Spotlight Interview with Diane Langberg: Healing for Survivors of Sexual AbuseFebruary 15, 2019
Dr. Diane Langberg is a practicing psychologist whose clinical expertise includes 45 years of working with trauma survivors and clergy. She speaks internationally on topics related to trauma, ministry and the Christian life. She is the director of Diane Langberg, Ph.D. & Associates, a group practice in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, staffed by Christian psychologists, social workers and counselors. Dr. Langberg is clinical faculty at Biblical Theological Seminary where she so-leads the Global Trauma Recovery Institute with Dr. Phil Monroe. She is the author of On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores. She is also a columnist for Christian Counseling Today and contributes to many other publications.
Listen to Carmen’s conversation with Dr. Langberg or read the transcript below (the interview starts at 23:10).
Carmen LaBerge: Welcome back to Mornings with Carmen. I’m your host, Carmen LaBerge. I am joined now by Dr. Diane Langberg. For those of you who are not familiar with her work, she’s a practicing psychologist. She’s an international speaker. She works with trauma survivors, specifically survivors of sexual abuse, their caregivers, and clergy around the world. Diane, welcome to Mornings with Carmen.
Diane Langberg: Thank you very much.
Carmen LaBerge: It’s a privilege to be talking with you today. I think that as each and every one of us intersects with the headline news related to sexual abuse that takes place in the life of the church, we find ourselves horrified and paralyzed in many cases. And so I’m hoping that today we can help mobilize us. You can get us beyond our paralysis. You can help us know how to invite the stories of survivors, how to be the kind of people that people would tell. And then really equip us to know what we can do from there. I’m just going to give you the floor, and let you equip us.
Diane Langberg: Okay. Let me start with a sort of a broader statement, which I believe with all my heart. And that is that I believe that the voices of victims in the church, not just in terms of these recent reports, but certainly in this nation and around the world as well, is actually the voice of God to his church. He is calling us to turn on the lights. He’s calling us to see what we have avoided seeing and to banish the dark corners where things have been allowed to happen. Many years ago, a part of my family worked in the coal mines. And it was, I’m sure many know the story, often very toxic down there. And they would take canaries in cages down into the mines. And when the canaries stopped singing, they knew it was toxic and they got out.
Diane Langberg: The voices of victims are the canaries, and they are not singing. And so yes, what’s been in the Houston Chronicle is overwhelming. It is the tip of the iceberg. I’ve done this work for 46 years. It’s been going on forever. And God is saying, “It’s time.” That means what you just said, we need to prepare ourselves so that we do this well. And we are not ready. The church is not ready to deal with the victims, so that’s the first thing we need to know, that we don’t understand. We don’t really know what it’s like to be a victim. And even if someone is a victim, their story’s different. We cannot assume, that’s the first rule, that we know anything. And so we need to begin to do some reading about sexual abuse. I’ve written a book for victims, On the Threshold of Hope. I have another one Suffering, In the Heart of God, How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores. It talks about sexual abuse and domestic violence and all kinds of things.
Diane Langberg: We need to study. And the second thing we need to do is listen. We can’t walk up to a victim and ask them to tell us their story. Number one, they don’t trust anybody because they’ve not only been mistreated and abused by somebody, but they’ve also had that covered up when they went for help. So why would they trust us? They’re wise not to. And so as we study and pray, there’s probably going to be somebody we already know. We may not know much about it. We may not know how to think about it, but everybody has somebody in their lives who’s been abused. I mean, the stats that we have are one in four females, one in six males in the United States are sexually abused before the age of 18. And the statistics are no different in the church. For all we know, they’re higher. I don’t know.
Diane Langberg: I do a lot of cross cultural work, and the main thing I do when I go is listen. I have to understand what it’s like to be you. What’s it like to live in your skin? What’s it like to carry memories like that? What’s it like not to sleep? What’s it like not to be able to shut the memories up? What’s it like to be afraid all the time. And so we need to listen in a way that is like Jesus, who became like us. He put on our skin. We have to put on the skin of victims, and listen with humility, and grieve with them. Lament, lament not only what happened to them, but lament over the conditions of God’s people that they did not listen, and that they have atrocious sin. And as we listen and study and grieve and lament with them, the time for comfort will come.
