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Helping the Individual Through PTSD {Transcript}

Welcome back. Thanks so much for making it back to our Pre-Conference on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder here at the Summer Institute. It’s good to see that most of you are able find your way back from lunch. I hope that your meal was satisfying and that doesn’t cause you too much trouble in the area of wanting to go to sleep. It’s always a challenging thing as a speaker to be up after lunch, but I pray that the Lord give both of us grace as we think about it and how to help the individual through PTSD.

This morning, I talked a little bit about demystifying PTSD that Dr. Greg Gifford got up and shared about the interpretive nature of posttraumatic stress disorder. In this session, I’m going to talk about helping the individual through PTSD and then he’s going to come back up later and talk about how to help families deal with the issue of posttraumatic stress.

The first thing that I want to point out to you and to remind you of, and I mentioned it a little bit earlier, is that when you’re helping somebody wrestle with posttraumatic stress issues, your confidence is in the Lord, it is not in you. You are not in this fight by yourself for sure and you are not the Messiah. You are not the one who’s supposed to give all the solutions, all the help to somebody. This can be really tempting and a lot of counseling scenarios. We need to remember this for all of them, is that we can try to take on burdens that are too great for us and do things that are not really our responsibility and that can be really damaging to our souls as well. Remember to put your hope and the hope and confidence of your counselee in Jesus Christ not in you.

One of the things that you want to do, the next thing you want to do when you’re dealing with somebody who is wrestling a posttraumatic stress is to demonstrate 1 Corinthians 10:13. We talked about this a little bit earlier on, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a verse that is common to biblical counseling in all areas, no temptation is taken you except that which is common to men and God is faithful. He will provide a way of escape. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able, but will provide a way of escape so you’ll be able to endure it.

That truth is true for every situation and it’s true for trauma survivors as well. For those who are wrestling with posttraumatic stress, they are not alone. This is harder sometimes with people who’ve gone through intense trauma to believe or to understand. What I’m saying and demonstrated, I’m saying go beyond just telling it to people because you can say here’s the Bible. The Bible says this. The Bible is true so you must believe it. That’s harder for people to believe than to just hear. If you can demonstrate the reality of 1 Corinthians 10:13, that’s going to help them get over that gap of you don’t understand what I’m going through. Nobody understands what I’m going through. I’m in this alone you can’t help me. It’s going to get them beyond that point to understanding and receiving the hope and help that God’s word can actually give them.

One way to do that is to use biblical narrative. I mentioned earlier on in the talk, some of the different situations of trauma that had been recorded in scripture and the scripture is full of them, from the fall to the flood to Jonah being sold by a fisherman. You just go through it over and over and over again. I kind of walked through a little bit the situation that Tamar went through in 2 Samuel 13. If you look at the life of Saul and David, I’ve taught before on them as a case study of how people respond to trauma, and to combat trauma and other types of trauma both in a positive and a negative light.

If you help people read the Bible through the lens of the suffering and difficulty that life has always held since the fall of mankind into sin. It can help them understand that they’re not alone. When they see the story of David who was a combat veteran, who went out, killed people, decapitated them, mutilated the dead bodies of his enemies to get his dowry, and then in Psalms 6, he’s describing sleepless nights where he’s soaking his couch in tears and his enemies surround him and he’s wrestling with these realities, that begins to help people connect their story to the story of scripture in a way that helps them understand, they are not alone. That demonstrates the reality of 1 Corinthians 10:13.

As you walk people through, I think at some point, pointing them to the life of Jesus Christ as one who didn’t live a perfect, happy-go-lucky life. Some people who are unfamiliar with the Bible or didn’t grow up in church, think the Bible is full of happy stories of people’s whose lives were great and hunky dory, but they’re not, and you know that if you’ve read the scripture. Jesus’ life, if you can help them reinterpret Jesus’ life in a way that is true and accurate according to scripture, they will see Jesus was an intense sufferer. Isaiah tells us that. He’s a man of sorrows and acquainted with much grief. Then if you can show them that, it also helps them understand Hebrews 4:14 and 15 that they have a high priest who understands where they’ve been, who understands what true suffering is.

