Counseling Young People After Sexual Abuse
Young people are increasingly dealing with the devastating consequences of sexual abuse. Jeff Colón shares how to offer them real hope and the answers that they need.
Jeff Colón has joined me in the studio. Jeff, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.
Thanks, Mike. It's good to be with you.
It's good to see you as always. Jeff, we want to talk today about an issue that I know is difficult for some people to hear about, but is increasingly a problem and that is the issue of dealing with children who have been molested. How much of a problem is that today?
I can tell you countless stories - heartbreaking stories - over the devastation that sin causes, but when we're talking about a child that has been molested, we're talking about devastation that really goes deep and really takes its toll on a child; and a counselor really has to be in touch with the Lord to help this child deal with the consequences of such a sin.
I have to imagine that not only do the issues go deep but these issues that they're dealing with I suspect can go on for years and maybe have been going on for years. As a counselor how do you begin to deal with those kinds of issues?
In dealing with children, when a counselor comes across a situation where a child is being abused the first thing you want to do is stop the abuse. Research studies have shown that 60% of children that are abused are re-abused, so it's very important to take quick action so that the abuse ceases and that it cannot happen again.
We, of course, recognize as counselors that there are legal requirements. If you become aware of molestation, it has to be reported to the authorities. What are some of the physical ramifications of abuse that you might have to deal with as a counselor?
Certainly, if there is a suspicion or it has come out that there definitely has been molestation, they should be taken in for a physical examination because sometimes things occur. For instance, I've had instances where a mother has told us of a child that's experiencing bleeding and it's very important to go to a doctor because you never know what kind of damage might have been done. It's important that if there has been damage, that the child can be treated properly.
Jeff, as you bring up the subject of them needing to have a physical, I'm just thinking in my mind of all the different things - the legal ramifications, the family relationships - all the things that this child is going to have to go through at the beginning of this process unfolding. What's your responsibility as a counselor? How can you help them to get through that?
In many cases, the courts are involved and a child immediately faces many kinds of feelings, such as feelings of guilt. Let's say it's a father or a relative they know, that person is in trouble now and they're all of sudden in these corpora and now they feel like they've done something wrong. Or if the perpetrator is sent to jail, sometimes they're dealing with the fear that this man is going to come out and is going to be able to hurt them again. You want to be honest with them and you want to reassure them that there is a possibility of this person getting out at some point, but that they will be protected. You want to help them to deal with all the different kinds of things that they're going to be facing because there's going to be a lot of things they just don't understand, not being an adult.
I'm assuming there will be some kind of ongoing counseling. What are some of the things that you want to accomplish as you continue through this process with a child?
Initially, the counselor has to realize that this child has been damaged emotionally - they don't trust adults. You have to establish trust with that child if you're going to be able to help them. It's something you're going to have to diligently work for. It's good to demonstrate love to that child, but if you want to give them a hug or something, it's good to ask them permission. You don't want to just quickly invade their space that now they've probably protected. But you do want to let them know that you love them and you want to build that trust from the very beginning.
As children are growing up one of the things that they're learning is respect for authority. I'm assuming for these children all respect for authority has been demolished. How do you balance that - where you're trying to reestablish trust for authority but also maintain that process of learning respect for authority?
A wise counselor will have a balance of love and authority. In any kind of counseling situation, the counselor has to be in control of that counseling session. If the counselor allows the child to control things, they're never going to be able to help them, so it is a fine balance; but the child does need to understand that they do have an authority that they need to submit to. If you're showing them love and you're gaining trust, establishing authority isn't going to be a problem, but it is something that the counselor needs to consider.
Why is it so important for this child to establish a respect for authority?
We want to help this child to deal with the situation the way God would want them to deal with it. We want to help them to deal with it biblically. If you establish an authority and there's an understanding that they're going to have to do things God's way, then you're going to be able to help them with the different issues that they're dealing with. For instance, fear is probably one of the most common things that these children are dealing with. They may fear that someone is going to harm them again and they can get obsessed with wondering if this is going to happen again. Or they may fear what that other is thinking of them and become obsessed with themselves, living in this fear. We want to help them to see that preoccupation with themselves is not pleasing to God.
As you're saying that I'm just seeing the huge difference between approaching a situation like this from a psychotherapeutic perspective and a Biblical counseling perspective.
Absolutely. I would say a psychotherapeutic way of dealing with that would be to focus on their emotions and to make it all about them. Whereas we want to get them out of themselves. We want to get their eyes on their source of hope, which is in God and looking at things from God's perspective.
That's got to throw a whole different perspective on the anger that these children often experience.
Some counselors might tell them it's good to be angry. They might even encourage them to vent that anger. But a biblical view would teach them that anger is not pleasing to God and we're going to want to help this child to deal with that anger in a biblical way - that it's not right to return evil for evil and that forgiveness is the way to freedom. So it's very important that this child is taught to handle their feelings in a biblical way.
What about the feelings of guilt that you mentioned a little bit earlier?
There are two kinds of guilt. I guess we can say 'false guilt' and 'true guilt'. We want to make sure we have the where-with-all and the spiritual discernment to determine whether or not a child is truly experiencing a false guilt. Feeling as though they did something wrong or it was their fault that this happened - that's obviously an example of false guilt. We want to help them understand that they were not the cause of the problem. The other side could be where God is maybe convicting them of being angry - possibly at their mother because she didn't protect them or even at God for allowing this to happen to them. That would be true guilt and would be conviction from God. We would want to help to alleviate that guilt by doing the right thing and doing the biblical thing, which would be to forgive their mother and realize that it wasn't her fault.
Jeff, we never know who may be listening to these programs and there may very well be a young person out there that is dealing with having been molested or there may be an adult out there who has never really dealt with past molestation. What word of encouragement might you have for those folks?
What I would say to them is that God hasn't turned His eyes away from them and He saw what happened to them and it grieved his heart. We live in a fallen world and bad things happen, but we serve a God that knows how to bring His purpose out of what even seemingly it to us a horrible thing. I've heard my wife - who went through her own issues because of my sexual sin towards her - say that if she hadn't gone through what she went through she couldn't help the wives the way she does now. God has a purpose. God has a plan. He knows how to bring good out of what happened to you. If you'll trust Him and look to Him for the answers, He knows how to heal your heart. Then you will also know how to bring that comfort to others and I'm sure there are many others out there that need to know that there is a God of comfort that can heal any hurt that we have experienced. I just want to encourage you if you're listening that God sees you and He knows you and He has a way out for you. He can bring good out of your situation.
Jeff Colón, thanks so much.
Thanks Mike. It's been good being with you.
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