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By Mike Fisher, Chair of TAG



Over the last 20 to 30 years our society and our culture has evolved through considerable and probably unprecedented change. Nowhere is change more evident than in the fields of micro-technology and tele-communications, with all its implications and impact on our daily lives whether in daily living, leisure or work.


There have of course been many other changes, although not all of them quite so obvious. Amongst the changes that have taken place are the increased understanding of our own human functioning and of our needs, both as individuals and as social systems in society.One trend in the past thirty years has been the readiness of people to talk about difficulties in their own life, which has lead to an increase in counselling and other forms of therapeutic help. This trend has made it more possible for individuals who have suffered from more extreme forms of early life trauma and abuse to disclose to others and to also seek help.


Ironically, contraction in public services, with limited public health provision and absence of specialist provision has lead many people to seek help from voluntary organisations, churches, independent counsellors or voluntary counselling agencies. Conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Unresolved Insecure Attachment Difficulties, Dissociative Disorders and all the associated relational and behavioural problems may well be amongst the conditions presented to counsellors and carers by some people seeking help or support.


There is now real necessity for counsellors, carers and churches to be able to recognise and understand these conditions, if the help being offered is going to be effective and not aggravate the person’s condition with mistreatment or even abuse. This situation is particularly difficult for a survivor of ritual abuse because of the widespread diffidence that exists in the public’s mind about whether ritual abuse actually exists. Denial, disbelief and misdiagnosis are tragically common place experiences for survivors of such childhood atrocities. Despite the increasing number of press reports of varies forms of ritual abuse, and the now quite large number of people in therapy who describe this as part of their background, officially it is still deemed not to exist. This not only creates phenomenal difficulties for survivors but also leaves counsellors, carers and other professionals extremely isolated in their task of helping client through to recovery.


Four years ago the ACC commissioned a working party under the chairmanship of Revd David Woodhouse to consider the whole area of childhood ritual abuse, and to come up with some guidelines for the training committee on the sort of training that would be most helpful to counsellors and carers who are working with survivors.


The working party decided to make the focus of its report ”Working with Dissociative Disorders” as many survivor of childhood abuse, and all survivors of ritual abuse, would be likely to be suffering from Dissociative Disorders including some who will suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Other parallel conditions that survivors will experience will include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Insecure Attachment.


The working Group decided to also form the “Trauma and Abuse Interest Group” (TAG) as an affiliated group within ACC, as so many counsellors and carers had asked for ongoing information, training, networking and support. TAG now produces a twice-yearly newsletter with articles and information, a contact list, training days and workshops and will be putting a course on at the next ACC National conference in 2003. Subscription for TAG is £10 a year via the contact address at the end of this article.


The response of the ACC board to the report has been very encouraging, acknowledging that counsellors need to know about Dissociative Disorders, and should have access to training, support and appropriate supervision. It is very encouraging that the Christian counsellors’ national association is both recognising this area of work and seeking to appropriately support counsellors working with survivors of extreme childhood abuse. More importantly it gives a message to survivors that they are believed, cared about and that hope does exist for their recovery. It also means that counsellors need not struggle in isolation, unsupported by their own national association.


Working with survivors of early life trauma and ritual abuse is a complex area of work, which is long term, intense and painful for both clients and counsellor. However with many advances in bio-neurology, clinical understanding is changing rapidly. It is important as carers and counsellors that we can keep abreast of developments and can keep a balance between demonstrating the unconditional love of Christ in all situations and the professional good practice needed in working in this area.


The harsh reality is that many survivors cannot find or afford counselling or professional help or get the informal support needed to make the journey of recovery. Of those, who do find a counsellor, some have to face the fact that counselling gets terminated as soon as ritual abuse is mentioned. Although there are many counsellors effectively helping survivors, there are also counsellors who are struggling or whose supervisors do not have the experience in this field of work. For those survivors who turn to the church, it is not easy to speak about their experiences, many still find themselves misunderstood, or worst still, subjected to oppressive teaching or even abusive deliverance for what is a clinical condition.


There is a major task to undertake of awareness raising in a disbelieving and punitive world. The medical establishment has yet to fully take on board the clinical implications of Dissociative Disorders and the effects of disrupted attachment. The legal system is unable to accommodate the needs of abused, traumatised and dissociative clients and the Parliamentary system has not once mentioned ritual abuse in either House in the last five years.


It is against this background that the very positive response from the Board of the ACC may enable and contribute to an important and much needed public understanding. This includes ensuring that counsellors are equipped and supported in helping survivors to both recover and have a voice, that understanding is increased and that information is shared. ACC can also support counsellors to help churches, voluntary organisations and Health and Social Service agencies to more effectively play their part in survivors’ recovery. In our own small way we can help to change the world.