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Christine A. Courtois, PhD, ABPP Psychologist, Private Practice Courtois & Associates, PC Washington, DC

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Presentation on theme: "Christine A. Courtois, PhD, ABPP Psychologist, Private Practice Courtois & Associates, PC Washington, DC"— Presentation transcript:

1 Christine A. Courtois, PhD, ABPP Psychologist, Private Practice Courtois & Associates, PC Washington, DC


3 I. Clergy abuse and incest have similar dynamics Both are forms of complex trauma II. Complex trauma ->complex reactions III. Complex reactions -> complex healing Understanding dynamics and common reactions helps to better understand the injury and to heal

4 What is trauma? Stressor event or experience (includes witnessing) Overwhelming Different types: impersonal, interpersonal, identity What makes it traumatic? Overwhelming emotionally and cognitively Cannot be emotionally processed in the normal way When interpersonal, adds to the trauma betrayal, secrecy, silence, taboo, force/violence, blame/shame, etc. Avoided and not processed generalizes and/or goes underground

5 What is Complex Trauma? Interpersonal/identity Often during childhood/adolescence Impacts development In context of a relationship Betrayal/Misuse/Exploitation Repeated/chronic Entrapping Escalating over time Seriousness & intrusion

6 Sexual abuse by family members (also by non- relatives who have family roles, including clergy) Violates primary relationships and roles Violates responsibility to protect Misuses authority, power, knowledge Preys on and exploits those who are younger/smaller /less powerful/naïve/ immature/dependent/accessible Have fewer resources Victims are more vulnerable if family is not healthy

7 Betrayal and Relational Trauma Betrayal of an essential and sacrosanct relationship and role Not stranger-danger Much more emotionally conflicted and damaging May affect ability to remember Second injury Those who dont respond or help Institutional injury Those that obstruct rather than help Communities and organizations

8 Dysfunctional Family With boundary and power problems; sometimes violent, poly-abusive, addictions Power and gender dynamics Patriarchal Closed system Loyalty expected, even when not deserved Family rules and injunctions Dont!: know, feel, react, respond, tell Paradox and hypocrisy

9 Victim who discloses is blamed, shunned, scapegoated, You are with us or against us; Dont ask us to admit/change Supporters/interveners are treated with suspicion, may be attacked Secondary and tertiary victims Trauma has a wake: like a pebble in a pond Other family members, others in the parish or faith community

10 Structured power and historical behaviors (including abuse) and doctrine Patriarchal and hierarchical: Cardinals, bishops and priests as authority figures, extensions of the deity; contradictory views of women Church as family Church as closed system Structured morals and beliefs (that are violated) Structured training of priests Vocations and seminaries Personal and psychosexual development in the seminary

11 Loyalty and obedience expected Priest as Gods representative: Spiritual father Authority and moral figure May have a role in the childs biological family Always to be honored, obeyed, respected Not to be questioned/suspected Church and congregants as extended family Children of God Beliefs, structure, functioning Loyalty, attachment, kinship/faith ties

12 Betrayal-trauma, hypocrisy, & disillusionment Betrayal of role and responsibilities Betrayal of beliefs and teaching Ambivalent attachment/conflicted emotions/loyalty Second Injury Enablers (housekeeper, other priests, etc.) Passive bystanders (other priests, congregants, parents, Bishops, Cardinals, etc.) Those who should help and dont Lack of investigation, follow-up, silencing Disbelievers, blamers, scapegoaters, and attackers Vicarious injury: collateral damage

13 Institutional Injury Suppression of reports and inadequate investigation Lack of reporting to criminal authorities Lack of cooperation with investigations Non-removal of perpetrators and moving them from one parish to another with no warning Non-pastoral response to victims Actively working against victims suits & rights Statutes of limitation, bankruptcies, etc. Expensive defense attorneys Questioning of recovered or delayed memories

14 And the list goes on… Just get over it. Whats the big deal? All (litigating) victims want is money and to bankrupt the Church. Its homosexuality and not pedophilia Can it not be one or the other or both? The Church does not have to report to civil authorities. The problem is recent and it is over. Management systems are in place Why should I/we apologize for what other priests/Bishops did?

