Thanks Jim for that very kind introduction, it’s a pleasure to be here with you. And thank you so much for all of you who are in attendance, it’s really exciting to see so many people who are here to learn about the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and who want to help others who are dealing with a very difficult issue, find hope and healing through God’s word.
I was told earlier that this year summer institute is the record attendance, so that’s exciting. And also, the pre-conference has record attendance. So, really blessed and thankful for that and just pray that the Lord be glorified. And you would be edified and encouraged today. I wanted to give you a little bit more introduction to myself. Jim gave you a great introduction there, very kind. As he mentioned, I’m the Director of The Biblical Counseling Coalition. And while I haven’t really heard other people talk about it as the U.N. of Biblical Counseling, I guess that’s appropriate in some ways. But, I pray and hope that we are more effective than the U.N. has often been. But, we do … One of the greatest things we do is bring together leaders of the different biblical counseling schools, organizations and churches to really try to advance and enhance biblical counseling around the world. To really improve what we do, where we are doing it and then, push biblical counseling into new areas where it doesn’t exist already.
And we do that by building relationships, connecting people together, broadcasting the biblical counseling movement and collaborating together on different things. I’m also a Veteran of the United States Air Force. I served in the California and Kentucky Air National Guard. I was activated two different times, both under Operation Noble Eagle and then in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. My job was not a combat role, I was … My job epitomized what people jokingly call the ‘chair force’. I was fighting the war on terror with Google in a locked down command post. So, I have not personally experienced combat but have a passion and a heart to help those who have. After working at … Being in the military and graduating from Seminary, I also worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for a while, helping people to process disability and compensation claims.
And, while I was there my desire to bring true help and healing to those who have undergone combat or just have other issues related to their military service, was heightened because I saw just the lack of true answers to help people with their problems. And especially, their most needed problems that were offered through the VA and through other places and recognized, “Man, these people would really benefit from biblical counsel.” And so, my desire to provide something along those lines was heightened through that experience. So, when I started my PhD program in Biblical Counseling at Southern Seminary, I wanted to do something in the field of post traumatic stress disorder. There weren’t a lot of resources available in that vein from a biblical counseling perspective. And the Lord has really opened up opportunities for that study for me. In particular, I’m evaluating a ministry called The Mighty Oaks Warrior Program. It’s a Christ centered biblically based program for Veterans and active duty service members who are dealing with combat trauma and post traumatic stress.
This afternoon, you’ll actually get a chance to meet a couple of their instructors and learn a little bit more about that program throughout the day. So, that’s a little bit of my background. Why I am interested in this topic and why I want to share with you a little bit about counseling from the biblical perspective in helping those wrestling with post traumatic stress. So, the talk this morning, this session is called Demystifying PTSD, because I really want to help people understand post traumatic stress in a way that takes away some of the stigma. Some of the fears, some of the confusion that often shrouds this very difficult issue. For starters, the diagnostic and statistical manual, the DSM, which is the book that is used by psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose and then, offer treatment for various different mental health issues. Defines post traumatic stress disorder as “an issue, a disorder, that arises in somebody after … One month after or anytime after one month from experiencing a traumatic event. And it is involves certain systems that are kind of clustered around three different areas”.
The first area of kind of cluster of symptoms or intrusive symptoms. These are memories or dreams or flashbacks that people might have that come to their mind when they’re least expecting it. When they’re not wanting it, when they’re not thinking about it. Oftentimes, these flashbacks are other negative distressing responses like, blacking out or panic attacks or dissociative episodes, can be triggered by stimuli related to the trauma or sometimes, stimuli that aren’t readily apparently related to the trauma. And we’ll talk about that in a little bit. The second cluster of symptoms is really known as “negative cognitive” or “mood alterations”. These are things like, the inability to remember key aspects of the trauma. Difficulty in memory and other areas. Negative emotional states, just feeling depressed, feeling anxious. Having an overall negative outlook on life. Maybe a fixation on death, decreased desire for things that used to bring about pleasure. Isolation, estrangement, other things like that.
And then the third cluster of symptoms are known as “alterations in arousal” or “reactivity responses”. This can include, hypervigilant. Somebody who just seems like they’re always on guard. People who are walking the perimeter, so to speak, at their house every night. Continually just, always on edge, thinking about where the next attack might come from. Trouble sleeping obviously, can be related to that. And then, what’s known as an “exaggerated startle response”. That’s where somebody has a response that seems inordinately over the top to certain stimuli. And you’ve probably seen this depicted in movies or other things where there’s a loud bang, like a door slams or somebody drops a tray, and then a Veteran hits the floor or grabs somebody and throws them up against the wall or something like that. That’s kind of a depiction of an exaggerated startle response.
And as I mentioned, this has to last for over a month and occur from one month to any number of years after the trauma occurred. PTSD, one of the reasons I want to help demystify PTSD is it sounds very intimidating. As I mentioned TVs, movies, media have depicted this issue in a number of different ways that can often, make it very scary for people. Both for people who are diagnosed with PTSD as well as, for those who are wanting to help those who’ve been rec … Who have received this diagnosis. People get this idea of the crazed Veteran who’s going to snap at any moment and could hurt you or go off on a crazy shooting. And that’s an unfortunate miss-characterization of what often, occurs with people who have post traumatic stress. But that’s one of the reasons people can get intimidated by it.
