Health tip: Finding Hope after Trauma

Dr. Christine Dietz

Finding Hope after Trauma

by Christine Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W.

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

(October 2018) Like Christine Blasey Ford, I have been mocked for speaking out about sexual assault. The year was 1970. My friend, Jeannette, and I were speaking to the monthly meeting of the Burlington County, New Jersey, Bar Association as part of an effort to develop a Rape Crisis Center in the area. All in attendance were men. Our presentation was scheduled after dinner, and we were asked to wait at the bar. The bartender assumed we were prostitutes. We did not understand that we were the evening’s entertainment until we began our presentation, and I was not prepared for the mockery and hostility with which we were met. I will always appreciate the elderly man who got up and walked out in disgust.

Unlike Dr. Ford, I have never personally experienced sexual assault or spousal abuse. But I have spent the last 48 years working to ensure that the voices of women like Dr. Ford will not be silenced. I worked for rape crisis programs in New Jersey and Iowa, wrote the first article in a social work journal about family dynamics of father daughter incest, offered training and psychotherapy for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence in New York State, and taught and developed curriculum in a social work program in Maine devoted to helping beginning social workers confront oppression, trauma and their own biases. I served on a statewide task force in Maine to bring awareness of trauma into every aspect of the mental health system. I wrote articles, and gave presentations. Throughout this time, I provided counseling services to male and female survivors, perpetrators and their families.

When the #MeToo movement appeared on the scene, I was concerned. We have been having this conversation for almost fifty years. Was anything changing? Could we really make a difference? But at the same time, I was hopeful. Another generation of women was speaking out, energizing allies and making the public aware of sexual harassment, assault and abuse. Perhaps our moment had come.

This past week was devastating, for me, my colleagues and my clients. Dr. Ford found the courage to speak truth to power, and was, as she had feared she would be, annihilated. She was condescended to, ignored, even mocked by the president. And yet, I have found it difficult to give up hope. She DID speak out, and many hundreds more found the courage to join her. The genie is out of the bottle, and it is hard to stuff it back in. Things are changing, and I have hope for the future.

What is the evidence for hope? According to a New York Times article[i], Fred Rogers reported that, when he was distressed about a disaster, his mother would comfort him with the words, “Look for the helpers.  You can always find people who are helping.” I know. I see them every day at my workplace, the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, where 31 mental health professionals provide psychiatric, psychological and counseling services to numerous survivors of sexual violence and assault. In the past week, I offered counseling or spiritual direction to six women and one male survivor of sexual and physical violence, listened to a friend whose memories of her own sexual abuse were triggered by the hearing, and led a training session for mental health professionals on trauma sensitive care. This was a relatively slow week. My colleagues were just as busy as I was. Every day I am privileged to witness the heroic work survivors undertake to heal from violence and abuse. Like Dr. Ford, many of these survivors are dedicated to “giving back” and helping others heal in what Dr. Judith Herman calls a “survivor mission.”[ii] Women like Dr. Ford and the #MeToo movement have also inspired survivors to speak up about abuse many years after it happened – some into their 60s and beyond. They did not speak up before for fears of not being heard or believed at the time and they were right – but no longer!

The conversation about rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault and abuse of women is not over. Women who have been in this struggle for decades are being joined by millennials to hold those who abuse women accountable. More women than ever are running for office at every level, and they are energized. They will not be silenced. Despite the characterizations of some, this conversation is not about partisan politics, it is about human rights and human dignity.

I pray that it will not take another 50 years to make a scene such as the one we witnessed this past two weeks unthinkable. I pray that women and men will continue to struggle for a democratic vision in which ensuring physical and emotional safety, respect, a living wage, health care, education and civil rights for all is viewed as common human decency, not partisan politics.

If you or a loved one needs help to deal with memories of sexual and physical assault or abuse, help is available. For emergencies, please contact your local rape crisis shelter or domestic violence program or go to your nearest emergency room. For non-emergency counseling services, the mental health professionals at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center would be happy to support you on your healing journey. You can call 515-274-4006 or complete an online intake form at https://dmpcc.org/.

[i]  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/learning/look-for-the-helpers.html

[ii] Judith Herman, 1992, Trauma and Recovery, NY: Basic Books.

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Christine Dietz is a licensed independent social worker, spiritual director and Reiki Master. She is the Center’s Director of Clinical Training. She received her M.S.W. from the University of Iowa and her Ph.D. in Sociology from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is a graduate of the Lev Shomea Training Program for Spiritual Direction in the Jewish Tradition. Christine’s focus in counseling is on helping people reconnect to their innate wholeness and renew their sense of hope and possibility. She works with people experiencing anxiety, depression, OCD, trauma, life transitions, chronic illness, grief and loss, and relationship issues. She also offers individual and group spiritual direction to people from all faith traditions. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and Spiritual Directors International.

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