Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Word of Hope Ministries

Word of Hope Ministries

BCC Staff Note: As part of our Biblical Counseling Coalition vision to multiply the ministry of the biblical counseling movement, we enjoy posts like today’s where we can use our BCC “megaphone” to make you aware of biblical counseling ministries. Today we’ve asked Ellen Castillo, Executive Director of Word of Hope Ministries, to introduce you to their ministry.

Who We Are

Word of Hope Ministries is a biblical counseling and training ministry in Santa Maria, California. We also provide ministry globally online. It is our desire to serve you with gospel-centered ministry.

We believe that the Bible has all that we need to help people with life’s struggles. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

What We Believe and Offer

As a para-church organization, Word of Hope Ministries assists people who are facing life’s struggles. This is accomplished by:

  1. Using Christian principles to counsel individuals and families in need.
  2. Training others to competently counsel and mentor in their local churches.

Biblical Counseling

Biblical counseling is committed to the position that Scripture provides the only authoritative guide for what we are to believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The biblical counselor is trained in the use of Scripture and the principles of biblical counseling. The counsel is not based on man’s wisdom, opinions, experience, or concepts of behavior (Isaiah 55:8-11), but seeks to bring the full range of biblical truth to focus on the counselee’s need (Hebrews 4:12).

Biblical counseling deals with the entire range of problems confronting mankind including but not limited to: broken marriages, parent-child relationships, fear, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, stress, anxiety, worry, and any other problems that may result in mental and/or physical immobility. In short, the biblical counselor is equipped to deal with any problem dealing with ourselves, our relationship to God, or our fellow man (2 Peter 1:3).


We offer two types of training.

1. Biblical Counseling Training for Men and Women

This training is held locally on the Central Coast of California only. Ellen Castillo, a Certified Biblical Counselor, leads students through a video-based curriculum that requires a one year commitment. Completing the one-year course qualifies men and women to pursue certification through one of our preferred certifying organizations where there will be additional requirements. The training year begins in October.

For more detailed information about our Biblical Counseling Training, visit Word of Hope Ministries.

Our biblical counseling training is for:

  • Men and women who have a heart to do deep discipleship with those in their sphere of influence.
  • Men and women who are interested in the ministry of biblical counseling.
  • Pastors who want to grow in their ability to counsel (pastors who hold ministry degrees will be able to “audit”: no homework required other than some additional reading.
  • Lay leaders who want to gain expertise about how to help others.
  • Those who are potentially gifted for counseling (a reference from a pastor or leader will be required) and who wish to explore their giftedness further.
  • Those who may wish to obtain a certification as a Biblical Counselor from one of our preferred certifying organizations.

2. Biblical Mentor Training for Women

We use a 13-week course that we’ve developed that prepares women to become “Biblical Mentors” in their sphere of influence. This course is taught as requested by local churches throughout the year. There is also an online version available to individuals and groups that are not local to us. For more information about our Mentor Training for women, visit Biblical Mentor.

Topics: Education, Equipping, Megaphone Post, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , ,

Weekend Resources: LifeLine Mini-Books Video Introduction

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: The mission of the BCC is to advance the ministry of the biblical counseling movement. The BCC is not about the BCC; the BCC is about BC. Today we use our BCC “megaphone” to highlight a video introduction by Tedd Tripp of the LifeLine Mini-Books. This is a new series of counseling resources from Shepherd Press. They are available from and

Topics: Book Reviews, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Video | Tags: , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Who Is Saying Medicine Is Unimportant?

At the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors’ blog site, Heath Lambert addresses the important question, Who Is Saying Medicine Is Unimportant? 

How Does a Pastor’s Wife Care for Her Husband When He Is Attacked?

Pastor Brian Croft at his Practical Shepherding site, asks and responds to the question, How Does a Pastor’s Wife Care for Her Husband When He Is Attacked

What We Look Forward To…

What is it we do and should look forward to in the life to come? Read Jay Adams’ convictions on that vital topic in What We Look Forward To… 

Cultivating Your Marriage and Guarding It from Impurity

Randy Alcorn shares biblical insight into an important and practical way to Cultivate Your Marriage and Guard It from Impurity.