The other reason it can be intimidating is that, people who are experiencing post traumatic stress, have been through really horrific things. They’ve been raped. They’ve gone through a violent attack. They were in a very awful car accident, or they’ve either been in combat. Or they’ve received or seen death or serious mutilating injury of some type of capacity, and just that experience itself can be intimidating for a counselor because, they feel like they don’t … They haven’t been through that. They haven’t experienced what that person’s experienced. And how could they ever hope to offer help to something they know so little about?
And, that can be intimidating. So I want to help you overcome that intimidation in a number of different ways. We can … When we feel like we have … Can’t offer anything because we haven’t been there. We need to be reminded of the truths of Scripture that, we don’t have to experience exactly what somebody else has experienced in order to give that help. So, if you’re here today because you want to help somebody, there’s somebody you know, you love that’s struggling in this way. I really want to encourage you. There is hope, there is help that you can offer and we’re going to talk about that today. And maybe, on the other hand, it’s not … You’re not here because you want to help somebody else. Maybe you’re the person who has been raped. Maybe you’re the one who has lost a loved one in a sudden and unexpected way. May be somehow, your life has been placed in peril. Or maybe, you feel responsible for ending the life of another human being. Perhaps, you’re haunted by memories. You feel robbed of the life you once had. You no longer have that positive, happy-go-lucky outlook on life that you used too, and you want that back or you are depressed because you don’t have that.
And maybe you’re afraid that things will never change. You’ve been told you have post traumatic stress disorder and there’s no cure. There’s just coping mechanisms and medications and other treatments that might alleviate symptoms, but nothing can really change this diagnosis or take it away. Well, I want to encourage you, there is help, there is hope. And I’m thankful that you’re here today with us. And I want to encourage you and pray that God would encourage you through our time together.
Thinking about defining post traumatic stress, my friend Charlie Hodges and I have been working together on this issue and we offer this definition of post traumatic stress. “Post traumatic stress is a whole person response to traumatic events that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual being of those affected. It results in significant disruption of life at home, work, school, and church. And it often draws on anger, fear, sadness, shame, and guilt to disrupt family relationships, friendships, careers, and Christian service. Those who are affected will often compensate the best they can in ways that may compound the struggle they face”. That’s a little bit of a lengthy definition there, but it incorporates a lot of different aspects that we’ll talk about some of those today.
And what I want to do is to begin demystifying PTSD. And I’m going to move and propose to you that we move from an understanding of post traumatic stress disorder to post traumatic stress or PTS. So, I might use those terms interchangeably a bit today. But what I want us to understand today, first and foremost is that, this is not … Most often, this is not a disorder. This is not a irrational or unexpected crazy response to normal life. But this is more of a normal response to really abnormal circumstances and an abnormal situations in life. So, the first thing I want to do is I want to help you demystify PTSD for the counselee. For the person whose wrestling and struggling with the aftermath of some type of trauma. How do we help them understand what’s going on in a way that takes away that mystery, that shroud, of stigma and other false understanding of post traumatic stress?
And the first way that we do that is just, understanding the physiology behind post traumatic stress. Here’s an earth shattering news for you. As God gave you a brain. I know some days and sometimes that seems questionable. But the reality is, God gave us brains and part of God’s design in our brain is a security system. And this is a passive learning system that God has given to us, and it’s often known as the ‘fight or flight’ system or the limbic system. And this passive security system is always at work and it’s always learning. It’s like Artificial Intelligence built into your brain, but it’s not artificial, it’s real. It’s learning by taking in data and information from various scary or frightening situations. So that we can learn and it can help our bodies and our whole person respond to different situations, threats to our life. So that when we face similar situations in the future, we’ll be able to respond better.
And the beauty of it is that … And the reality of it, is that you are all here today because, you have this wonderful system that God has given you. You’ve learned to stop touching hot things and now you have hands, hopefully that work and that aren’t covered in callouses or burns or are missing digits because you learned to stop touching sharp things and hot things. Because, your limbic system identified them as threats and dangers. You also … We’re all here not in an evolutionary standpoint but in a realistic standpoint from the fact that we learned that, not all fuzzy, furry creatures in the wilderness are there to cuddle with. Lions and tigers and bears, are things to avoid and things to run from. And God gave us that fight or flight system so that we don’t have to in a moment’s notice, go through some big long rational process to decide whether or not we should run away or fight certain threats. And that fight or flight system is typical designed to help us do that. To fight, to crush the threat or to run away from the threat. To get away from it. So destroy the threat, or get away from it. That’s what we’ve been given by God. And thankfully, it helps us survive. It helps to keep us alive.
But for those who under … Are experiencing post traumatic stress, that’s resulted because, certain types of trauma. Certain severe traumas or severe system … Certain severe traumas or exposure to traumatic events for an ongoing period of time or again and again and again, can cause that limbic system. It can cause that fight or flight system to malfunction in a number of different ways. But what happens is, our limbic system can get overloaded with the data. Some trauma, some experiences are so difficult that they overload us to the point where we can’t sort through what is truly related to the threat and what is not.