Another way that you can help demonstrate this is to use fellow sufferers. The Mighty Oaks Warrior Program that I mentioned before and we’ll get to meet a couple of their instructors here in a little bit. Jokingly calls themselves a poke-a-vet program instead of a hug-a-vet program. Because of the connection that they have with other combat veterans, guys who come in to the program thinking nobody else understands what I’ve been through can’t say that because the instructors have all been through the program. They’re all former combat veteran. They’re all combat veterans who’ve been in difficult situations, who’ve seen the hardship and they’re able to get past the separation that people can throw up of you don’t understand what I’ve been through and they’re able to poke them in the chest and say, “No, we’ve been there.”

Let’s start talking about solutions rather than just focusing on the problems. Using people who’ve been through other difficult circumstances can help you get past that wall of disbelief of not trusting 1 Corinthians 10:13. Then if you are a person who’s been through trauma yourself, another thing you can do is use your own personal accounts. Use the stories of the trauma that you’ve suffered and then take that comfort and encouragement that God has given you to comfort and encourage them through that as well.

If you can share your difficulties, the hardships you’ve been through, that can sometimes bridge that gap and open them up to receive the counsel that God’s word has for them through you. 2 Corinthians 1:3 through 4 makes it really clear that we don’t have to have experienced the same traumas, the same trials that other people have, but there is a certain value of shared experience so that we can share those struggles. 2 Corinthians 1:3 through 4 goes on to tell us that the hope… The God of all comforts, comforts us in our afflictions so that we may comfort others in any affliction with the same comfort that we’ve been comforted with.

I wrote an article so I called, Growing Compassionate Counsel Through Imagination. That’s on the BCC website. I just talked about the fact that if you use your imagination to just put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and think, man, I haven’t been in combat, but if I just imagine the horror of having my life threatened and seeing one of my close friends killed right before me and feeling the guilt of what would that create in me? A sense of guilt of why him not me? Why Lord did you allow him to die and not me or why did you allow him to die at all? The anger and hatred you might feel towards somebody else and maybe actions that you took after that. Just try to imagine that and then think about truths from scripture that would offer you comfort and encouragement in those moments. Oftentimes that can point you to places in scripture that will provide hope and comfort and for those that you’re trying to minister to.

Sometimes they may not be as familiar with scripture, so your guidance and your counsel pointing them to different places in scripture is going to be abundantly helpful and you can be motivated and drawn to different places through trying to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what you would be, how you would handle certain circumstances if you’ve never been there, but if you have been there in a wise and truth and loving and gracious way, use your own personal stories to connect them to that.

Another key factor, the next major point in your outline there is to establish and integrate them into community. Galatians 6:1 and 2 says that, you who are spiritual restore … When you see someone who is caught in sin and trespasses, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking through yourselves as well that you would not be tempted and in the same way. It just reminds us and it goes on to say that doing so, bearing one another’s burdens, fulfils the law of Christ. We are loving and fulfilling God’s command to love one another when we help each other carry the burdens of life that we each bear. That’s going to happen through community.

That term there, you who are spiritual, is not putting some section of the church above and other section as though those are spiritually elite people who can help other people. If you look in the context of Galatians chapter 5, it’s those who have the Holy Spirit and who are walking by the spirit, the passage right before that is talking about the fruit of the spirit versus the deeds of the flesh. In contrasting those and then says, and if you will live by the spirit, let’s walk by the spirit. Those are those who are spiritual according to Galatians 6:1.

