Jo Getzinger, MSW is the President of CARE, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping survivors of ritual abuse, complex trauma and human trafficking, and to helping educate those who support survivors. She has more than 30 years of experience in working with complex trauma and graciously granted an interview.
svali: Jo, could you share some initial thoughts on healing?
Jo: When society typically thinks of healing, they look at things like functionality. Some survivors have had a hard time functioning in life, or managing a job; and initially, they will work on these issues. But I can think of many individuals who have worked on these issues, and are able to hold a job, but aren’t very healed, because what can occur is pseudo-maturity: they look functional, but the problems aren’t resolved and show up in their intimate and family relationships.
In order for there to be healing, there needs to be good intact relationships for the survivor. When an individual is able to maintain good relationships, and maintain a coherent identity, that’s what we consider a healed survivor. Many individuals have had much better success at this over time as we have focused on the relational and belonging needs of survivors.
svali: What are some things you think might be helpful for therapists and those who are new to working with survivors?
Jo: First, I would like to address the question regarding how long the healing journey takes, since this is asked so frequently. It can take years for someone with complex trauma, particularly ritual abuse, to heal. These individuals often have abuse backgrounds that involve family dysfunction and outside perpetrators as well, with a childhood history of a great amount of abuse, characterized by broken relationships. It takes a while to actually heal from this amount of trauma, because the answer is that healing actually occurs through relationship. Because it takes time for the survivor to build trust, healing won’t be a “quick fix”. It can’t just be goal oriented with tasks assigned; helping involves a relational healing journey between the therapist and the individual.
svali: What I hear you saying is that when working with survivors, be prepared for the journey, and not just a few quick sessions or a couple of prayers?
Jo: Yes. I think it’s important that the helper is able to look at their own wounds; everyone is wounded from some trauma in their life at some point. It’s important that therapists have a good handle on their own issues, and that they are healed to the extent they are able to “go the distance” with the survivor. Survivors have wounded backgrounds, and all types of problems will surface over the course of the healing journey. When working with someone who is so wounded, anything in your own life that needs attention and to be worked on will be pointed out by survivors. For instance, if you struggle with shame yourself and you are working with someone who struggles with shame, or any of the other difficult emotions, the survivor will find that emotion and bring it up in you, often through testing the relationship. If you don’t know how to handle emotions in a healthy way for yourself, it’s going to be difficult to help them resolve those feelings.
svali: Sometimes, supporters raise the question of not being a trained person, and the concern that they might do harm due to not knowing what to do?
Jo: That’s why I believe it’s important that the group of supporters that develops around the survivor works with the therapist, who must take the time to train the support system. Creating a support team was one of the single most helpful things that we began to do here at CARE. In the past when I tried to do this type of work with only one hour a week in an office setting, it simply wasn’t enough. The hourly session was kind of a contrived relationship, not something that helped the survivor live in a practical way outside the office so they could actually experience safety, or the modeling of good relationships. In the traditional office model, it was impossible for them to develop a give and receive relationship in a way that modeled healthy and safe attachments.
svali: It sounds like you are describing the fact that not only survivors need support and teaching in the therapeutic relationship, but supporters , or the support team also need help learning what’s helpful and what’s not helpful.
Jo: that’s right. Because if helpers don’t have any training, as they try to help, they are going to be tested in the relationship. Typically, helpers aren’t used to being tested or dealing with the fear that is introduced into the relationship by the survivor. If you think about it, a survivor has often lived with a lot of hurt and betrayal, abuse and pain, where nothing is ever safe; that’s all they have experienced in life. Suddenly someone comes along and says “I want you to trust me, and I’m going to love you,” and survivors can’t receive from the helper, because they’ve only experienced pain in relationships, and they’re fearful. They will have to test the supporter. Testing is a process of making a relationship. The motivation behind the testing are concerns like these: “If I don’t do things perfectly, or if I blow it, or if I show fear, or anger, will you still care for me?” Survivors will try to push the supporter away because of thoughts like this: “I’m afraid that if I let you get close to me, you’ll do something to hurt me, or drop me.” It‘s a normal process of push away and pull close, until that person learns that the other is going to remain consisten and constant through the testing process.
svali: What has personally helped you in your over 30 years of helping survivors?