So, for instance, one Veteran had an experience and this IED attacks, Improvised Explosive Device, attacks are a common threat to soldiers in theaters of combat, these days. And what happens is, there’s an explosive that’s setup. It could be a bomb on the side of the road hidden under garbage. It could be a vehicle born IED, which is a car that is loaded up with explosives and driven into a place or whatever. So, one Veteran had a scenario where he’s driving along in a convoy and in the convoy, gets hit by an IED. Well what happened in that instant, is his brain latches onto all the sensory data he can imagine, and can collect. Smells, feelings, sounds, sights, stuff in his peripheral vision that he is not even aware of. The immediate sight of the garbage pile on the side of the road. All kinds of things.
Including, a little red car that was passing by on a road, nearby the attack. That had absolutely nothing to do with the attack. Fast forward a few years, this same Veteran is driving down a freeway in the United States. And in his peripheral vision a vehicle of similar color to that one, begins to go by and he begins to have a panic attack. And he doesn’t know why. He didn’t consciously remember that there was a red Corolla or whatever it was, driving into his peripheral vision. It just happened, and his brain latched onto every single ounce of data that was available to it at that time. But what happens is, sometimes is that data is going to come in. The stuff that he’s not even aware of, and it’s going to trigger his fight or flight response.
Again, this is a God given system that is passive in learning. But it gets overloaded and it can’t always sort out, which stimuli was related to the threat and which stimuli was not. So, what we respond to things that shouldn’t threaten him, typically. In a very threatening fashion. If you think about it, this a really common reason that leads to isolation, right? Because if you don’t … If you’re going through life … If you’re just walking through a mall and all of a sudden, for no good reason, you just start to have a panic attack. Are you going to want too … And a panic attack is increased heart rate, shortness of breath, can lead to passing out, all kinds of other things. There’s a very physiological response, it’s the fight or flight system going into overdrive and then, sometimes, oftentimes, leading to passing out.
If you were walking around, and you start to have these things and you have no idea why. What’s that going to attempt you to do? Isolate. To not … If I go to the mall and I start having that panic attack, and I don’t know why. I’m going to stop going to malls, right? If I start driving down the highway and I start having panic attacks for no good reason. I’m going to want to stop driving. So, when we see people begin to isolate, we need to understand this is not just some … It makes sense for why they would want to isolate. We need to try to understand from their perspective, what they’re going through and they’re not just trying to isolate because they hate people, they don’t want to be around people anymore. They’re trying to isolate because they’re not … They’re having really bad experiences in life that you or I would not want to have either. And they’re trying to avoid them.
Another problem that can happen with the limbic system is that it can get turn … It gets turned on and off when it shouldn’t. Like I said, it’s responding to that stimuli. But it also can get kicked on and left on for a really long time. And that can lead to other psychological damages. Actually, a heightened level of cortisol, which is a stress hormone in our system, can cause changes to the structure of your brain. It can cause the prefrontal cortex, which is where your high functioning like, reasoning thought, it can cause that to shrink. And it can cause the amygdala, which is part of the fight or flight response, to grow. And if you’re living in a constant state of hypervigilant, you have high, high levels of these stress hormones going on in your body all the time. It causes physiological changes to your brain. The beautiful thing is that God has designed those to be reversible as well.
But if you think about it in the sense of … Any of you guys street racers, any drag racers out there? Street racers, no? No? I never find street racers at Biblical Counseling Conferences, I don’t get it. What do you guys have against speed and … No, I’m kidding. I’m a Biblical Counselor as well, I get it, I don’t street race. But, you can imagine … I have some Uncles who do. So anyway. If you’re familiar with any type of street racing, there’s a thing called a “NOS System”, its nitrous oxide, right? It’s that extra boost of energy. If you watch Hot Wheels, you’ll figure this out. You’re going really fast in a really fast car, you have this canister of nitrous oxide that’s hooked to your fuel system, and you push a button and it adds nitrous oxide into the system, which burns hotter than regular fuel. And your engine goes [inaudible 00:20:56] really fast and you just get an extra boost of energy and you go. And that’s kind of like our fight or flight system, right? We’re going along, normal dude, and then we need some extra boost of energy. BHAM, we hit it and we go.
Problem is with the nitrous oxide system, is if you leave it on, you’re going to blow up your engine. Your engine is not designed to take that intense heat for any amount of time. So the same thing, if our fight or flight system is left on for too long, it has negative effects on our bodies. Or it’s like, driving up to the stop sign and hitting your NOS system, right? [inaudible 00:21:30], but you’re not trying to go anywhere. Or you’re driving through the lazy, scenic views along the coast and you’re just enjoying it and you hit your NOS system. [inaudible 00:21:40], and it’s just kicking on and off at the wrong times, it’s going to blow up the system. It’s a very similar response that our bodies have to post traumatic stress symptoms. When our fight or flight system is getting kicked on and off when it shouldn’t. Or when it’s staying on for too long, then it just … It falls apart.