Gospel In Life

Here’s a link to a new web site that collates resources from the ministry of Pastor Tim Keller: Gospel In Life.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Why Counseling in the Local Church?

BCC Staff Note: The mission of the BCC is to advance the ministry of the biblical counseling movement. The BCC is not about the BCC; the BCC is about BC. Today we use our BCC “megaphone” to highlight an excellent new video by the ACBC’s Executive Director, Heath Lambert. Heath addresses the important issue of why counseling is such a vital and integral part of the regular life of the local church.

Why Counseling?

The ACBC has released a new video from Dr. Heath Lambert explaining why counseling is so important to the local church. It’s appropriately called Why Counseling? God calls all Christians to the work of counseling. God wants to use all of us to help others grown in Christlikeness.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Local Church Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Video | Tags: , ,

Loss: Finding Hope That Lasts When Life Falls Apart

Loss--Finding Hope That Lasts When Life Falls Apart

BCC Staff Note: The mission of the BCC is to advance the ministry of the biblical counseling movement. The BCC is not about the BCC; the BCC is about BC. Today we use our BCC “megaphone” to highlight a personal invitation sent from the CCEF’s Executive Director, David Powlison, to you.

Would you consider coming to CCEF’s National Conference in San Diego on October 3-5? Our conference theme this year is Loss: Finding Hope that Lasts when Life Falls Apart. Every person’s life story will become a story of losses, both gradual and sudden. To all appearances loss gets last say in every life “under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes observes. But if Jesus Christ gets last say, then the unfolding story and the final outcome radically change.

We all know that loss triggers deep personal struggles. This conference aims to help each of us personally. Losses also create delicate pastoral care needs. So this conference aims to help each of us minister more wisely and practically to others.

You can look through the schedule of topics and speakers at general sessions will anchor the conference teaching, and 25 breakout sessions will dive into specific topics such as bereavement, aging, infertility, suicide of a loved one, and death of one’s dreams. Sessions will be taught by a good mix of CCEF faculty and outside speakers. Notice also that on October 2 we will offer four preconference workshops, including a highly focused introduction to biblical counseling taught by Ed Welch and myself.

Information about the cost, lodging, travel, and more is also available at Note that there are reduced rates for groups, military personnel, and students. Don’t hesitate to contact our conference staff if you have any

Do consider coming this year. And if you are already planning to take part, would you be willing to spread the word by inviting others? Feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think might be interested. This conference is CCEF’s signature event each year—our faculty’s opportunity to prepare fresh teaching, an accessible way to introduce biblical counseling to new people, and a place where all who attend can connect in person to men and women who love biblical counseling.

Blessings in Christ,

David Powlison Signature

Topics: Conference, Megaphone Post, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , ,

13 Wisdom Principles When Ending a Dating Relationship: How to Break Up to the Glory of God

13 Wisdom Principles When Ending a Dating Relationship--How to Break Up to the Glory of God

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1- Corinthians 10:31

If I had a dime for every time someone has sat on my couch, in tears about a recent breakup, I think I’d be a rich man. I pastor a very young church (the average age is 28). As a general rule of thumb, if you stick a lot of single men and women in the same building, they’re usually going to spend time together and eventually get married. So, having “who should I date?” or “should we get married?” conversations is a fairly normal part of what I do.[1]

Not every relationship ends in marriage. And sadly, Christians can too often look like the world when it comes to breaking up. Ignoring each other. Gossiping about your ex. Longing for the person. Fighting bitterness or fighting to get over the pain of the loss. Giving yourself over to quick peeks at his or her face-book page or Instagram account. (Has he moved on? Or is she still hurting just like me?)

If the gospel really makes a difference in our lives, it should show itself in the worst of moments. But if Christian dating looks no different than the world then our faith shows itself to be relatively useless.