Integrating them into a genuine, true community might start with your relationship. As their counselor, as a biblical counselor that they’ve gone to, to get help, you have a special place. One of the ways that you can just develop that relationship is the idea of a ministry of presence. Just being there, making yourself available to them when they’re struggling. We’ll talk about in a minute that you are not supposed to be the only person. We mentioned that in the beginning. Don’t think that you are the source, the Messiah, the solution to their problems but you do play a significant role. Be there but don’t make yourself the sole source of encouragement and hope. Sometimes just sitting there with somebody and suffering alongside them, weeping with those who weep is valuable. Helping them learn how to go to the grocery store without having a panic attack. Just walking them through these things can be a real benefit to you.

Then bring along other team members as well. Dealing with almost every counseling issue really should be a team effort not just an individual sport. It’s something that we work together in the body of Christ.

Another group of people you want to include in the counseling process is the person’s family. Very few other people have as much vested interest and seeing this person grow in godliness and dealing with the struggle that they’re facing than the family members. I’m not going to delve into all the particulars of that because Greg is going to deal with that later but definitely include spouses, brothers, sisters, parents, children, anybody else into that process to help this person have true communion not to isolate.

Then you also want to include the church for sure, maybe that is you, maybe you’re the pastor. The pastor or biblical counselor is going to be key to that. That might be you or it might be somebody else you might a biblical counselor working with other team of biblical counselors or underneath the pastor. Make sure the pastor or other leaders in the church are aware. There’s small group, small group leader that they’re involved in. It needs to come alongside and minister to the families, a whole meeting, physical need as well as spiritual, emotional needs. Bring them into that and then definitely two to three people of the same gender who are close friends of this person can reach out to and call at a moment’s notice when they just need somebody to help them gather their thoughts and speak the truth to themselves and think through this, the reality of what is going on and what’s not going on and if they’re not actually in the moment of trauma that they were reliving from years before but they’re somewhere else and they can really think through the truth.

One of the things that I remember hearing from Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re familiar with her and her ministry. It’s phenomenal what the Lord has done through that woman and she just exudes joy and the love of Christ even though she experienced lifetime of difficulty and struggle. When she was 17 dove into shallow water, broke her neck and has been paralyzed for over 50 years now. Been in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, the longest living quadriplegic in recorded history and dealt so many other issues.

One of the things that she said after sharing her own testimony and even wanting to kill herself early on as she wrestled with what her new life was that isolation brings death but community brings life. We find life in our friends, in the community of people that God has brought around us, but when we isolate that can lead to death. As we talked about earlier on, it’s no wonder that people who are wrestling with posttraumatic stress want to isolate because of the things that their body goes through, the memories that they have, the other things that they’re experiencing sometimes with no known reason. It’s no wonder they want to isolate, but isolation is going to lead them to death and even thoughts of suicide and even acting out on suicide. Whereas this community of true love, true community not just people that are surrounded by, but true community, people who are going to get into their lives is going to bring life and really help them.

Then you remember earlier on in the morning, I talked about the fact that why people who wrestle with posttraumatic stress tend to isolate is they’re encountering things that nobody wants to encounter all the time. They’ve already gone to really horrific trauma. They’ve seen their friends and loved ones killed. They’ve been attacked. They’ve been through explosions and combat and violence and rape and difficulty. They have had their lives and the lives of somebody else around them threatened or ended.

Then randomly, seemingly at random with no desire of their own, no control of their own, these thoughts, these memories keep flooding back into their minds. Sometimes, it’s so extreme that they black out and they don’t even understand. I have one dear friend who is sharing with me one of the first times he went to Mighty Oaks. He’d been a combat engineer in the army and he was driving on a van. Sorry, messing up the timeline. He is at Mighty Oaks, which is on a ranch up in Central California, one of their locations. He’s in a van. He’s driving down the road and he goes from paved road to dirt road. Have you guys ever drove on a dirt road? It’s different when driving on a paved road, right?