There’s one Veteran I had the pleasure of working with and getting to know. And we were sitting there and I was actually teaching him and a number of other guys, how to do Biblical Counseling, marriage and family counseling. They work with this program, Mighty Oaks Warrior Program. And we’d been sitting for probably, six hours on lush, comfortable couches. Taking breaks every once in a while. But because of some experiences he had in his life, his blood pressure was through the roof all the time. You could see it, his face was always red. He was always on edge. It was a physiological issue. It wasn’t something that he could control. How many of you have ever been diagnosed with hypertension, high blood pressure, anybody? You guys control that? With medications and other things, right? You can’t just make yourself not have high blood pressure.
And that eventually, begins to wear on the body again and again and again. So, I just want to help you understand, there is some physiological problems going on. Intrusive memories are intrusive, they’re not wanted. They come when you don’t want them to come. That’s the whole point. And the reality is, is intrusive memories, neurologically the way that we remember things and the way that we have patterns and habits, and we’re able to do things over and over again. Is our brain creates neuro networks. These are different groups of neurons that fire together and the saying is, is neurons that fire together, wire together. So what happens is, we begin to have developed channels of a sort in our brain. So, when we begin to have certain physiological responses, they’re firing certain neurons in our brain, which can also fire other neurons in our brains that are used to firing at the same time like, thoughts and memories. That we don’t like to have.
One guy I know and was working with who has no post traumatic stress, just a history of anxiety and panic attacks. Every time he goes to the gym, begins to feel anxious. Because his heart rate is getting up and the same neurons in his brain that are helping him get exercising, begin to fire some of those other neurons that were associated with some anxious thinking that he was having. It’s like his body remembers that these two things are related, so I’m going to bring them up at the same time. So, just recognize again, this is not something that is outside the norm or outside of the realm of Biblical Counseling. We just … I want you to have a basic understanding of what that is to understand that there are … This is a whole person issue relating to body, mind, soul, every aspect of our person.
So, the next thing that I want you to see is, we need to understand First Corinthians 10:13, right? Anybody quote that for me?
I hear a bunch of mumbling. Yeah, “Therefore, no temptation is taken except that which is common to man”, right? And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able. But with every temptation, will provide a way of escape. The problem is, is that’s easy to say and hard to believe sometimes, right? Especially if your somebody who’s gone through really intense, difficult suffering and circumstances. You know, the Greek word for “temptation” and “trial” are the exact same word. Because if you think about it, every trial is a temptation. And every temptation is a trial. So when we go through really catastrophic suffering, we are tempted with disbelieving the truth or believing the truth. Trusting in God, not trusting in God.
What we want to help our … The people who come to us understand is, even though they’ve gone through severe, intense suffering and trauma, they are not alone. They’re not the only people who’ve gone through this. Trauma and intense suffering is something that has been part of human history ever since the beginning. I mean, think of Adam and Eve. Their two first born sons, one killed the other. Who found Abel in the garden? Did Eve walk up and find her second born son there, lying dead? I don’t know. But at some point she found out. There are other people who have been through the situation and the Bible has something to say to these situations and we want to encourage people that they are not alone in their suffering. They … This is not a helpless or hopeless circumstance that they’re facing. And the greatest point in First Corinthians 10:13 is not that you are so great that God has allowed you to have intense suffering because, He knows you’re so strong you can handle it. Though, we sometimes misuse that passage that way.
Who does that verse point too? But God is faithful. He’s the one who’s going to provide a way of escape or a way to get through this suffering, right? So we need to point our people to this reality that they are not alone. This is not something that is unusual or unique to them. And God understands and He is the one who’s going to help them out. The next point that I want you to see is just, what I call PTS. This is where we remove the “D” from the PTSD. So we’re still trying to demystify this for our counselee, right? This is what it boils down too. This is a normal response to abnormal circumstances, not an abnormal response to normal circumstances. Helping them understand they are not broken. They’re not freaks, they are not a burden. They are not a problem to be fixed. They are people created in the image of God, who have gone through some horrific things because we live in an evil fallen world corrupted by sin. And this is where I like to just take the “D” out of it and say, “You don’t have post traumatic stress disorder. You’re wrestling with post traumatic stress.”
The next thing as you’re helping demystifying this is for your counselee, is you want to help them understand PTSD is not their identity. A lot of times, especially in the Veteran community, it can become something of a … Maybe not a badge of honor but just something they get wrapped up in, in identifying as, “yeah. I just have PTSD.” And some of the solutions that are offered out there are not for you to begin to work and wrestle through the things that you have but to recognize, you have a disorder that we don’t have a cure for. We don’t have a solution for. So, you just need to help everybody else in your environment and everybody else in your family, understand your struggle and your wrestle. And then, they adapt to you rather than, you growing and changing.