What would it mean to break up for the glory of God? Seriously. How do you end the relationship in a way that is God-honoring and honoring of the other person, especially since he or she is a brother or sister in Christ?

Thirteen things to remember:

1. Remember we live in a fallen world.

There is no such thing as risk-free dating. Proverbs 13:12 reminds us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” When there is a breakup, there is often at least one who still hoped it would work out and has that hope deferred. Though we wish it wasn’t this way, we need to have realistic expectations and ultimately put our hope not in the person we’re dating, but in God who never fails.

2. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’[2]

Don’t beat around the bush. If you know you need to break up, it’s better to rip the band-aid off and be straight-forward. That doesn’t mean you should be cruel; we are still called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and to speak only those words that build up and are fitting (Eph. 4:29).

3. Talk in person, not on email, Twitter, Facebook, or over the phone.

This is a simple way to honor them and provide space for questions or discussion.

4. Don’t make the breakup a one-way conversation.

Often the person breaking up has taken a great deal of time to think, come to his/her conclusions and then unloads and leaves. Don’t do that. There are times when it will be helpful to leave room for a follow-up conversation, giving the “break-ee,” if you will, a chance to hear and process a bit. They may have questions or things to discuss afterwards. Some people are good thinking on their feet, some aren’t…

5. Be gracious and loving in the way you end it.

The worst thing you can do is throw stones and cast blame on the other person, not only making them feel sad about the lost relationship, but making them feel guilty, as if it is somehow their fault. Even in the act of breaking up, you need to be thoughtful, gracious and loving towards the other person (Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians. 4:6; Titus 3:2). After all, he or she is a child of God, and is loved by God, so what gives you any right to treat them any different than God? If you are not sure how to do this, find an older, godly Christian man or woman and ask them for help.

6. Don’t use the advice of a pastor, a close friend, a parent, or a counselor as a trump card.

“I talked to X about this, and he/she thinks we should break up.” It’s tempting to do this rather than taking responsibility oneself. When it comes to deciding who we will or won’t marry, we need to take advice, yet remember that ultimately this is a decision each person must make. If you agree with the counsel you are receiving, own it and make it your own.

7. Fight against bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

When our hope for the relationship is shattered, it is tempting to play the details over and over in our minds until they fester. What can we do to fight against bitterness? (Take a look at # 8, 9 and 10.)

8. Assume the best in the other person’s motives.

1 Corinthians 13:7 reminds us that love “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We can’t peer into someone’s heart, judge their motives, and conclude that they were being malicious. Assume the best in them.

9. Preach truth to yourself [3].

For instance, when you find yourself struggling with the temptation toward bitterness, you can let go of bitterness because God is righteous and just – we don’t need to take vengeance into our own hands. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, 21, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We can forgive by remembering how God has forgiven us in Christ, as we see in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

10. Find your identity in Christ, not in the lost relationship.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14). We need to remember that just as our identity is in Christ in the dating relationship (we are not defined by this relationship or by being pursued), so, too, in the breaking up…this broken relationship does not now define you. Most of the church is not thinking as much about it as you are, so when people ask you how your life is, feel free to share other things that are going on, as there are likely many things to talk about. Perhaps even being careful to only talk to a couple of close friends about the details of how you are processing or struggling, just to protect and build up the other person in your speech.

11. Remember our responsibility to do good to all Christians, even your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.

It is normal (and sometimes necessary) that your relationship not look exactly like it did before you dated. It’s okay to distance yourself or set some boundaries in order to protect your heart—give it some time. On the other hand, you have a responsibility to do good to that person as your Christian brother or sister. Paul says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” This includes a former boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if yours was the heart that was broken.

12. Don’t assume that after the breakup, you must go to another church.

It is possible to stay in the same church with the person you once dated. Too many people assume that they must leave because of how uncomfortable it is initially. It’s easier to run and avoid than to do the hard work of living “at peace” with one another, and eventually (sometimes years later), again being friends. It is not wrong to go to another church, but we don’t want to presume that is the only thing you can really do after a break-up.