What happens a lot of times when you’re driving on a dirt road is you start to kick up rocks. It make a sound of metal being hit by projectiles. He said he’s driving down minding his own business, not thinking anything and all of a sudden, they’re on a dirt road and the next thing he knows he’s waking up and there’s a guy giving him a sternum rub and another guy checking his pockets to make see if he has any medications that he needs to take. Why?

Because when he was in the combat theatre, he was in a heavy piece of equipment, he was getting shot, it has a ballistic glass so he’s technically behind bulletproof material but when you see AK-47 rounds embedding themselves into the glass in front of your face over, and over, and over again, you begin to think at some point that stuff is going to give way. He’s stuck and he can’t get away from it.

Those rocks hitting the inside fenders of the van, took him back to that place. He didn’t mean to do that. He didn’t know. He didn’t even know until reflecting back on it a lot later, that that’s probably what happened. You start to have those types of experiences where at random you can just black out. You’re not going to want go out and be with people, so you need to surround yourself that person with people who understand, who love, and who are going to fight that tendency to isolate. Somebody who can go with them maybe to the grocery store and walk with them and begin to identify, hey, they’re starting to amp up a little bit. Maybe we’ll just need to go sit on a bench for a little bit, talk about this, driving down the highway, start to feel a bit panicky.

They needed somebody that they can pull over on the side of the road and they can walk up and down the road and say, “Lord, help me to take my thoughts captive. I know I’m in a safe place,” begin to speak the truth to themselves like Philippians 4 would encourage them to do, say I’m not in Iraq. This is not the place where IEBs are going to be common. I’m okay. I’m safe. This is true. Pray to the Lord and ask for things and also have somebody on the phone, a friend on the phone who can talk them through all those different things.

You need to fight the tendency to isolate with true community, because that isolation is going to oftentimes will lead to death. Because the further and further and further away they get from relationships and the more they get consumed with just their own thinking and turning on themselves and having just a revolving door of their own thoughts, that can be a dangerous place and it can often lead to suicide or some other really perfect thing. You want to build a community of people around this person who loved them, who cared for them. They’re going to show them the love of Christ and point them to truth that they can remind themselves of regularly.

Another thing you’re going to want to do as a biblical counselor when you have the opportunity to is you want to help them reinterpret their history through scripture. You want to help them reinterpret history through scripture. One of the big things that people wrestle with, especially I don’t want to say especially in a combat situation, but in traumatic experiences that involve other people, whether it’s rape, abuse, some kind of attack or combat, is the issues of responsibility and forgiveness. Well, how many of you have ever had people on your counseling ministry that didn’t understand true biblical forgiveness? Everybody should raise your hand.

I mean the reality is that there’s radically bad understanding of forgiveness in our culture and in our churches, right? People just think an apology. I thought I’d just say, I’m sorry, it’s okay. That’s all that needs to happen. People don’t understand that the true nature of what forgiveness looks like a transaction between one person and another who’s promising not to hold things against them, not to bring it up to other people, all those things that hopefully you’ve heard about and learn in your biblical counseling training.

If you haven’t learned about that find out, find a good resource on forgiveness and read up on it. I don’t have time to go into all of it. When you’re dealing with somebody who’s been in a traumatic experience involved somebody else or themselves, there’s a lot of questions running around their minds about guilt, responsibility, forgiveness. What am I supposed to do in this situation or that situation? I know for combat veterans, it can be especially difficult when they have taken another person’s human life, another human life. When they begin to think about it like Greg mentioned it, it’s an interpretive disorder because they start to question whether or not that was a justified action.

Some of the guys that I work with, they’ve been in horrendous fights. I knew one guy who had been in a few different fights actually doing counter drug operations in Mexico against the cartels and he had an ice-pick shoved through his face, hit over the head with an axe handle. He had had a compound fracture of his arm where a guy fell on his arm and broke it in three places and I mean just crazy, crazy stuff. You think, man, all those fights would probably really bother him. The thing that bothered him the most, he was what’s known as a combat controller in the air force. They’re one of the jobs that they have is to be dropped in to enemy areas and call in air strikes on particular targets.