But that’s not really going to be helpful. They become something of a, “This is who I am. I am a Veteran with post traumatic stress disorder.” Or, “I am a victim of rape with post traumatic stress disorder.” Or, “I am X, X, X, X.” This is not their identity. One of the things, we have the pleasure of having a couple of guys from Mighty Oaks come this afternoon to talk to you in a panel discussion, and one of the things that they do really well is, they have a week long program designed to help people wrestling with post traumatic stress disorder. Guess how long they talk about PTSD, in an entire week?
45 minutes. You know what that 45 minutes was? Basically, the intro that I did on physiology. To help them understand, this is not … You’re not a freak, you’re not broken. And the rest of time is designed around showing them what God’s word has called them to be as husbands, as fathers, as sons, as sons and daughters of the King of Kings. And how to live in responsible ways with your finances, with your time, with your purity, with all this other stuff. It’s saying, “Hey listen, yeah. PTSD is a component of your life. Or this thing that you’ve been through is a component. But let’s put it on the shelf, where it belongs and move forward recognizing, this is not the center of who you are.” You’re a human being created in the image of God and if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are a son of the King.
So demystifying PTSD for the counselor. First thing, really simple syllogism here. The next three points are, trauma is a part of life. The Bible addresses all of life, therefore the Bible addresses trauma, right? So the Bible … Trauma is a part of life. First and foremost, I want to reiterate, this is not a military issue. It’s not just a combat issue. Think about all of the first responders who are faced with traumatic events, they see the remanent of car accidents, of suicides, of overdoses. They see death on a daily basis. Or people who are in abusive relationships. People who are attacked. People who go through natural disasters. People who go through car accidents. Trauma is a part of life. And as Biblical Counselors, if you’ve been around biblical counseling for any amount of time, you’re familiar with Second Peter One 3:4, right? Because God has given us everything that we need in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the true knowledge. To deal with everything relating to life and godliness. Everything you need to know in order to live a life that is pleasing to God, is here.
No matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve been through. There’s nothing outside of here that you need to know, to live a life that is pleasing to God. The challenge is, how well do you know this? As Jim likes to put it often, “How thick is your Bible as a Biblical Counselor?” How much … How many passages can you dig into to really understand what God has to say about the complexity of the human heart? And the Bible addresses trauma. I mention Cain and Abel, think about Noah. Why did Noah, the first thing that he did after he got of the Arc and after sacrificing to God, he goes plants a vineyard, passes … And gets drunk and passes out. Have you ever just tried to put yourself in Noah’s shoes and imagine the sounds of the screams of every human being around you drowning? Recognizing that the entire world has been utterly destroyed except for you and the six people onboard the ship with you?
When God’s word says, “All the desires of man’s heart was evil” continually in Genesis Six, that doesn’t look like a nice, quaint pastel blue nursery scene that we paint inside our nursery’s all the time, right? Think about what Joseph went through for decades of his life, his brother’s wanted to kill him. Decided to sell him into slavery. He’s falsely accused, imprisoned. Thinking left for dead over and over and over again. Moses, murders somebody. His life is threatened, he runs away. Then he has to go through all this craziness. I mean, think about what it would have been like in Egypt when every animal is being destroyed. The first born son of every family is killed. All this stuff is going on. Death, death, death, death, death. Walking up with all these people to the sea … To the Red Sea and thinking, “we’re going to drown or be massacred by this army”. And you just move through Saul and David, Jonah. Jonah wasn’t jumping into the ocean expecting to survive. He was trying to commit suicide.
Jeremiah, Paul, the list of suffering he went through in Second Corinthians 11. And then, Jesus. The Bible is all about … Not all about. But it is about trauma. It has a lot to say. So another thing you want to do is to, help your counselee understand that they are not alone. Because a lot of times … I mean, honestly some people who come in … A lot of times people who come into your counseling room, they’re completely ignorant of this, right? I don’t know how many times people have said. “Well, life isn’t like it was in the Bible times. It’s not all happy and good.” And I’m like, “You clearly have not read the Bible. Let me tell you about this guy named Lot. Let me show you what these different judges did to Kings like Agag. And, David didn’t just throw a stone through Goliath’s head, he decapitated him. And oh yeah, by the way, he mutilated the dead bodies of his enemies.” The Bible doesn’t paint a pretty picture of life. So help your people understand that.
And then help them realize … And for you as a counselor, you are not alone in this fight. When somebody comes into get help from you, you are not alone. You’re not the Messiah, in case anybody forgot to tell you. You’re not Jesus. So don’t think that you need to have all the answers, all the time, right away. One resource that you have is your counselee. How many of you take time to learn from your counselee’s when they come in? Not just data gathering, right? Not just finding out about their problems but, they have something to teach you as well. And if you’re not … If you have somebody come in who’s gone through trauma. Who’s gone through combat, who’s been raped. Who’s gone through these different things, and you haven’t. They have valuable information and wisdom to pass onto you as well. Have you thought about that? We need to be humble as counselors. And learn from our counselee’s. Listen to their experience, listen to their heart. Find the struggles within their heart, where they connect with Scripture and where they conflict with Scripture. And begin to understand and have them open your eyes to understand the world as it really is.
