Advances in therapy can change outcomes in abuse cases

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – One of the main goals of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults is to provide a means for the victims of abuse to seek healing from their trauma. Experts agree that it is never too late for someone to seek therapy. In the Diocese of Jackson, counselors at Catholic Charities’ Solomon Counseling Center offer trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT), an evidence-based therapy. In fact, Solomon was one of the first centers to offer this type of therapy thanks to a grant Catholic Charities received 12 years ago.
“It was an amazing opportunity. We got trained by the developers of TFCBT, said Valerie McClellan, the director of Solomon Counseling Center and Victims Assistance Coordinator for the Diocese of Jackson. “It was really just coming out, getting disseminated at that time,” she added. All of the counselors at Solomon are trained in this therapy. While TFCBT is primarily used to treat children who have been traumatized, Solomon offers a similar therapy that can help adults.
“Many of the clients we see are also adults that have a history of childhood abuse and those are different evidence-based therapies – cognitive processing therapies (CPT) — is one that was initially designed for rape victims, but it is also been adjusted a little bit. It’s been used with veterans – really any adults who have a trauma history. And then EMDR – eye movement, desensitization, reprocessing is an evidence-based therapy. So those three are really what we use in treatment of trauma in both adults and children,” explained McClellan.
The approaches may differ, but the goal is the same. “The hope is to make meaning out of that experience,” said McClellan. “It does not, of course, wipe out that they had that experience in their lives, but it can take away what I call the emotional kick – the reaction based on that experience that is held in their body and in their souls. Any emotion is held in the body so all of these therapies teach people to calm themselves down and think about how they want to act rather than react, but the end result is to make meaning out of that. It is not going to take the memories away, but it’s going to help them redefine their life so that is not the primary driver in what they do.” Therapy, she went on to say, does not last forever. Each of these approaches has a time frame associated with it. McClellan said therapy can remove symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Yes, they are going to know what happened; yes they may even have minor symptoms, but they will know how to keep themselves safe, because some of trauma is that they are taught that they are victims basically. Perpetrators pick out people and that (idea of being a victim) can be almost ingrained in somebody so they don’t know how to keep themselves safe — of course I am in no way saying that the person is responsible for what happened to them, but we teach them what are boundaries, because if you have never been taught that, you don’t know what it is. We teach them what is a safe situation, how to listen to instinct. I tell people that instinct is God talking to us. That is how we are supposed to know how to keep ourselves safe. You know how sometimes you walk into a situation and something just doesn’t feel right? Well people, particularly victims, have been taught not to listen to that voice. So part of therapy process is to listen to that voice inside them which is there to help them keep themselves safe.”
Everyone processes trauma differently and symptoms can be very different in children and adults. “There are so many extremes. Probably one of the primary ones we see (in adults) is difficulty in relationships with other people. You don’t know what boundaries are; people can take advantage of you. You don’t know how to pick a healthy partner; difficulty in work – which is difficulty in relationships. A lot of anger management issues which can, of course, cause serious problems at work; substance abuse issues – alcohol and drugs. Other mental health issues. If trauma happens at a really young age it can flip the switch so to speak for depression or anxiety issues,” said McClellan.
Her staff has developed a screening for adults who come in with some of these problems to determine if they have been abused or suffered some other trauma in their lives. Clients may not even realize how some event in their past is still showing up in their behavior today or that they can get therapy to better deal with the impact of that trauma.
“Children do not have language so, if they are being abused, if they are scared, if they are angry, whatever they are feeling, they are going to act it out. A lot of times we have kids that have been abused and their parents are extremely frustrated because they are having a lot of behavioral issues. Well, that’s how kids tell us something’s wrong,” she said. Many children come in with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). McClellan said while these disorders are real and treatable, sometimes the behaviors are caused by trauma.
“If they have had an adult abusing them, they are going to be mad at a lot of adults. That’s really a strength. Rather than just being a victim, they are trying to fight back in the only way they know,” she said. She urged parents to pay attention to behavioral changes in their children and look for the causes rather than just label the kids as ‘bad.’
Trauma can have many sources, but there is always hope for someone who is suffering. “Although Solomon Counseling is an outpatient counseling program we are primarily a trauma treatment center. We get referrals through the Children’s Advocacy Center, they do the forensic interviews for kids that have been physically and sexually abused. We get referrals through the Children’s Justice Center at UMMC – they do the forensic medical for children who have been abused. We get referrals from law enforcement; from attorney general’s office. A lot of those who are involved in the legal aspect of hopefully making perpetrators face the crimes that they do,” said McClellan. The counselors work with children and adults and also offer other mental health services including marriage counseling and help with depression and anxiety.