He was dropped in the First Gulf War ahead of the ground invasion and he was one of those guys that Norman Schwarzkopf would point to the little old school TV and watch them, the laser guy, the missile hit the target. He was one of the guys guiding those missiles in with the laser. There was a high value target in an area and he identified the target, called in, said, hey, there’s this target, and they said, okay, we want you take him out, call in an air strike. He calls back their non-combatants in the area, women and children. It doesn’t matter. It’s a high value target, we need to take him out and he wrestled with that, because he ended up going through with the attack and he said the thing that bothers me more than anything is that moment, can God forgive me for that?

You need to help them understand 1 John 1:9, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The reality is you might not be able to get into all the different intricacies of motivation, and who was right and who was wrong, who was in charge and who was making the call and all those different things. At some point, sometimes you can walk through those things a little bit. A couple of resources that are really helpful, putting your past in its place, by Steve Viars has a great section on helping people parcel a guilty past versus an innocent past.

Are you struggling because you were sinned against or because of sin that you struggled with? Then did you respond biblically or un-biblically and either a guilty past or innocent past situation, it’s a great resource. I encourage you to check it out. To help people just walk through those types of questions because they’re going to have those questions.

Did I do anything to encourage that guy to rape me? Was I responsible when my uncle snuck into my room at night and did that? Should I have told somebody when I didn’t? Those kind of questions are going to be running around in the mind of your person and you want to help them understand them from a biblical perspective. Take time and walk through those things and help them frame what they saw, what they experienced, what they did from a biblical perspective. The whole question of self-forgiveness, can I forgive myself? That is a big, big question with people who are wrestling after a traumatic event and help them understand true biblical forgiveness and finding the rest in the final complete work of Christ in his work alone.

Another helpful article is one on the BCC website by Dr. Bob Jones called Distinguishing Guilt From Guilt. He talks about the idea of false guilt versus true guilt and a few other things there. I encourage you to check out that resource, but help people walk through those questions. The other question you have to ask yourself they are going to be asking is, where was God? Where was God?

Joni Eareckson Tada shares in her own experience that she questioned early on after she broke her neck and was left a paraplegic, she wondered where was God? Was God against me in this moment? Did I do something that he turns his back and Satan shoved his heel into my hip and have me dive into that water and snapped my vertebrae?

The reality is, is we have to at some point in the process teach them to understand that God was there. Not only was He there, but He was active for some reason in bringing about this trauma and Greg talked about that earlier on a little bit that God uses with precision the suffering and the trials that he brings into our lives for our good and God’s glory. He brings about good things through our suffering. Walking them through the life of Joseph sometimes is a really helpful exercise because Joseph if you think about it, Joseph could have thought many times over and over and there are times in his life, if you look where he’s questioning God, where are you? I thought, I thought I was going to be this great guy who had his family bowing down to his feet, right? I had these visions when I was a kid and then I’m abandoned, falsely accused, all this difficulty, walk that person through Joseph’s life and help them understand a couple things.

One, when Joseph was going through the hardship, what did he have to hang on to? He had the promises of God. It kept him faithful. Then, you can take them to the very end of Joseph’s life, and say, look in Genesis 50 chapter 20, Joseph says these amazing words to his brothers, what you intended for evil, God intended for good. You see, Genesis 50:20 wasn’t put there so a bunch of like near reformed guys can get really hyper excited about the fact that God sovereignty, no, it was put there to comfort people who had done evil.

You can help the veteran who’s struggling with guilt over what they might now classify as moral injury and say, even if you had evil intent in your heart, when you did that action, there is hope that God can use if for good. The fact actually that they’re sitting there with you talking this conversation over is evidenced in the fact that God is using it for good. If God can take evil intention and use them for good, how much more can He can or maybe not how much more, but He can obviously also take good intention and use it for good as well. Helping them wrestle through those motivation questions, all those questions are really good but they need to understand God was not absent. He didn’t go on vacation. He didn’t turn His back. He was there. He was present and He was actively involved in your suffering.

