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Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation

Q&A with Cecelia Bernhardt on Sexual Abuse

Author: Date: August 19, 2015

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Today Cecelia Bernhardt tells us about her upcoming conference talk at the 2015 National Conference and what she is learning in her counseling. As you read, please pray for her teaching and counseling, and consider supporting a day of ministry. We need $2,400 in donations on any given day to support our work.

You will be speaking at the national conference about how the church can become a place of healing for those who are victims of childhood sexual abuse. What do you hope to accomplish in this session?

In my experience as a counselor and church member, pastors and leaders feel that the church can minister to people who face “ordinary struggles,” but they doubt their ability to help those who have suffered significantly from things like childhood sexual abuse. As a result, they refer these sufferers to experts in the mental health field. In some situations it is helpful to seek wise counsel outside of the church, but there is still much that the church can do even in these cases. This is exactly what I want to address in my talk. All those who have experienced significant suffering at the hands of others need to be shown care and compassion from the church family. The more serious the injury, the more the church has the opportunity to bring healing to that person by incarnating the love of Jesus.

At the conference, I plan to outline the experience of a person who was abused as a child and then discuss what resources the church has to offer. My goal is to encourage conference attendees that they can do much to minister to those who have suffered in this way.

In the past ten years, what have you learned in your counseling?

As a counselor, I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of turning to God’s Word as the source of all wisdom. This is an essential component of biblical counseling. I incarnate the love of Jesus to my counselees and it is important that they experience his love in the care that I provide, but modeling this love is not enough. I must also share the story of Scripture—how God shows his love for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Knowing him and experiencing his love is the beginning of the wisdom that we all need to live and make sense of our suffering.

If I want to be an effective biblical counselor, I’ve also learned that knowing and understanding my counselees has to be my first priority. If I am going to walk with them well, I need to be able to hear them, mourn with them, rejoice with them, and seek to understand the depth of their struggles, both the suffering and the sin. When I communicate a clear understanding of the counselee and his or her situation, only then can I effectively communicate how I see the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit working in that particular struggle.

For instance, if a young woman believes that I understand the shame and loneliness that she experiences in sexual temptation, then she will be more open to what I say about seeking help from the Lord in that struggle. Alternatively, if she gets the impression that I do not understand, then she is not likely to trust me or hear what I have to say about God.

How have you seen God at work in the lives of your counselees?

First and foremost, I have seen strugglers exhibit courage and perseverance in addressing deep and persistent obstacles to living their lives the way God intends. Sometimes I get to see a clear reflection of the new creation in my counselee where the old has gone and the new has come. This is always a privilege.

I have also seen my counselees grow in humility and patience when personal or situational change did not take place as they expected. In these instances, people learn to bring their disappointments to the Lord and draw from his care and strength. Grace is not magic, so I have learned to support my counselees in the growth process where change is often slow and subtle.

I have seen several counselees work through a process of admitting abuse, understanding the consequences of that horrific sin on how they see themselves, identifying how it impacts their relationships, and pursuing personal healing of those hurts. Finally after much prayer, some counselees are able to express heartfelt forgiveness of their abuser.

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