Diane Langberg: We want to rush in and give them a verse and tell them to feel better in the morning. Mostly, we do that for ourselves. That’s not how this works. People heal little by little. That’s true in the physical realm. If I fall down on the ice and break my leg, it’s going to take months for that leg to heal. It’s going to hurt while it heals, and I’m going to be annoyed that it takes so long. I have a talk that I’ve done around the world on this where I say three things are necessary for healing, talking, tears, and time. And time, we have no control over. And the talking doesn’t mean just telling the story once. It means saying it bit by bit and testing the water. And then it means saying it again because you really didn’t fully explain it because you didn’t really know how to do it out loud anymore. And the tears come in many, many waves.
Diane Langberg: But then it takes time, so the question also is whether or not we’re willing to continue on the long, hard journey to find healing for things, who for many people were done when they were small children, and while they were being shaped. We protect our children in terms of what we feed them at the dinner table because we know if affects their bodies when they’re in their 50s and 60s and 70s. But the same thing is true with these kinds of things. They have been fed toxins. And nobody has come with treatment. And it has shaped who they are, how they see themselves, how they see God, everything. And so it’s a slow, long walk. But I would also like to say is that walk, that study, that listening, that entering in, and that slow walk will change both people. If we respond to this the way God calls us to, it will transform the church because we will be more like Christ.
Carmen LaBerge: If you’ve just joined us, I’m Carmen LaBerge, and my conversation during this half hour is with Dr. Diane Langberg. She is a trauma therapist. I’m going to encourage everyone who’s listening right now to read her blog at dianelangberg.com. It is recommendations for churches dealing with abuse. It’s easy to find. The books that she has referenced, On the Threshold of Hope, and Suffering in the Heart of God, you can also find through her website, again, dianelangberg.com. Diane and I are going to continue this conversation in just a minute.
Carmen LaBerge: Welcome back to Mornings with Carmen. I am your host, Carmen LaBerge, continuing my conversation with Dr. Diane Langberg. Please check out her website, dianelangberg.com. Diane, let’s move a little bit if we can into what we can do. We’ve acknowledged that the church is as susceptible to these issues and this chronic scourge as any other institution or reality. And yet, we seem somewhat paralyzed right now to adequately respond. Will you walk us through some things that, as the church, we need to do.
Diane Langberg: Yes. I first want to say that in some ways we should be paralyzed. We should be stunned. If we’re not, and haven’t worked with this for a long time, we’re not paying attention. I think that’s number one. I think the underlying thing here has to be humility because we don’t know what to do. And so we need a lot of, again, study on things like that, not just for dealing with individuals, but also for how the church can respond. I’m on the board for GRACE, Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment, which is at netgrace.org with Boz Tchividjian. And they have training for churches and trainings for seminaries, and have put out a book on guidelines and policies and procedures for churches. And so part of what we can do as lay people is request, demand, that our leaders study these things and get training about them so that what we set up to do is done well, not just for the sake of the victims, there’s certainly that. Also, for the sake of the abusers, who we are leaving in their bondage because we’re not dealing with it, and for the sake of the body, the larger body.
Diane Langberg: And so I think lay people have a very powerful voice at this time to speak to their leaders about that. You mentioned the blog that I wrote in terms of recommendations for churches. One of those is, number one, number two and number three is if a minor ever discloses to you any form of abuse, sexual, emotional, verbal, whatever, the first response is to call the civil authorities. We’re called to do that in the Book of Romans. We’ve been disobeying that. So anytime we know of a minor, whether it’s your own child, the neighbor’s child, a child in church, bring the authorities in. They are the ones who are trained to investigate this. They are the ones who know how to do it without poisoning the water in some way in one direction or the other.
Diane Langberg: I mentioned GRACE. They do independent investigations, so if somebody on staff is abusing, or is alleged to have abused, you need somebody who is not invested in preserving the institution to come in and do the investigation. If it’s done in house, the investment is in making everything okay. But it isn’t okay, and so it has to be done independently. And if we truly heed the word of God, that will make perfect sense to us because he says our own hearts are so deceitful, we can’t even figure them out. We’re again honoring his word by bringing in independent investigators. And if people will go to the blog, they will see in looking for such investigators, and you should know who one is, so if a crisis comes you’re already prepared to make the call. But it will tell you things to ask when you’re interviewing them to find out how they do their work, what their experience is, what their skill levels are. And I would also say to churches and to friends who walk with victims, the same kinds of questions need to be asked if you’re referring somebody to a counselor or therapist.