13. Remember that regardless of how painful the breakup may be, God is using this difficult experience to sanctify you. 

Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Your breakup is included in this phrase “all things.” If you are a Christian, God is using this experience for your good. As hard as this is, he is making you more like his Son. You might not want that right now. With the pain and sorrow over the lost relationship, what you might want more is your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Or you might want to just wallow in your hurt or sadness. But take comfort from the fact that God wants to use this to refine you, using trials “of various kinds” (James 1:2) to help you become more like Christ.

Join the Conversation

Of the 13 principles, which ones stand out to you as most important? What additional biblical wisdom principles would you add?

[1]The first draft of this comes from Zach Schlegel, who wrote up our shared ideas for a class that we co-teach together on dating. I’ve added to and revised his original draft.

[2]Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

[3]Examples of preaching to yourself would be Psalm 42:5; 62:5

Topics: Conflict, Dating, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Premarital | Tags: , , , ,

4 Visions for the Biblical Counseling Movement

4 Visions for the Biblical Counseling Movement

Some of you may know that I am now on staff for the Biblical Counseling Coalition as the Assistant Executive Director and that I will be assuming the Executive Director role in 2015. This is a 50%-time role, as I will continue working at Harvest Bible Chapel overseeing the counseling ministry there. Harvest has been very generous with support in every way to help us accomplish the mission of the BCC and will continue to do so.

Building on a Faithful Foundation

I want to start by acknowledging Bob Kellemen who has done a wonderful job of building a foundation for the BCC by developing an accepting relational environment and robust resources thus far. While I plan to build on this foundation, I know he and the board want to press forward with new ideas and initiatives.

As I take the role of Executive Director, I plan to build on this faithful foundation with four priorities. I am a fan of easy to remember and compelling words that will tell the story of who we are and where we are going. The four words I chose to describe the vision for the BCC for the next season are:

  • Relationships
  • Resources
  • Replication
  • Reach

So, let me tell you how each of these priorities will be the focus of my leadership in the coming months and how, God willing, they will the focus of all of you who help us build this ministry in the years to come.


The BCC has been about relationships from its inception. I was fortunate enough to be part of the original meetings when this ministry was still just a dream. I remember meeting with BC leaders over ten years ago to discuss how we could work together better.

But what really sticks out is when Jay Adams threw down the gauntlet at the National NANC Conference in 2009. Dr. Adams challenged the future generation of BC leaders to pick up leadership and take the movement to new heights. That very week a group of us met to discuss the inception of a collaborative ministry that focused on defining who we were and how we could be better together.

The BCC vision was cast.

We focused on creating bridges between BC leaders, churches, para-church agencies, and educational institutions by gathering major leaders to see how we could work together. Those formative meetings took place over the next year. We listened long, we debated a bit, and we agreed a lot about what we all stood for. Almost everyone got closer as friends, colleagues, and co-ministers. We went on to develop a board of directors and a council board of gifted BC leaders from around the country.

This culminated in an annual retreat that is attended by over forty BC leaders each year. I am so excited to continue in this tradition and take us even deeper in a complimentary direction.

For 2015, I have three specific goals for furthering relationships in the BC leadership circles:

  1. Find out what unique value each individual ministry brings to the BC table.
  1. Find out how we can support each other personally and missionally.
  1. Create more opportunities for key leaders to talk and build collaborative vision.


The BCC is first a megaphone for other BC ministries. Yet we also produce our own resources that in turn point people back to those individual ministries. For instance, we have now worked together on three major BC books co-written by various BC leaders.

We also have a well-visited, robust website that provides excellent blogs, book reviews, and countless equipping opportunities. While these are great things that we will continue, the BCC also needs to refine its unique value to the BC movement.

We should continue to think about new collaborative writing projects, blog series, and possibly adding a “BC World Conference,” where we tackle larger issues relevant to all who are a part of this movement. I can see this being a win/win for everyone involved.