I sometimes tell counselee’s and I tell people that I’m training in this situation is that, people who’ve gone through intense trauma actually probably, have a better perception of how the world works, then the rest of us. Most of us, especially in western wealthy cultures, have this crazy harebrained idea that I’m basically in control of my life, right? I have a lot to say about what happens in my day, day in and day out. One of the things that almost every single person, whether they’ve been raped. Whether they’ve been in a car accident, whether they’ve been in combat. Will you tell, is in that moment of intense trauma, they’ve had this extreme sense of a loss of control. That they weren’t in control of their lives. That is more real than the fog, the disillusion that we walk around in thinking that we’ve got it all under control.
Learn from your counselee. You also have other people in your church. We’re going to see Second Corinthians Chapter One, tells us that God allows us to go through suffering and gives us comfort so that we can comfort others with the comfort that God, the God of all comfort, gives us in any affliction. So that means, even if the comfort that you have gotten came because, your husband had a fight with you and stormed out the door and you’re afraid that he was going to get into a car accident because he was driving erratically. And God comforts you and gives you peace to help you deal with those anxious thoughts. That same comfort, can be applied to anybody who’s wrestling with anxiety of any shape.
So don’t discredit the comfort that God has given you. But there is something to the quick connection that can happen when somebody else has been through the same thing you’ve been through, right? When I have a counselee who’s been molested, raped, abused in some way shape or form. It offers them a sense of openness if I share with them my story of being molested when I was a kid. So, there is some value to that. But, just because you haven’t been where somebody else has been, doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say. But if there is somebody in your church community who has been through what they’ve been through, bring them into the process. Help them weep with that person while they weep. Help that … The three of you to work together to understand the situation and to weep together. And then to rejoice together as growth takes place. So don’t do it on your own. Recognize the tools and the resources of the other people in your church community.
Other survivors of situations as well. Those kind of overlap there a little bit. And then, other organizations. There are great organizations. One of the things I love about Mighty Oaks, is they call themselves the “Poke-A-Vet” program instead of the “Hug-A-Vet” program. Alright, there’s a lot of hug-a-vet programs. I mean, on the coast there’s, I don’t know how many like, surfing Veteran, help out Veteran programs there are. There’s a number. And they bring you in, they slap you on the back. “Thank you for you service and we want to help you.” And I don’t want to discredit those things, they’re great organizations, they’re really trying to do some great stuff. But, Mighty Oaks is run by combat Veterans, helping other combat Veterans. So they welcome them, give them a hug, slap them on the back. And then say, “Okay. Let’s get down to business.” Because, they can … because they’ve been where the other guys have been. They’re able to jump in there and they say, “Poke them in the chest” and say. “Okay. This happened in your life. Where are we moving forward from here?”
I’ll be honest, I don’t feel comfortable doing that because, I haven’t been in those same shoes. But somebody else who has. So, utilize some of these other organizations, you’re not on. And then obviously, the greatest person in the counseling room is the Holy Spirit. Always remember that. You are not alone. Jesus is not going to leave you or forsake you. Definitely not when you’re counseling and when you’re opening up His word and delving into the heart of the people and your own heart. He is never going to leave you or forsake you. So rely on Him, open up God’s word. This is the sword of the spirit, right? The word of truth that divides down to the joints in marrow and He’s able to separate the truth from falsehood and dig into our people. So remember those things.
A couple other ways you can help people understand this. And these … A couple biblical examples that I like to use just to help people connect to scripture and realize that the Bible has something to say about this difficulty they’ve gone through. I was talking to somebody this morning, just reminded that, we could spend hours and hours and hours and hours delving into the various nuances of different types of post traumatic stress. There’s something called “complex post traumatic stress” for people who’ve been in long-term abusive relationships or intense suffering for … Think about POWs or others like that. You can get lost into the weeds because there are lots of different little nuance things but there’s going to be some general truths that we’re going to talk about today that are going to be helpful for everybody.
One of those things is helping people connect to the Scriptures and understand that God does have something to say to all of these different situations. But we could spend a lot of time and not all of what Greg or I or God’s word, has to say about this issue can be squeezed into one day. So tomorrow, I’ll be doing a breakout specifically on combat trauma. And then, there’s lots of other resources we’ll point you too. But one of those things, I have a whole lecture on the life of David and Saul, which I can’t squeeze the entire lecture into this but, just think about this for a moment. David and Saul were both Kings, right? First two Kings of Israel. Both have interesting and kind of similar backgrounds in certain ways but also very different. Both were exposed to traumatic events. Both David and Saul saw combat, hand-to-hand combat. Where you’re taking a large piece of sharp metal and shoving it into the body of another human being.
The Bible talks about how Saul saw almost no peace the entire … His entire reign. And David. The Apostles … The Prophet Samuel comes to Saul at some point and says. “Hey, you need to kill this person here.” And Saul says, “I don’t want anything to do with it.” So what does Samuel do? Chops that person into pieces right in front of Saul. Both of them went through really difficult things and both, if you’ve studied Scriptures, manifest something similar to the symptoms of post traumatic stress. If you read through the Psalms, David over and over again talks about sleepless nights. Crying himself to sleep, surrounded by enemies. Wrestling with things that he had done himself, and things that had been done to him. Saul as well. Extreme paranoia, right? He thought David was after him, constantly and trying to kill him. And you can begin to dissect these two guys lives and see, man they have some similarities there, but they also have some radical differences as well.