Another question that is going to come up is, what was the point of my suffering? What was the point of my suffering? Why would God do such a thing to me? One maybe obvious answer is that you would be able to then help other people who’ve been in your circumstance. One of the things I love about Mighty Oaks is they encourage our guys to pay it forward. They say, you don’t have to have a PhD in Biblical Counseling, you don’t have to be a pastor, you don’t have to be a seminary guy. If you’re three steps ahead of somebody else, grab them and show them how you made those three steps and help them move forward.

There’s a lot of comfort and encouragement of knowing that, hey, my suffering wasn’t pointless. If I can turn around and help somebody else suffer well too. There’s a lot of comfort in 2 Corinthians 1 to be gained from that.

You need not also help them understand the idea of the world terms at posttraumatic growth and when I first heard this idea, it was like, oh man, they’re so close. It’s such a beautiful thing. I mean the secular world is recognizing that people can actually be better off after their trauma than they were before their trauma because of the trauma. We have an amazing thing in our understanding, in our world view, in our ability to understand called sanctification. I like to point from a fact that you’re going from PTS to PTS. You’re going from posttraumatic stress to posttraumatic sanctification. Amen.

I mean think about that. I mean Paul over and over, and over and all kinds of ways uses this idea that I’m better off now than I was before because of the trials that I have gone. They’ve drown me closer to Christ. Think about the terminology he uses in 2 Corinthians 12 where he says, “I have fellowship in his suffering.” When we suffer we are drawn closer to Jesus Christ so we understand him better and he understands our knowledge of his understanding of us deepens, as we truly experience the suffering that he has. The reality is sometimes the growth that you will have would not have come about if it wasn’t for the suffering that he went through.

How many of you just think about it in your own life. What are the seasons that have caused the greatest growth in your own personal sanctification? It’s typically not the easy happy go lucky fun times. It’s the suffering. It’s the trial. It’s the difficulty. We want to point them to the fact that God is using. What was the point of my suffering? I don’t know all of the benefits that God had in store for your suffering, but I know a few of them that I can point to you from scripture and then just keep praising the Lord every time a new one comes up.

I mean there are going to be people here today who will come up and who will talk to me, who will talk to Greg or to other people who’re going to say that thing that you shared helped me do X. Well, a lot of the things that I’m learning I’m not learning from me. It’s not like I have some great brain that’s just creating the stuff I’m drawing it out of God’s word and I’m drawing it from the life experiences of people that I get to experience. I get to go back to that person that had that testimony, have that store and say you know what your testimony of the suffering that you went through and the growth that God had a new life helped dozens more people this conferences being here. Amen.

I mean there’s just an endless number, an infinite endless possibilities in the growth and the benefit that can come to your suffering and think about this. Just let this point sync home for you for a second. The greatest good that has ever occurred in all of history came through what? The worst traumatic event that ever occurred in history, that the shed blood of Jesus Christ the father turning his back on him when Jesus the God in the flesh cries out, my God, my God why have you forsaken me and it is finished. He was murdered as a capital criminal even though he was entirely innocent. He wasn’t just murdered he was tortured and then murdered.

A completely innocent human being who also was divine, the creator of the universe, the word made flesh was executed in the worst and most horrible bloody long drawn out form of execution anybody has ever imagined and God took that to bring us salvation. Amen?

The greatest good in all of history of all time human and otherwise was brought about through the worst trauma that could have ever have been executed ever. When you can bring that reality home to somebody who’s been through horrific suffering and they can begin to experience the unity and the fellowship of Christ and understanding his suffering and the potential for the good that can come about through that suffering oh, what a blessed day that it is when God opens their eyes to see the potential of the good that he can work through the worst times that this person has ever suffered.