It is normal and expected for victims of clergy sexual misconduct (CSM)/clergy sexual abuse (CSA) to use professional counseling to aid in their healing process. This is also true for those who have been indirectly affected by CSM, such as the spouses of both the victim and the offender.
Survivors of abuse who receive proper counseling for their trauma do experience significant healing and are able to enjoy happy, full lives. With professional counseling, survivors who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can work through their experiences and learn how to move forward with their lives and thrive, which they deserve to do. For those concerned about the financial impact of ongoing counseling, there are cost-effective ways to receive counseling available, and these are listed below.
Whatever form of professional counseling or therapy a survivor chooses to use, it is imperative that the counselor/therapist is knowledgeable about CSM and its effect on victims. This is especially true when a survivor uses a religious counselor, as there have been cases of victim retraumatization due to the religious counselor’s misunderstanding of CSM. Counselors should understand that CSM is abuse and that victims are not to be blamed for the pastor’s misuse of power in violating the person under his/her spiritual care. Counselors can learn more here.
This concern should not hinder a survivor in moving forward with counseling, but it should simply serve as a guide in choosing a proper, professional counselor/therapist. As with all individuals seeking counseling, whether it be a marriage counselor or a child therapist, professionals need to be vetted and selected based on expertise, competency, and compatibility. Many therapists and counselors offer a free consultation. Survivors can take advantage of this opportunity to get a feel as to whether or not it will be a good match and especially to ascertain whether the potential professional is knowledgeable of CSM. Warmth, genuineness, and empathy should be key attributes of the one providing professional care. It is highly recommended to receive counseling from a person of the same sex and by a professional not connected to the institution where the abusive leader ministered, or still ministers.
Besides receiving counseling for trauma related to CSM, some individuals may need additional care to help deal with issues that were left untreated due to the abuser’s negligence. For example, many CSM perpetrators target victims who are in need of counseling, such as child abuse survivors, people experiencing marriage difficulties, etc. Their vulnerability is exploited by the abuser, leaving their spiritual and emotional needs unmet and often in a worse state. Professional counseling can therefore be used for issues stemming directly from CSM, as well as the prior issues that were not correctly addressed by the abusive spiritual leader.
Whether you have experienced clergy sexual misconduct yourself or have been deeply impacted by the abuse of someone you know, such as your spouse, relative, or friend, counseling can be beneficial to you.
Cost-Free Support for CSM Survivors and Spouses Affected by CSM
A highly recommended organization dealing specifically with healing from clergy sexual misconduct/clergy sexual abuse is The Hope of Survivors (THOS). Survivors can receive free email and phone support.
The Hope of Survivors is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting victims of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct, as well as providing educational and informational materials and seminars to pastors and churches of every denomination, worldwide. THOS has been recognized by GreatNonprofits and GuideStar Exchange, as well as becoming a 2017 finalist in the Classy Awards/Collaborative.
The Hope of Survivors also provides support to spouses of clergy sexual misconduct/clergy sexual abuse offenders through their Pastor’s Wives’ Division. Visit THOS website to learn more and receive care.
La Esperanza de los Sobrevivientes is the Latino Division of The Hope of Survivors.
Support for Male Survivors
If you are a male survivor of clergy sexual misconduct and would prefer to receive help from an organization tailored specifically to men, visit MaleSurvivor.
To receive counseling anytime, anyplace, you can use BetterHelp, which is an affordable, easily accessible e-counseling platform that offers access to licensed, trained, experienced, and accredited psychologists (PhD/PsyD), marriage and family therapists (LMFT), clinical social workers (LCSW/LMSW), and board licensed professional counselors (LPC). This service makes connecting with the right professional counselor easier and more affordable for you.
There is hope for survivors of clergy sexual misconduct, and professional counseling is an invaluable part of the healing process.
After finding the courage to speak out about the abuse I was experiencing from my pastor of almost 10 years, I experienced intense victim shaming that left me more wounded than the actual clergy sexual abuse I experienced throughout my 20s. Although I was able to move forward with my life, get married, and have children, I was still experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the form of nightmares and unwanted, invasive memories that led to obsessive thoughts about the past.
Finally, after realizing that my present family life and social life were wonderful and enjoyable, but my random memories, dreams, and unwanted thoughts were not, I decided to reach out to a professional counselor. I didn’t want to be held back in life by obsessive thought patterns. I was robbed of my 20s, my freedom, my sanity, and was violated repeatedly by an abuser, who preyed on me. Then, I was retraumatized by those in the church, who should’ve been there to show the love of Jesus to me when I so desperately needed help. I did not want to give another decade of my life away. Instead, I wanted to be fully present in the beautiful new life of freedom that God gave me to enjoy.
I chose a respected counselor of the same sex, who came highly recommended. When I filled out the paperwork, I made it a point to clearly state that I had been a victim of clergy sexual misconduct. I did not want my counselor to retraumatize me by putting the blame on me. I wanted to make sure she knew that I had been victimized, and I was a survivor coming for help.
After several months of working through my pain with my counselor, who I found to be a good listener, compassionate, and educated, I began to feel the freedom I so longed for. The work was difficult at times and involved a lot of quiet time with myself, including prayer and meditation, since I chose to go with a Christian counselor. I also had to read a book that she recommended and do homework that helped me sort through my confusing past. I'm still learning, discovering, growing, and healing.
Now, I am an advocate for CSM victims, though I still prefer to work behind the scenes, where I feel most comfortable. I do occasionally have dreams about my past, but I do not wake up with hurt in my heart and I’m not bothered by it since counseling has taught me to process my emotions and not dwell on them.
Today, I have a joy that no man can take away from me. I am a changed person who can empathize with abuse victims and sympathize with others who are hurting in other ways. I don’t have to feel like I am hiding something horrible, though I wisely choose how and who I share my CSM experience with. I have grown in my faith in Christ, and ultimately, I credit Him with my healing. Healing takes time and is continual. Choosing to get counseling was an important step in that process for me and I recommend it all who experience abuse and trauma.
Find the type of counseling and therapy that is right for you. If you need to change therapists, do it. Find the right one. Healing is possible.
I’m living proof.
– CSM Survivor and Thriver
CSM survivors can find help and hope in professional counseling.