One of the things that is radically different between the two is are what as known as “pre-traumatic factors”. We’ll talk about this a little bit more later on but, pre-traumatic factors are things … Influences in people’s lives that happen to them before they go through intense suffering. What’s your upbringing? What’s your background? You know the interesting thing is, if you look at Saul and David, the first time that you see both of those guys in Scripture, you know what they’re doing? They’re taking care of animals. I think it’s a really interesting similarity between the two that God put into His word. David is doing what? He’s tending sheep. We’re all familiar with David’s life, he’s tending sheep. He’s laying down his life for his sheep. He’s tearing apart animals with his bare hands, he’s killing them with slings. He’s just willing to sacrifice for these sheep. Saul on the other hand, first time we see Saul is, he’s wandering around trying to find some lost donkeys. He can’t find them and he wants to give up and go home but his servant who’s not even of the nation of Israel says, “You know what? Why don’t we find the man of God and ask him if he can maybe give us some direction on how to find these donkeys?”
I think there’s some interesting insight into what’s going on these two different guy’s lives before they are faced with intense trauma. David has a close relationship with God. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for sheep. Saul gets worn out and tired doesn’t even … He’s not even the one who says, “Hey let’s go talk to the man of God about this”, it’s his servant who has to remind him to go do that. He’s not developing this intimate close relationship with the Almighty God. And then, when he’s appointed King, what’s Saul doing? He’s trying to hide behind luggage. So you see, there’s some very big differences in the way that Saul is approaching life even before they begin to face these traumatic circumstances. And then, there’s something that’s called “peri-traumatic” factors. What’s going on around the trauma? The different influences that are associated with me when Saul is being combative or involved in different traumatic events. He has different reactions. Whereas David, if you take some time and dig into his life, when he’s facing those traumatic circumstances. Oftentimes, he’s seeking out the Lord or he’s doing it for the sake of the Lord.
Actually, if you remember Abigail, who stops David from massacring her husband and all the people affiliated with him because he insults David. She warns David and says, “If you do this thing for your name, it will trouble your soul.” When David goes into battle knowing that God is in control, he’s appointed him as the King of Israel. And he goes out and massacres thousands of people. It’s not going to trouble his soul the same way it will if David does it for selfish reasons. That’s a very helpful thing to help people wrestle with before they go into combat. This is one example. And then there’s post traumatic factors. How have we responded after the fact? If you look at Saul’s life compared to David’s life and how they respond to the difficulties in life. Saul continually moves further and further and further away from the Lord. And where does he end up? Isolated and suicidal. David as he deals with the traumas and the difficulties in life, he does not always handle it perfectly, right? You sometimes have to wonder, why was David not on the combat field when he was up on the rooftop looking at Bashibai?
What are some of the things that we often run too when we’re seeking comfort and all these different difficulties we’re facing? Men, women, booze, drugs. So David didn’t respond correctly all the time but if you look at the Psalms when he does. He might be up in the middle of the night crying, but then he peruses the Lord. And the Lord gives him peace and many nights, the Lord grants him sleep. Not every night. And one of the things, if you study through the Psalms, you’ll see in David with … If you look at it from a perspective of, how is David handling the traumas that he’s gone through in life? And I wrote one paper where I dissected all the different points where you can identify particular stressors in David’s life. Any symptoms that might be affiliated with post traumatic stress and then, how he responds. And you learn some really valuable lessons and one of those things is that the memories are not going to go away, necessarily.
When you’re counseling somebody, if you set that as the expectation that you’re going to take away all these memories. You’re going to fall flat. You’re going to be discouraged, they’re going to be discouraged. The point is not to eliminate these memories. One of my dear friends who has faced one of the most horrific days of combat in Army history said, “If I was going to take the memories away, I’d have to have a lobotomy.” Because they’re there. But how do we handle those memories? How do we address those? Where do we go when they come? Do we run to the Lord? Or do we run to ourselves or to some other place? And David over and over and over again, oftentimes again, not perfectly. But oftentimes, does run to the Lord and he is able to find peace and rest for his soul.
So you have these different reactions. And then think about the issue of Tamar. One of my colleagues, Rachel Rosser, has done a lot of research in something that’s called “complex PTSD”. This is again, people who are in situations of intense stress for long periods of time or facing trauma, after trauma, after trauma. Think about the little kid who is molested by her father night, after night, after night. Or maybe some breaks in there but, regularly for years of her life. There’s going to be some particular difficulties that she is going to face and Rachel often, uses the story of Tamar in her counseling. If you go to Second Samuel Chapter 13, and you see this account of this woman who is abused, who is molested, who is taken advantage of by her half-brother.