Diane Langberg: Oftentimes, somebody will say, “I’m a Christian counselor,” and so they’ll send people there with trauma and abuse histories, and they’ve never had any training in those particular areas. Those kinds of questions need to be asked about investigators and organization. And they also need to be asked about counselors. How long have you worked with this? Where did you get your training? Whose work has influenced you? All of these things, so that they’re not practicing on somebody without being able to work with somebody who knows what to do and how to help.
Carmen LaBerge: Diane, and again, if you’re just joining us, I’m Carmen LaBerge. You are listening to Mornings with Carmen. My guest is Dr. Diane Langberg. You can find her blog recommendations for churches dealing with abuse at dianelangberg.com. I’ve also tweeted it out at Carmen LaBerge if you follow me on Twitter. And we’ll post it later as well on the Mornings with Carmen page on My Faith Radio. Diane, I think that one of the experiences that I have had in waves as these revelations are made publicly, and as you say, we’re not paying attention if we don’t recognize that this has been going on and that this is a part of not just the culture, but it is a part of what’s happening in the church. If we’ve been blind to that, then shame on us. But once survivors start talking and start telling their stories, I have seen people actually draw back from them. I have seen there’s this whole new isolation that comes. Could you spend a minute just speaking directly to victims of sexual abuse? And tell them that there are people who are willing and are listening and would lean in?
Diane Langberg: Yes. I would like to say first about your comment about people pulling back. One of the things I tell young therapists I’m training is there are responses to these things. Tell us about what it’s like for the victim. They want to pull back too, and they can’t. When we hear them and we want to run, we feel overwhelmed, or we find that this can’t be real, or whatever, those are all things the victims feel. So we need to let those things inform us and not run away, of course. But yes, to victims. Particularly in situations like the Chronicle is reporting, you have not only been abused, you have been treated as a liar. And many, you’ve been tossed out on your ear, or you left because that was safer to do. And so you’re afraid to tell your story. And on one level, you should be.
Diane Langberg: The facts would suggest that’s a very wise thing. On the other level, if you don’t tell your story and really work with a safe person, the healing is less likely to come. I’m not going to say it never comes without that help, because certainly it can sometimes. But it needs to be done in safe relationship. Trauma and abuse break your relationships. Healing needs to be based on a safe relationship. Trauma and abuse shut up your voice. Healing is based on having a safe place to speak your voice. Trauma makes you helpless. Healing needs to give you choice and power restored in a way that you can use to God’s glory in this world.
Diane Langberg: If you’re afraid to put your toe in the water, I get it. Look for somebody who does the kind of counseling work that is trained to do this, or a friend that you know has studied this and has cared for other victims. You have the power to choose a safe person. You need to think about that and find a way to do that. It doesn’t have to be somebody in the church. It can be somebody in the professional world. It can be both. But I would encourage you not to let the sin of the church keep you yet again from your own healing. It’s there to be had.
Carmen LaBerge: Diane, thank you so much for being with us this morning and for equipping us on this very important and essential matter. Again, visit dianelangberg.com for her blog on this. Check out her books, On The Threshold of Hope, Suffering and the Heart of God. And also check out netgrace.org in terms of training and equipping for your local congregation. This is Mornings with Carmen. I’m Carmen LaBerge. And we’ll be right back.
Carmen LaBerge: It is Valentine’s Day, and here on Mornings with Carmen, I certainly want to acknowledge the love of God and Jesus Christ for each and every one of us. And you may not be feeling particularly loved today. You may not feel as if you are in love. Well, let me remind you that there is a lover of your soul who will never leave you and never forsake you. There is love from God, in God, because God is love. Now love is not God, although today in the culture you may be be tempted to believe that love is God. Actually, God is love. And so let me encourage us today that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength. And we should love our neighbors as ourselves. If you do that today on Valentine’s Day, you will have accomplished what is in the very heart of God, which is that his love would extend to more and more people.
Carmen LaBerge: You are listening to Mornings with Carmen. I’m your host, Carmen LaBerge. Let’s listen to the news and then return to our conversation about Valentine’s Day. Thanks for listening to this podcast of Mornings with Carmen LaBerge from Faith Radio. If you haven’t, you can subscribe to automatically receive the podcast through iTunes or the Google Play music app. That way, you never miss an episode. It’s also available anytime at myfaithradio.com.