Jo: I would say my faith is the most important, because that’s what’s kept me going during the times when it felt like nothing was going well; when I got tested and when I got the push/pull from survivors. It was especially difficult when it felt like there wasn’t a lot of support from others. As my own healing and maturity issues came up in my face, it’s really the faith I had and the LORD’s encouragement to keep going, and that He was working out things in me that helped most. After 30 years I can look back and say that I gained a lot personally from the work, with a lot of refining and burning off the “dross” in me. This is true for anyone who continues in this important work. It’s a matter of being willing to persevere and trust that no matter what happens, God is going to work it out for good; that He will do this in me, and in the survivor.
svali: I’ve heard some supporters and churches mention their fear of warfare (spiritual attack) when they work with survivors. Anything you found helpful?
Jo: Well, from my own experience I have encountered warfare when working with survivors. This is an issue because there are spiritual strongholds that the survivor will bring with them because of the type of abuse they’ve been in, and part of healing is working out these issues. When I encountered this, what I found is that God had to get bigger in my life. The bigger He became, the less fearful I became of any warfare that would come at me. The scripture that has really guided me in this process is that “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces good character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint,” and I have really experienced that as true. God really does take everything evil and turns it around for good, so we don’t have to fear; and even when I don’t know why warfare is occurring or what might be the result of this warfare, I trust that He will bring the breakthrough and He always does.
svali: What are the characteristics of a good prayer minister or therapist in the context of working with ritual abuse/mind control survivors?
Jo: I think the characteristic of a good therapist or prayer minister is someone who is able to love; again, the Christian principle that “love never fails.” You can be intelligent, or skilled, but if you don’t have love, you are basically a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13). I think the most important thing is that the person you are working with senses that you do deeply care about them. Even if you’re a brand new therapist, and you don’t know very much, “Love covers a multitude of sins”. If the person knows that you care about them, they will understand that the therapist can make mistakes, and if you’re willing to be humble and apologize, and listen to that person, then they will understand that you are doing your best; especially if you remain teachable.
svali: Wait, you’re saying teachable, that the therapist can learn from the survivor? That’s a shift from the normal therapeutic paradigm.
Jo: If you can remain humble and teachable, and a good listener, you will be able to hear what the person needs. I think that faith is important, too. If the survivor sees that you have a strong faith, they will be attracted to who your God is, because your faith will be tested in this relationship. If your God is big, they will see that, and that is what they need to have hope for themselves.
It can’t just be the therapist that brings strength and support to the survivor; it has to be the One they are introduced to by the therapist. You become a bridge for that client to God, and the client’s relationship with God can be repaired as well. This is especially true if the survivor’s background is ritual ritual abuse: ritual abuse targets the survivor’s relationship with God, and often severely damages it. Who they believe God is, because of the distortions created through the abuse, and who God really is, is an important thing to help the survivor examine. The survivor can begin to repair their experience of God by the example of a good and true Christian life modeled by the helper.
Often, one of the basic questions asked by a survivor of ritual abuse is “Where was God when these things happened to me?” This is one of the foundational problems created by the abuse: the idea that God didn’t care, or that He wasn’t powerful enough to help the survivor. If the helper can model faith while they’re relationally tested and can be patient and compassionate as the survivor experiences emotions such as hopelessness; and if the helper can remain strong and trusting in God no matter what things look like, then the survivor can begin to see that there is something more, that might have been missed, about who God is. Survivors can begin to see that God can come through for them, too. Since the helper isn’t giving up on the survivor, maybe God hasn’t given up either.
svali: can you share more about what a healthy relationship with a therapist or supporter would look like?
Jo: It is someone who deeply cares about the survivor and puts the survivor’s needs first. The helper must maintain the ability to manage their own needs and set consistent, healthy boundaries. Survivor’s bonding experiences in the past came from abusive relationships, it’s a trauma bond, and the perpetrator makes it all about what they need; and all bonds that are formed are through manipulation. Trauma bonds do involve love, but most often the perpetrators themselves are not free to demonstrate any kind of real love without manipulation and abuse involved in the bond.
svali; What I am hearing you say is that an important part of a good therapeutic relationship is offering a healthy alternative to a trauma bond to the person.
Jo: yes. And a healthy bond would involve the client understanding that I am there for them; and that I am there to help them. I am not interested in a manipulative, self-seeking relationship, but in one that really puts the person’s needs first, takes care of them first. That provides safety for them to actually heal.
Part two of this interview will discuss questions that survivors often ask