It’s important to note that Bob Kellemen will assume the role of Resource Director beginning in 2015. He and our board have plans to develop a topical set of books by well-seasoned counselors working together in the near future. As we go forward, I see our goals in the area of resource development focused mainly on creating unique materials and opportunities that could not be offered by a single leader or BC organization alone.


The BCC will continue to help leaders to multiply their influence and to reproduce their best skills, tools, and resources. We want to help BC leaders grow individually and we desire for BC organizations everywhere to thrive. In terms of replication, I see two emphases here:

  1. The leader and his/her unique thing they bring to the movement. On an individual basis we need to grow in our ability to consult, coach, and counsel those making an impact. We hope to pair up mentors with next generation leaders and create contacts for leader development.
  1. As far as the gifts or contributions others can bring to the BC table, we want to provide a broader platform to multiply their influence. How do we take the best practices of each organization and develop a way to feature and applaud it rather than reinventing the wheel in various places? Replication is doing more of what we do best and doing less to compete where others bring more value.

Finally, we hope to take this movement international. Where do we help other countries to structure a BC movement in and among their churches and seminaries? Again, our priority in 2015 will be to find ways to help leaders in the BC movement become the best they can be and multiply the things they do best, both at home and abroad.


This may be the most controversial of the four priorities, but I also think it is the most courageous. It would be easy to hide behind the progress we have made so far as a movement. It would be easy not to press into new territories or not tackle tough issues that sometimes stir up controversy. I see those things as less than what the BCC is committed to. I think it is less than what God would expect of those committed to change and grow in grace and truth.

We have been careful in the last four years to build unity but never with uniformity as the goal. As we mature, our tolerance for differences over style and preference should also grow. I think we are seeing we have built a solid core, but we have some differences on peripheral issues.

For instance, we might disagree even among our council board on whether someone who holds a biblical worldview should pursue mental health licensure. Some members might wonder how others could associate with someone and even have them speak at a conference while they share some differences in philosophy and practice. To broaden our reach we need to understand that association does not always mean agreement and certainly not automatic endorsement.

Is it possible to agree to disagree but invite some who we recognize as Christian counselors to the table of healthy dialogue or debate? Is it wrong to go winsomely into unreached seminaries and churches to engage them and see how we could work together? Will we think the best of each other while trying to increase our influence and reach outside our established boundaries?

Our goal will be to bring assurance to our core constituents that we will not compromise our convictions, but at the same time open the conversation to those outside our circles who are willing to engage us in reasonable and open ways.

It is time to move forward and away from “a guarded” and a “what-we-might-lose” approach, to a “generous” and a “sharing what we have” approach. I for one would have never gotten here without the generosity of BC leaders who lovingly challenged my thinking and courageously associated with a psychologist who wanted to learn.

God-Sized Goals

You can see these are God-sized goals requiring His favor and provision! They will call us to rise up in unity and require the courage to step into new areas we are not always competent or comfortable in. They call for collective prayer, humility, love, and a boldness that overcomes fear or small thinking.

There is much to do and countless thousands who are not being reached by biblical counseling. They need what we have. We have the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and we are the people of God, for such a time as this in a world that desperately needs hope!

I believe the private ministry of God’s Word is a part of God’s plan to light a fire of revival in the churches around the world. I hope you will join us in this journey and hope to meet and pray with many of you along the way…

Join the Conversation

Which of the four initiatives most excite you? How and why? Do any concern you? If so, how and why? What additional initiatives would you want the BCC to pursue?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Weekend Resource: Tedd Tripp Announces the Launch of LifeLine Mini-Books

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: Our BCC mission is to multiply the ministry of the biblical counseling movement. Frequently on weekends we do exactly that as we use our “megaphone” to make you aware of exciting biblical counseling resources. This weekend we introduce you to the LifeLine Mini-Books published by Shepherd Press. This post is a re-post from Paul Tautges’ Counseling One Another blog site. We post it here with Paul’s permission. You can read the original post here: Tedd Tripp Announces the Launch of LifeLine Mini-Books.


