The language of “trauma” and “trauma-informed”1 Trauma-informed care is a service delivery approach focused on an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. It promotes positive outcomes by emphasizing physical, psychological, and emotional safety and enhances wellbeing by empowering individuals to define their needs and goals and make choices about their care and services.” (Trauma-informed care. Home. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2022, from https://www.traumapolicy.org/topics/trauma-informed-care ) has become more prevalent in Biblical Counseling circles. I have become increasingly alarmed because I have suffered much from the trauma-informed approach to counseling. We should be cautious when it comes to adopting secular language. Words such as “trauma” and “trauma-informed” carry an entire worldview and presuppositions that are at odds with a biblical worldview. As I seek to outline my experience with Trauma-Informed Care, you will observe how these secular strategies are counter to biblical goals. It was only by becoming biblically informed that the symptoms of my Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) diagnosis were folded into God’s redemptive plan. I plan to share my testimony and personal context in this article, and in a following article I will evaluate the counseling systems I experienced and how I biblically counsel others with the presenting problems that result from intense suffering.
I was deployed to Iraq four times starting in early 2004, I served 44 months in an eight-year period. Combat tours like this will take a toll on both your physical body and your heart. My response to the situational heat of combat was entirely destructive. When losing friends and facing night terrors, I turned to alcohol and medication for comfort. Eventually, I became bitter, angry, and selfish.
In time, my sinful choices led to an inability to function, creating greater situational heat in my life. So, I went to the Army doctors for care. After ten years of service, I was medically retired. The diagnosis? Complex PTSD, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, suicidal ideations, and several other comorbidities. I thought having a diagnosis would make me feel like I understood myself better, but it turned out to only add confusion.
I committed myself to get well. If you have read The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Van Der Kolk2 A., V. der K. B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books., you will know the “best practices.” Among these were psychoactive medications, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy3 “Psychotherapy that combines cognitive therapy  with behavior therapy  by identifying faulty or maladaptive patterns of thinking, emotional response, or behavior and substituting them with desirable patterns of thinking, emotional response, or behavior” (Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Cognitive behavioral therapy definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved August 10, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cognitive%20behavioral%20therapy ), EMDR4 “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a non-invasive, evidence-based method of psychotherapy that helps victims recover from the effects of psychological trauma through adaptive information processing. EMDR therapy is an eight-phase trauma treatment that comprehensively identifies and addresses experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural resilience or coping capacity, thereby generating traumatic symptoms and/or harmful coping strategies.” (What is EMDR?: Trauma recovery. Trauma Recovery | EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs. (2020, May 4). Retrieved August 10, 2022, from https://www.emdrhap.org/content/about/what-is-emdr/ ), and an infusion of Eastern mysticism, including yoga, acupuncture, and similar therapies.
I gladly committed to weekly appointments with my therapist, and they placed me on five different medications. I applied myself to every suggested activity to get better. I became more self-centered over time, justifying my treatment of my wife as “PTSD” and this was my “new normal,” which I must accept, as must everyone else. I became isolated; when the medication didn’t stop the night terrors, I drank to drunkenness and passed out. My family suffered greatly during these years. The medication numbed me and made me so tired I would sleep 12 hours a day. I didn’t help with our newborn because I needed my sleep to “get better.” I refused to go shopping or engage in social activities because it made me anxious. In my life, this is what Trauma-Informed Care did. They are essentially broken cisterns that can hold no water, which appear to be good, comforting, and appealing to my sinful desires. But I was left dissatisfied, entangled in sin, and was brought to the end of myself (James 1:14-15).
But God, in His redemptive providence, led me to a book on prayer. This book laid out daily office hours of praying through the Psalms. As I spent time in the Psalms, I saw David and the other Psalmists cry out to God in their pain. Their experience matched mine, and I began to follow the age-old pattern of crying out my own psalms to God. The more I followed this pattern, the more I trusted God. I began to see Christ’s suffering on the cross in more than two dimensions. I was beholding Christ daily through the eyes of faith. The Holy Spirit began to convict me of my sin. I began to confess my sin. First to God (Psalm 51, 1 John 1:9), then to my wife and others (James 5:16). There was no blame-shifting, and I needed to take responsibility for my own sin. I confessed to those I had hurt by my drunkenness and anger. This process led to a greater conviction that the therapy and medication I had been taking were counter to Christ-honoring faith.
God provides the resources in His Word to cultivate greater holiness in the midst of intense suffering. More importantly, the Son of Man, who knew no sin, came to learn obedience through what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). The Man of Sorrows, who is acquainted with grief, is our God, Redeemer, and Lord (Isaiah 53:3)! There is no depth of suffering or depravity of sin that is beyond the redemption of God, but we must humble ourselves under His mighty hand for salvation, which He alone can provide, not Trauma-Informed Care.
In the second part of my article, I will describe my experience with the various therapies and my current method of biblical counseling for those with intense suffering.