A fascinating research article published in February in Development and Psychopathology[i] and reported in Science Daily[ii] has given new insight into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Researchers at Penn State University examined the relationship of three variables in the development of PTSD in children who have suffered child abuse.  Around 40% of abused children develop PTSD. The researchers were interested in why the 60% did not.

There are several theories as to why some individuals confronted with terrible treatment develop PTSD and this research looked at three aspects. Change in the level of the hormone cortisol which is often released with stress was examined. The ability to control our breathing which helps us to remain calm in difficult times was examined. And, the willingness to talk about the events was also investigated.

Out of the three the willingness to discuss the abuse predicted the presence or absence of PTSD.  The research found that girls who had suffered abuse in the prior year and were willing to discuss it were less likely to have symptoms of PTSD in the next 12 months. The study did not say why they chose to talk about the abuse.

When I talk with individuals who are dealing with PTSD the most common thread for those who are surviving is a supportive social structure.  A family that supports, a job that gives purpose and friends who understand are all sited as things that are essential to surviving the struggle. Now we know one more. There has to be a place where the struggler can talk about it without fear and with the assurance that those who listen care.

I can think of no better place for that to happen than in Biblical counseling, in a church that cares. When I teach first year counselors I tell them that one of the most important things they will do is listen. I urge them to give the struggler the first 30 minutes of the first session to talk without interruption.  By doing that we give people hope and hope is a good thing.

Paul told Christians at Galatia to “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2 NASB)  In the middle of our struggles, I suspect that one of the most valued things is a friend, loved one or brother/sister in Christ who will mercifully listen to our trouble without judgment.  For those who suffer abuse it may just be the difference between a lifetime of struggle and finding peace.

[i]Chad E. Shenk, Frank W. Putnam, Joseph R. Rausch, James L. Peugh and Jennie G. Noll (2014). A longitudinal study of several potential mediators of the relationship between child maltreatment and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms . Development and Psychopathology, 26, pp 81-91. doi:10.1017/S0954579413000916

[ii] Penn State. "Experiential avoidance increases PTSD risk following child maltreatment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305125239.htm>.


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