It is with joy and gratitude that I introduce to you the LifeLine Mini-Books published by Shepherd Press. Previously known as the Living in a Fallen World booklets (Day One Publications), these mini-books have earned the trust of the biblical counseling community as a reliable resource addressing common areas of struggle in the Christian life, as well as equipping us to minister more effectively to one another.

Shepherd Press is updating and re-releasing 23 of the original titles and will expand the series considerably, with many more mini-books in preparation.

Tedd Tripp’s Announcement…

Here’s Tedd Tripp’s introductory announcement:

Shepherd Press is pleased to announce the publication of the LifeLine mini-book series. These unique books, larger and more robust than the typical counseling book, are still pocket-sized resources. LifeLine mini-books are a gospel-centered series written by people who are in the trenches of ministry. Each mini-book is practical and accessible, written for the person in the pew as well as for pastors and counselors.

The mini-books address a broad range of Christian life and counseling issues, such as abuse, addiction, anger, finances, grief, qualities of a good church, military deployment, marital unfaithfulness, suicide, single parenting to name only a few.

These books demonstrate that biblical counsel can be made simple without becoming shallow. There is real meat here: robust analysis, honest assessment, rich gospel application and practical steps, all delivered in tidy mini-books that will not be overwhelming to God’s people. As blogger Tim Challies says, “These mini-books are exactly the kind of books you’d want to have available to you at church—short, biblical and inexpensive enough to give away.”

Nine LifeLine mini-books are now available in eBook format, and print editions are coming soon. More titles in this series are in production and will be available in the coming months.

The first 9 mini-books, released last week, include:

  • HELP! I’m Being Deployed
  • HELP! I Want to Change
  • HELP! I’m a Single Mom
  • HELP! I Have Breast Cancer
  • HELP! My Spouse has been Unfaithful
  • HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer
  • HELP! My Toddler Rules the House
  • HELP! Someone I Love has been Abused
  • HELP! He’s Struggling with Pornography

These 9 mini-books are now available at the Shepherd Press website. Be sure to also visit the series’ home site,, for detailed information on all 28 titles which are currently in various stages of preparation.

Topics: Book Reviews, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

Robin Williams: Sorrow Behind the Laughter

Dr. Mark Shaw reflects on the tragic suicide of Robin Williams in Robin Williams: Sorry Behind the Laughter.

What Celebrity Pastor Should We Be Most Concerned About?

Writing for Christianity.Com, Joe Thorn addresses the “celebrity pastor” issue. Read his thoughts in Dethroning Celebrity Pastors.

Understanding the Times

Trevin Wax quotes from a prayer of Os Guinnness on Lord, Help Us to Understand the Times.

How to Find Joy in Suffering

Can we really expect to find “joy” in the midst of suffering? Brad Hambrick addresses that question in How to Find Joy in Suffering.

Bio, Books, and Such

Kevin DeYoung has begun a new blog series where he is interviewing leaders in ministry. In today’s post he interviews Collin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition in Bio, Books, and Such: Collin Hansen.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Our Gospel Identity in Christ and Sexual Abuse “Triggers”

Biblical Counseling and Suffering--Our Gospel Identity in Christ and Sexual Abuse “Triggers”

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 4 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on loss, grief, suffering, and Christ’s healing hope. In today’s post, Adam Embry addresses how mind renewal and our identity in Christ can help sexual abuse victims to address unwanted memories and “triggers” of past abuse. You can read Part 1 in this series by Bob Kellemen at There Is Hope, Part 2 by Pat Quinn at Infertility: Grieving the Loss of a Long-For Child, and Part 3 by Paul Tautges at Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God.

Resources for Sexual Abuse Recovery

The statistics on those who’ve been sexually abused is staggering. According to the reported numbers, a quarter of women and a fifth of men will be sexually abused. That means a significant portion of our local church contains people who’ve been sexually abused. So, we must be equipped to deal with this issue.

Thankfully, I’ve found two biblical counseling resources that have helped my counseling. Justin & Lindsey Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault and Robert W. Kellemen’s Sexual Abuse: Beauty for Ashes. Justin Holcomb also has an hour long plus video on his book that’s worth watching. The Biblical Counseling Coalition also has a helpful list of resources on abuse.