15 Individual and subjective Initial and short-term: Wide variety of behavioral, cognitive, emotional, physical/medical, identity, relational and family issues and symptoms PTS and PTSD, depression, anxiety, dissociation, substance abuse and compulsions by victims age and stage of development May be noticed right away, but not understood Child may not disclose, even when asked directly Effects and symptoms may go dormant

16 Long-term: Same: PTS and PTSD, Complex PTSD, dissociation, depression, anxiety, substance abuse Episodic Chronic Again, manifested by age and stage Delayed onset: Secondary elaborations of the untreated original effects Cued by current events (positive and negative): media and other reports of clergy abuse; death of the perpetrator or others; feelings, thoughts, sensations; relationship and family issues; children and childrearing; response of others; institutional response, etc.

17 Major symptoms (the big three): 1. Re-experiencing 2. Numbing/detaching 3. Hyper-arousal Associated symptoms Depression, anxiety, dissociation, substance abuse Co-morbidity: medical and psychological Self and relationship difficulties

18 Alterations in ability to regulate self and emotions Alterations in sense of self PREDOMINANTLY NEGATIVE AND SELF-BLAMING Alterations in ongoing consciousness Alterations in relation to the perpetrator Alterations in relation to others MISTRUST, alienation Physical/medical concerns Alterations in meaning and spirituality

19 Understand complex trauma and reactions Find an experienced therapist Must understand sexual abuse, special issues of clergy abuse, complex trauma Not all therapists have training in the treatment of trauma Dont take this for granted! Find someone you are comfortable with The therapy relationship itself is part of the healing process

20 Sequenced treatment with three main stages: 1. Information/education, safety and stabilization, dismantling defenses/survival skills and managing symptoms, skill-development including emotional regulation skills, development of therapeutic relationship 2. Trauma memory processing: involves acceptance, grieving, and anger; strategizing about actions 3. Life re-engagement, meaning, spirituality

21 Personal SAFETY is the foundation of healing Support of others is crucial Develop a support system YOU ARE NOT ALONE IT DIDNT ONLY HAPPEN TO YOU Put yourself and your family first Determine your needs Family members such as parents can be vicariously traumatized and may need support and treatment Explain to children in age-appropriate ways

22 Re-gain control: Get empowered for you Treat any addictions/compulsions simultaneously Challenge old messages and the lessons of abuse Work to change thoughts and beliefs Learn to remove/limit triggers Learn skills to manage symptoms Approach versus avoid trauma material but with skills and support in place and in a balanced way Trauma must be emotionally processed Use anger for you and not against you

23 Healing is a process Expect ups and downs Healing from complex interpersonal trauma is longer rather than shorter-term Be unconditional and conditional Person versus behavior Expect your own reactions Vicarious or secondary trauma Crisis in faith Engage in self-care and have limits and boundaries Have own sources of support/outside perspective

24 Compounded, complicated mourning for what was and what wasnt Multiple layers of betrayal and injury Takes time and energy Often involves righteous and justifiable anger Ambiguous losses Might not be recognized -> more loss and grief Might not be supported Search for meaning and validation

25 ANGER/RAGE IS AN ENTIRELY JUSTIFIED RESPONSE TO ABUSE A difficult emotion, must be managed and modulated LEARN TO USE ANGER PRODUCTIVELY AND IN WAYS THAT EMPOWER YOU Use anger to reverse the lessons and put the blame where it belongs and not on you Litigation is one option, not the only one Can have a high personal cost, better if later in the process, get information and choose carefully Personal healing and recovery are the ultimate goals

26 Healing Is Possible and Is Your Right and Responsibility Maintain Hope and Solidarity with Others

27 (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) (International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies) (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation) (National Center for PTSD) (National Child Traumatic Stress Network) Referral list, help desk, books and videos on trauma topics

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