Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse (AACC Counseling Library) by Diane Langberg

Dr. Langberg presented every dimension of sexual abuse-its mental and physical aftereffects on the victim, and how the abuse impacts one’s spiritual well being by hindering the individual from coming to Christ. Dr. Langberg has been working with sexual abuse victims for nearly twenty-five years. She included one woman’s graphic story of abuse, which brought tears to my eyes. I felt pain and sorrow for the little girl in the story. Anger welled up inside of me as the woman depicted an escalation of abuse as she grew older, in which her father prostituted her to other men. This woman, Meeka, was denied love, protection, and a childhood.

Dr. Langberg listed several “indicators” which manifests as chronic symptoms (migraine headaches, muscular tension, TMJ, gastrointestinal problems, anger difficulties and deep grief) or “somatic effects” (though she warns that these are not proof that abuse had actually happened) (88). Emotional aftereffects of sexual abuse include a mistrust of others, fear of intimacy, and a feeling of being “different” (89). Dr. Langberg described child sexual abuse as “tentacles that reach throughout the adult life of the victim” (92). I believe any abuse is detrimental to the person as it is to ministry because it can prevent people from ever being close to others at church. Dr. Langberg recognized that abuse forced people to “live with a split identity…to pretend she was not abused” in order to maintain “even an appearance of a relationship” (128).

I found Dr. Langberg’s detailed list of “survivor’s needs” very helpful. She tapped into the core of practical ways someone could help a survivor, such as not simply offering help but following up with phone calls, notes of encouragement, and invitations of fellowship (278). Then she listed “hindrances” to helping. For example, Dr. Langberg expressed that counseling survivors is a long process so one should not counsel with the unrealistic assumption that the person will be healed after a few sessions. She also recommended that only trained women ought to “walk alongside” survivors since a male’s intervention would probably elicit fear and other negative responses. Dr. Langberg’s graphic description of sexual abuse enlightens the reader of the magnitude of evil that is committed upon a child. It is no wonder that the survivor must face many “truths,” namely, “I was not the abuser,” “I was not protected,” “I was a victim,” and hardest of all truth- “I am capable of abusing others” (146).

One of Dr. Langberg’s treatment methods is to have survivors rewrite Isaiah 53 as a way to draw closer to God by recognizing that Jesus also suffered (150). She included one survivor’s gripping reinterpretation, which seemed to incorporate personal hurts of the writer. This exercise allows survivors to realize that they are not alone and have not been abandoned by God despite the emotional and physical torture they had encountered.

In the second treatment exercise, Dr. Langberg uses scripture to restructure the survivor’s image of “self.” By rewriting a passage in the book of Ephesians as if to herself, the survivor thwarts the untruths about herself– such as what abusers have said “she was” or what her feelings say “she is” (153). Dr. Langberg relies on scripture as a means of healing survivors and though she understands that the “results” are not “instantaneous,” she believes it is a powerful practice because “they involve the eternal Word of God” (155).

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

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