Unwanted Reminders

In this blog I’d like to trace out an aspect of how fearful thoughts, thoughts that are caused by “triggers”—surrounding environments, spoken words, and similar situations—facilitate the counselee reverting to fear that places them back in a mental state of abuse.

This is a very real experience for them. It’s helpful to learn their thinking pattern. According to the Holcombs’ research, merely acknowledging and discussing the abuse to someone who believes the abused person helps them tremendously.

Consider an individual who was sexually abused for years. Sinful acts done and words said in secret can bring about connections today. This person can be in a public environment, completely safe from harm, when someone does something to remind them of previous abuse. A conversation overheard in a restaurant unknowingly makes verbal connections that “triggers” the counselee’s thoughts, drawing them back to words and sentences used in connection to abuse. The sexually abused didn’t ask to be abused. And they didn’t ask to have “triggers” bring back those memories.

Consider that a sexually abused person was placed in an environment they never asked to be placed. Because of this, people can unknowingly invade their space. A pat on the back. An unexpected hug. These could be unwelcomed touches, even from friends and family. Or, unknowingly the abused can feel trapped by the way people around them are moving, walking, sitting, being close, or any other physical position that could unknowingly cause a “trigger” for physical uncomfortableness.

The abused will struggle with how to deal with these “triggers” today, even when no longer abused. Why? In one sense, even if they have acknowledged to friends, family, and counselors that abuse took place, there’s still a level of denial that needs to be dealt with. Denial isn’t merely acknowledging the abuse did happen. The abuse has stopped but the “triggers” still continue. The way the counselee reacted to abuse is the way they will deal with the “triggers.” Denial occurs when the abused revert to a coping mechanism to deal with the pain—physical and emotional.

The Holcombs write:

“In your denial you tried to protect yourself from further betrayal or comfort yourself by relying on obsessive-compulsive behaviors, abusing drugs or alcohol, creating distance in relationships and isolating yourself, and/or promiscuity” (Holcomb & Holcomb, Rid of My Disgrace, Kindle location 959).

Without wise and compassionate biblical guidance on how to renew their minds (Eph. 4:23), the abused will revert back to a fearful state when the “triggers” occur.

The state of mind the abused enters is very real, even if there is now no abuse. Essentially, when a “trigger” occurs, they’re placed in a position to revert back to their previous identity of an abused person controlled by fear and sinful abuse.

From Abuse to Identity

Consider this chart that displays the progression from abuse to identity:

Reality > Years of sexual assault > Denial/coping mechanism > Identity of shame, possible sinful responses to abuse, false confidence to deal with abuse
Perception of real abuse caused by “trigger” > Immediate mental state reminding them of sexual assault > Fear/panic attack > Identity of shame, possible sinful responses to shame, false confidence to deal with “trigger”

Both real and perceived abuse lead to a state where the counselee reverts back to living with an identity of shame, fear, and potential sinful responses to cope with the sinful abuse. What needs to happen when the “trigger” leads to fear is that the fear/panic needs to be replaced with godly thoughts that will lead to an understanding of the person’s new and true identity in Christ.

For years, this individual may not have learned to deal with the abuse in a godly manner. Through their shame of abuse, they may have missed a chance to learn how to respond to the sin by seeking God’s mercy and grace. Years of abuse have led to unhealthy thought patterns that have shaped their identity. When the “triggers” now occur, they must seek mercy and grace, calling the “trigger” what it really is—unreality, a fictional situation that really isn’t threatening.

Because this individual can’t control conversations overheard in public, awkward situations at work, physical expressions of non-abusive friends and family, they can’t control the “triggers.” However, they can learn to control their reactions to the “triggers” by seeking grace and mercy. Again, the Holcombs help us understand:

“What happens if you remain in denial? You ignore your need and cling to things that offer false confidence and settle for something besides grace and mercy” (Holcombs, Rid of My Disgrace, Kindle location 983).

