Clinical psychologist Dr. Robi Sonderegger teaches the leaders and Bible School students how to journey with a victim of trauma to overcome his past experiences and lead him into a life of empowerment.
By Clinton Dixon and Yong Yung Shin
Over three and a half days, clinical psychologist Dr. Robi Sonderegger unpacked a treasure trove of both theoretical knowledge and practical applications on how to help victims of trauma overcome distressing life events.
The workshop aims to enable people to coach others in life skills, action plans and mind-sets that recognize, challenge and overcome trauma, stress, anxiety and depression that has impacted their lives adversely.
Originally launched at the Pabo refugee camp in northern Uganda, the EMPOWER program was established on the findings of years of professional clinical trials and sound Biblical doctrine and has gone on to form a unique results-based approach to tackling mental health issues.
Relationship is key—whatever trauma an individual has suffered, be it war or abandonment trauma. Hence, ensuring good group dynamics when facilitating a discussion is important.
- Facilitate, don’t fix! Rather than preach or give advice, get participants talking. It is only by creating new neural wiring that they are able to renew the mind, and this rewiring can only be done through talking. Thus, it is never our responsibility to provide answers for the people we are working with. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” For example, if somebody asks, “Do you think I should tell my wife?”, the facilitator should reply, “Do you think you should tell your wife?” It’s always the client’s responsibility to form answers to his own situations.
- Create to participate. Don’t let any one person dominate the discussion, but let everyone have a chance to speak. Validate what they say—perhaps by summarizing, clarifying and rephrasing. Take a genuine interest in what the other person is saying.
- Pace, don’t race. Ensure that everyone in the group has a good understanding of the key principles discussed before progressing, for example by asking “What was the best thing you learned?” or “What did you like/ not like most?”
- Laugh a lot. While no trauma is ever a laughing matter, making sure that there is laughter is important as people learn best when they are having fun.
When we share something private with another person, we establish a connection with them. But any healthy relationship has boundaries, for example setting a “Do Not Disturb” timeframe to ensure that the facilitator’s privacy and personal space is protected.
More importantly, counselors have to understand from the beginning that they are not responsible for anybody’s action; what they are responsible for is ensuring that the relationship is a healthy one without the client becoming overly dependent on them. One strict safeguard is to avoid counseling anyone of the opposite gender. Also, it is important to create a safe environment of trust where people are free to laugh, cry and share their experiences by drawing up a “code of conduct” or confidentiality clause.
Fine Line Between Creativity And Madness
The brain can have an enormous influence over one’s personality, feelings and yes, even creativity; staying in the “slipstream of creativity” is a matter of balancing one’s passion and reflection, as shown in the graph below:
The graph highlights the dangers for those who swing from extreme to extreme and do not live a balanced life. Creativity with too much passion and no self-reflection will lead to madness whereas creativity with too much reflection and no passion will lead to depression.
To stay in the optimal creative zone, one should always think about how to use his talents to bless others—by this, he become resilient to a lot of the criticism that he risks receiving by using his gifts.
A person who has recovered from trauma is able to perform daily functions without any impediments, and can recall the past without any negative emotional baggage. He is also able to engage his creativity in being a blessing to somebody else.
How Our Brains Work To Help Us Achieve Goals
While we should let people grieve instead of skirting around the issue, we can still rejoice in the Lord. The concept of grief is like a shaken can of soda, to be opened gently, until the cap can eventually be unscrewed without any spillage.
Counselors need to be delicate with those who have been traumatized, and one of the best ways to help them is to get them to set objectives. Negative motivation gets them to the starting line, but it is positive motivation that helps them cross the finishing line.
To make a transition from negative to positive motivation, help clients to focus on what they appreciate. There are, however, times when reflecting is not appropriate, such as:
- When client repeatedly conveys thoughts or resentment for unchangeable events in the past.
- When a client’s problems demand immediate practical action.
- When clients wallows in negative thoughts to avoid dealing with issues.
The end goal of the EMPOWER Trauma Rehabilitation is not to treat, but to encourage and journey with people who have gone through trauma, equipping them with life skills to overcome stress and empower them to have a renewal of the mind that brings about lasting transformation.
For more information on the EMPOWER program, log on to www.familychallenge.com.au