce. Tara has been a practising clinician for almost twenty years. She earned a BA in Psychology from Trinity Western University in 2000 and a Masters in Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2002 with a focus on individuals, couples, families, and groups. Since 2004, she has worked with By Peaceful Waters as a therapist serving individuals, children, and families, using a variety of modalities and treatment practices geared to each client. She focuses her training in the areas of attachment, trauma, and emotionally focused therapy. She has also been trained in theophostic prayer counselling for inner healing and generational work.]
What is trauma?
Trauma is defined in terms of our own personal experience. What might seem traumatic to one person may not be to another.
Whatever has caused the wounding leaves an imprint within the nervous system. The body holds onto the messages that were created at the time it occurred, often leaving a person frozen in time. Neuroscience has shown that how we respond to a situation or experience has greater bearing than the situation itself.
The impacts of trauma will begin to show up in our relationships, our bodily response, and emotional expectations. These areas are key building blocks of our personalities. Further, trauma messes with our spirituality. When faced with surviving distressing situations, there’s a need for comfort and protection. And one of the most consistent places people turn to for help is the divine. When pain relief doesn’t come, the resulting feeling is often one of utter abandonment and/or rejection. It’s easy to question, “Where was God in my suffering?” This feeling is in many ways a trauma in and of itself.
Recovering from trauma
Recovering from the devastation of trauma requires developing a healthy secure attachment. This connection can come about in a trusting relationship with a trained trauma-informed therapist. Being trauma-informed means understanding the impact of trauma, whether physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual. If faith in God has been lost after experiencing trauma, and there are lingering questions about spirituality, then finding a Christian therapist may make the difference in also finding God in their recovery.
Entering into another’s pain is sacred and requires unwavering respect for a person’s story. It impacts the nature in which they will engage in their healing. Part of trauma healing is empowering the survivor to take back what was stolen. The traumatic experience created a power imbalance. Therefore, a therapist must continually remain neutral and use the narrative of the client as a guide for the process of healing. We don’t want the therapist to further the power imbalance, even unintentionally. In time, the goal is for the therapeutic relationship to be collaborative. This collaboration creates opportunities for the trauma survivor to have choice, and discover a new narrative that rebuilds a sense of control and empowerment.
Part of trauma healing is empowering the survivor to take back what was stolen.
Walking with others
As a therapist who believes in a loving, omnipresent God, I believe he has created humanity for his purposes, and as his ambassadors to embody his character. When we walk with another in their pain, we bear witness to it. We emulate the presence of Jesus, thus entering into the process of healing. Even more important, and yet so difficult, is to walk at the pace that works for them—their process cannot be forced. There is a learning that happens within recovery through the healing waves of grief. Loss and grief work becomes central to the reparative process.
Neuroscience continues to point to the fact that therapy should stimulate the right (emotional) side of the brain because it allows people to gain understanding of their emotions. This awareness can bring about self-regulation, and research shows that this can lead to emotional stability. Since trauma is centred in the emotional part of the brain, utilizing prayer and meditation in sessions has also been found to bring calm and grounding, thereby creating greater safety. Research has shown that over time, engaging in prayer can change the brain by reversing toxic thinking and has been found to build new neural pathways that will positively alter future patterns of thinking.
When an individual shares their story, it empowers them to find the right language for the burden they have carried. If trauma wounds remain unhealed, there is an ongoing vulnerability to the lies and pain that result from them. These lies can become factual and get stuck in the memory of the event. However, when the shameful parts begin to find their voice, it is words of truth that cut through deceit and manipulation and can bring freedom for the captive heart.
God promises to show his truth and love in the most incredible way possible, by giving himself. Jesus accepts us as we are and fills up our love deficits with his perfect love. He knows what it’s like to suffer the pain of rejection, abandonment, and trauma. It’s his desire to be invited into our pain so we can see him. When we see him, we know him. When we know him, we know his love. In time, and with good trauma therapy, we can feel the safety of that love, and trust with God can be restored.
Did you enjoy this article? We encourage you to check out more articles in our #mentalhealth series.
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