Years of abuse led to years of settling for something other than grace and mercy for healing. When the “triggers” occur, the pattern repeats itself, and they are left without help. They’re left in a very real mental state of fear and threat. “Triggers” put the counselee in an environment of fear because it brings back the shame, disgust, and filthiness of the abuse. And since the perceived abuse is in public, not in private, the counselee might believe that others around them in public can hear their thoughts or consider them as filthy because of the abuse. This is a very real perception for them. In their minds, it’s as real as the abuse.

Consider the new outcome if they learn to conquer the fear of “triggers”:

Denial/coping mechanism > Identity of shame, possible sinful responses to shame, false confidence to deal with abuse
Fear/panic attack > Identity in Christ, stopping sinful responses to shame, true confidence in Christ to deal with “trigger”

The pattern can be broken if self-confidence is lost and replaced with true help that’s found in Christ.

Progressive Sanctification and Mind Renewal

Renewal will take time. Fearful thoughts must be replaced with thoughts of hope, forgiveness, and cleansing. False thoughts must be replaced with truth. Self-sufficient thoughts must be replaced with thoughts of self-reliance on Christ’s righteousness. All of this takes time and training.

To use an illustration, they’re on a train riding down the tracks and must flip the switch to move onto a new rail. Knowing that they’re about to crash, fear arises. They must begin recognizing environments where fear can occur and also learn to deal with unexpected environments of fear and get onto a new mental track of thinking.

There’s comfort in their old identity, as strange as that sounds. There’s a way to cope that they’re used to, though they despise the fear. Even if their responses to denial are not helpful, successful, or ungodly, it’s a way of thinking that they’ve established that gives them control over a life where there has been no control. They may have asked God for help during the abuse or during the aftermath, but no change in thinking has occurred. No mental change in identity has occurred.

Essentially, their identity of who they are in Christ has not yet replaced their identity of a shame-filled, filthy, sexual object. Yes, they may be genuinely converted, but the reality of being united to Christ has not yet replaced their abused identity. Once this new identity becomes natural in their thinking—a true perception—then victory over the “triggers” will begin to occur. This is how “triggers” occur and remain powerful in the life of the abused, putting them in a mental state of fear, a perception that abuse will occur and that others will know the gross details.

At this point, it’s helpful for counselors to remember that listening to the abused acknowledge what happened and believe them is a huge help to them finding healing. Equally true is the truth that listening to perceived abuse from “triggers” and its impact on them will be a tremendous help for the abused when “triggers” come. By telling you what happened, they don’t want to deny the abuse. Equally true, they don’t want you to scoff at them for saying that when a “trigger” occurs in public that they’re going crazy. As Kellemen reminds us:

“We earn the right to interact about God’s eternal story by first listening to our friend’s earthly story,” practicing what he calls, “incarnational listening” (Kellemen, Sexual Abuse, 22-23).

Counselors and pastors must take time to help the individual identify “triggers” and make a game plan from Scripture on how to fight fearful thoughts with faithful thoughts of their new identity in Christ. This is what all believers must do whether or not a “trigger” is fear from abuse, lust, greed, or any other sin. But helping the sexually abused will need special care and patient investment of time. Again, Kellemen reminds us, “The goal of sexual abuse ‘recovery’ is not only personal healing, but ultimately it is personal maturity—growth in Christlikeness” (Kellemen, Sexual Abuse, 34.)

If the counselor is a pastor or friend at church, helping the individual to identify and defeat “triggers” can come through a biblical friendship that helps them at public church gatherings. Navigating a path of safety for the individual can come by connecting them with members throughout the church so that they know who people are and that these people do not intend to bring them harm when a “trigger” occurs. Equally true is recognizing that the individual will need personal space at times in public gatherings.

Join the Conversation

How can biblical principles such as lamenting to God, receiving comfort from one another, renewing our minds in Christ, and understanding our gospel identity in Christ impact someone struggling with intrusive memories and “triggers” of past abuse?

Topics: People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification, Sexual Abuse, Suffering | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.