". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


The Biblical Way to Treat Trauma Is to Courageously Face It

February 15, 2024

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, director of Family Research Council’s Center for Family Studies, recently discussed on “Washington Watch” how childhood trauma is a common source of mental illness and may contribute to the growing trend of trans-identifying females perpetrating mass shootings, despite not fitting the profile. In the same interview, she also described a biblical approach to dealing with trauma, in contrast to the ineffective solutions offered by our culture.

“A lot of children face trauma,” noted Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, even though “their parents may not discover it, may not know about it. And then it manifests itself in certain behavior. And the parents then deal with the symptom, but not the source.” Whether or not a child has experienced trauma, and whether or not the parents are aware, parents can still help their children by preparing them to deal biblically with the challenging circumstances they will inevitably face in life.

First, Bauwens warned against two worldly methods of dealing with trauma, or at least its symptoms: overmedication or a victim mentality.

“We, as American society and as a psychological profession, are so quick to throw drugs at every problem,” said Bauwens. “If you go to some of your physicians, that’ll be the first thing they do is prescribe you something.” The kneejerk impulse to medicate, she suggested, is “what gave rise to using hormones to deal with gender distress, … from the desire to fix something with a pill … rather than to actually deal with those underlying issues.” But Bauwens believes the problem is wider than that, causing Americans to rely too heavily on medications ranging from painkillers to psychotropic drugs.

Bauwens wasn’t arguing that medication is never appropriate, only that it shouldn’t always be the first reflex. Instead, she recommended physicians begin by carefully investigating the causes of a problem and identifying any mental health issues. This would allow them to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe a proper treatment.

Bauwens also criticized psychologists — ideologues, really — who employ what they call “minority stress theory, which basically says, if you are a minority, then you are an oppressed person.” The theory sounds like a field-specific application of critical theory, more colloquially known as “wokeness.” “So, you have … psychologists who are saying, ‘You’re this way because you’re a [racial] minority, and you’re a gender minority.’ Then that just latches on to the person, who already feels victimized.”

Some people legitimately become victims of cruel, dehumanizing behavior. It’s appropriate, even necessary to acknowledge that. But for those people to make their victimhood a core part of their identity is profoundly unhealthy.

Instead, “one of the most important things you can do” with trauma “is to face it,” Bauwens said. “One of the treatments for trauma is [called] an exposure.” This isn’t a very popular treatment “because nobody wants to face what they went through,” she said, “but when we actually are able to courageously face it … then those symptoms typically disappear.” Otherwise, “they will continue to be in the background of our existence until we actually face it and go through it and get to the other side. But you do get to the other side. That’s the good news,” Bauwens added.

“When you look at Scripture,” noted Perkins, “Old Testament, New Testament — there are folks that had a lot of issues, but they were able to work through them.”

Bauwens pointed to the life of David, who was neglected by his family, opposed by the Philistines, hunted by Saul, betrayed by the cities he saved, and overthrown by his own son. David’s life had plenty of trauma — not to mention the trauma he caused by his own sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered.

But David brought his distress to the Lord, laid his struggles and fears openly before him, exposed them to the truth of God’s Word, and found comfort and confidence in God’s character and promises. This biblical pattern is called lament, and David models it in many of his Psalms. Biblical lamentation gives us a pattern for resolving our own distress, whether the cause is slander (Psalm 4), opposition (Psalm 52), fear (Psalm 56), despair (Psalm 3), or even our own sin (Psalm 51).

The reluctant prophet Jonah also exemplifies the point. When he was thrown overboard into the sea during a storm God sent to rebuke his disobedience, he thought he was going to die (Jonah 2:3-6). Yet, in the belly of a fish, he could pray, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. … When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple” (Jonah 2:1,7).

Again, Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit, then sold him into slavery, where for his sexual purity he was unjustly accused and thrown into prison. Yet Joseph clearly worked through the grief, pain, and anger of this unjust treatment. Not only was the Lord with him in prison (Genesis 39:23), but later he passed up an opportunity to take revenge on his brothers, saying, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21). Joseph obviously reflected on his hard circumstances and refracted them through the prism of God’s character, yielding this wise response.

I could go on to mention Ruth, Hannah, Jeremiah, Paul, and more. Scripture is full of people who courageously faced their hardships and were able to work through them. Of course, the common thread running through the lives of all these people was faith. They believed God and trusted his character and promises to guide them through impossible situations.

“We have to learn how to, with God, go through pain courageously,” said Bauwens. “The hope is that we, every day, are becoming like him as he is.” Bauwens’s words recalled 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.