Therapist Hermeisha Hopson on a Christ-Centered Theology of Trauma

At times, the magnitude of suffering in the world can seem too much. In the past year alone, we’ve been confronted by headlines of gunmen massacring concert-goers, church members, and children; entertainment executives preying upon women; a sexual predator molesting upwards of 300 girls; and police officers violently responding to unarmed civilians—and these are just the stories that have made national news. In our personal lives, too, we sometimes see firsthand accounts of domestic violence, child abuse, and other traumas.

As the church, we’re called to mourn with those who mourn and comfort the afflicted, but it’s not always easy walking this journey alongside our friends and family. Hermeisha Hopson, a therapist and licensed social worker with a biblical counseling background, is intimately familiar with the work of coming alongside survivors. Hopson runs Refuge Counseling and Consulting Services in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and has over a decade of clinical experience with severe trauma victims.

She recently spoke with CT Women about how to equip churches, families, and individuals with a scripturally sound approach to trauma treatment.

How do you define trauma?

It’s any sort of disturbing experience that produces an overwhelming and unmanageable emotional response. Trauma covers a gamut of things—from a loss of a pet to the loss of a loved one to childhood sexual trauma. Often, folks struggle to concentrate, or they experience sleep problems and nightmares. These are cues that the situation has become unmanageable and that it’s not something that they can just bounce back from.

How did helping people suffering from trauma become a personal passion?

I’ve personally experienced sexual trauma and trauma within the body of Christ. Part of my desire to work with those suffering has come out of my own recovery. Today, my mission is to help the church become healthier. We have all of the truths of Christian orthodoxy, and those are transformative truths. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between orthodoxy and orthopraxy and a lot of that has to do with our emotional health.

What catalyzed your own healing?

I sought out a therapist, she happened to be a believer, and she was clinically trained and biblically sound. (These types of qualities are sort of often hard to find! It’s like finding a unicorn when you find somebody that’s a believer and has the clinical training.) It was through therapy, as well as allowing the Holy Spirit and prayer to transform my heart, that I began to heal.

It seems like it was a huge step for you to decide to pray, especially if you were angry at God.

Just being able to acknowledge anger is difficult for a lot of us because we can run away from feeling any type of negative emotion and think that it’s sinful. But in Scripture, we see the Lord experiencing all kinds of emotions, including anger. What you do with those feelings is what the Lord is most concerned about.

Would you say that people “overcome” trauma? What is the right word there?

I use the word recovering because it’s not like a set point where you say, “Okay I’m healed; it’s done; it’s over with.” When you talk about trauma in your past, it’s not like your memory’s erased. You still have that memory. The way the Lord has wired our brains is that certain triggers can bring up those memories again. Recovery really looks like this: Am I managing some of the triggers or painful reminders in such a way that it’s not completely crushing me anymore?

A lot of folks come in for treatment and they’re just completely overwhelmed. They’re having panic attacks or nightmares. They’re responding out of rage and outburst. They’re suffering from bitterness and resentment. They’re being triggered with all sorts of stuff, and they don’t know how to end the cycle. My job is educating them about the definition of trauma, helping them understand that what they’ve gone through was traumatic, and then giving them a sense of self-awareness. The goal is to help them desensitize or reduce some of the impact of the trigger so that they’re able to respond and relate better in relationships as spouses and parents.

So the goal is to not shut down.

Right. You want to be able to de-escalate yourself, essentially. This takes self-awareness, work, consistency, and commitment. It also requires courage, because you’re facing some hard things from your past.

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Source: Christianity Today