When you begin to read through Psalm … Or Second Samuel Chapter 13, you see the Absalom is mourning that he can’t have relations … He can’t be with his half-sister because he knows that this is not appropriate. And he brings in a friend, he talks to his friend about this. And his friend gives him some really bad council to trick his sister … Into pretending to be sick. Have his sister make him some food and then, rape her. If you pick up in Verse six he says, “So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the King came to see him, Amnon said to the King, please let my …” And the King here is David. No sorry, yeah. It is David, sorry. Duh. So Amnon laid down and pretended to be ill and the King came to see him and Amnon said to the King. “Please let my sister Tamar, come and make a couple of cakes in my sight that I may eat from her hand.” That David sent out, sent to the house for Tamar saying, “Go now to your brother Anmom’s house and prepare food for him.”
So Tamar went to her brother Anmom’s house and he was lying down and she took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight and baked the cakes. She took the pan and dished them out before him but he refused to eat. And Annam said, “Have everyone go out from me.” So everyone went out from him. Then Anmom said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the cakes, which she had made and brought them into the bedroom to her brother Anmom. And she brought them in to eat and he took hold of her and said to her. “Come, lie with me my sister.” But she answered. “No my brother, do not violate me. For such a thing is not done in Israel. Do not do this disgraceful thing. As for me, where could I get rid of my reproach? And as for you, you will be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the King for he will not withhold me from you.”
Tamar is concerned not jut about her own physical integrity but about the … God’s integrity. Such a thing is not done in the land of Israel. She’s more concerned about their reputations and what it says about God than she is her own personal purity, right? I mean, she doesn’t want to be violated. Primarily doesn’t want God to be disgraced. And she’s even pleading with her brother not to do this thing. However, he would not listen to her since he was stronger and she was … Then she and he violated her and laid with her. That’s where a lot of these women are going to be. They’re going to feel like they … Because they don’t, they didn’t have the strength to fight off their attacker. They couldn’t stop the person. They might have begged, they might have pleaded. They might have tried to reason with their attacker, but they couldn’t.
Then Anmom hated her with a very great hatred. For the hatred for which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Anmom said to her. “Get up. Go away.” He doesn’t treat her like a person, he treats her like an object. But she said to him. “No. Because this wrong is sending me away is greater than the other you have done to me.” Yet, he would not listen to her. Then he called his young man and attend to him and said. “Now throw this woman out of my presence and lock the door behind her.” She wasn’t even his sister anymore. The one that he pined away for saying he loved her so much. He calls her ‘this woman’. Now she had a long sleeve garment manner of the virgin daughter’s of the King dressed themselves in robes. And his attendant took her out and locked the door behind her. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore her long sleeve garment, which was on her. And she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. Then Absalom, her brother, said to her. “Has Anmom your brother, been with you? But now keep silent my sister. He is your brother, do not take the matter to heart.”
Think about how many people who have been molested by family members have been told something very similar. This is a family issue, don’t make a big deal out of it. We need to cover this up. We need to hide this. So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother, Absalom’s house. Now when the King, David, heard of these matters he was very anger but Absalom did not speak to Anmom, neither good nor bad. For Absalom hated Anmom because he had violated his sister.
One of the greatest ways that you help your counselee and you help yourself understand that this thing we call PTSD is not so scary. Is to recognize that God’s word has infinite accounts of these types of attacks and traumas. It has great wisdom to offer us in these things. Tamar is wandering around wondering, “how will this reproach be taken away from me?” She was the one who was violated yet, she feels dirty and guilty and wrong. When you begin to open that up to somebody who’s been attacked, who’s been raped, who’s been molested. Their heart can begin to meld with God’s heart because, they recognize He understands their pain. It begins to open up for them the truth of Hebrews 4:15 that they have a High Priest who’s compassionate and empathetic and understands where they’ve been. Understands what they’ve gone through. Begin to connect their heart to the heart of Scripture, and help them understand that God knows their suffering.
It seems like it was done in a dark place, in a place that nobody could ever find out or nobody would ever understand. But it’s not, God knows. He knows their heart, he knows their suffering and He cares. So for you as a counselor, I hope that you have a better understanding that you don’t need to be afraid of this label, post traumatic stress disorder. Don’t … You don’t need to be scared because you are not alone in this battle. You have other people you can rely on. You have other resources and most of all, you have God. His word and His spirit to open up these truths to you and to your counselee to give them healing. To give them hope, and to give them a future. And we’re going to dig into some more of those in the future. And if you again, here are the person who has suffered. I pray that you just begin to see a glimpse, just a tiny glimpse of the hope that God has for you in His word.
Let’s pray together.
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you so much. That we are not left alone to try to figure out these difficult situations, these difficult trials, on our own. And Lord, I pray that as you have offered Greg and I the opportunity to open up your word and to share in the ministry of suffering souls that, you would embolden us and help us to speak with your spirit and your spirit would take our words. And bring about good change in the lives of people here today. So that they would find hope and healing for their own suffering. And be equipped to offer hope and healing to others who suffer as well. Or we thank you that we do have Jesus, a High Priest, who experienced greater trauma than any of us could ever fathom. Yet, walked through it without sin, upright, wholly and perfect. And He cares for us. And He loves us deeply. So Lord, help us to understand that love and to walk in it more faithfully as we go out from these times together. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.