The Immanuel Approach and healing trauma
As Christian Counsellors, our goals in practice are two-fold. We aim to facilitate healing in our clients as well as to help them grow in their relationship with God. Dr Karl Lehman has developed a truly integrated approach to counselling; a faith-based psychotherapy which is proving immensely effective in resolving trauma. The approach encompasses elements which strengthen the client’s ability to attach to God and to perceive His presence.
It is not uncommon for those who are sufferers of complex trauma to have difficulty connecting to God. Issues such as dissociation and insecure attachment can render some Christian Counselling approaches ineffective for deeply traumatised individuals. The Immanuel approach addresses these issues and offers the client practical tools that they can utilise outside of the therapy room.
The need for a safety net when dealing with trauma in clients has been widely recognised. Dr Lehman’s innovative approach gives a safety net in the form of an appreciation exercise which strengthens the clients connection with God while building their psychological and emotional capacity.
The Immanuel approach was developed by Dr Karl Lehman and is a truly integrated approach to counselling; a faith-based psychotherapy which is proving immensely effective in resolving trauma. This approach integrates the safe and proven practices of the psychological and medical worlds with the healing power and presence of God.
As a Christian counsellor, it is my strong conviction that Jesus is the answer to the mental health issues facing today’s society. I have observed and worked with a variety of Christian counselling approaches and theologies over the years. Some view the world of professional counselling and psychology as contrary to Christianity and therefore shun anything that does not have its origins in scripture, and then there are those who propose that any mention of faith does not belong in the professional world of counselling and psychotherapy. While I value the help given to clients by those who hold to these views, it is my conviction that an integrated approach which takes the best from psychology and merges it with the power of Christ to heal is optimum. The Immanuel approach appeals to me for those precise reasons.
This approach encompasses elements which strengthen the client’s ability to attach to God and to perceive His presence. Building an interactive connection with God is one of the keys to this approach, as is the appreciation exercise which creates a safe place for clients from which to process their traumatic memories.
Many who are sufferers of complex trauma have difficulty connecting to God. Issues such as dissociation and insecure attachment can render some Christian Counselling approaches ineffective for deeply traumatised individuals. The Immanuel approach addresses these issues and offers the client practical tools that may be utilises outside of the therapy room.
The need for a safety net when dealing with trauma in clients has been widely recognised. (Rothschild, 2000, Kezelman & Stravropoulos, 2012) Dr Lehman’s innovative approach gives a safety net in the form of an appreciation exercise which strengthens the clients’ connection with God while building their psychological and emotional capacity.
When a person becomes overwhelmed by a traumatic event it can do lasting damage to their psychological, emotional and cognitive functioning. Memory is often affected and the person’s belief system is affected in a manner that can leave them with an ongoing expectation of danger. (Herman, 1992) Unresolved and unprocessed traumatic memories inhibit a person’s ability to cope with everyday life in a healthy manner. They may remain on “high alert” and find themselves triggered into high anxiety and overwhelming stress by relatively minor events. (Kezelman & Stravropoulos, 2012)
The way in which people are affected by trauma varies from person to person. Studies have revealed that only around 20% of people who experience traumatic events will develop PTSD. (Rothschild, 2000) Developmental history, belief systems and internal resources are just a few examples of factors which can determine the degree to which a person is affected by traumatic events. (Rothschild, 2000)
Commonly when we think about trauma we focus on the negative experiences which should never happen to people. There is also the trauma of not receiving the good things that we all need. (Wilder, Khouri, Coursey, & Sutton, 2013)
“Complex, interpersonally generated trauma is severely disruptive of the capacity to manage internal states. It is particularly damaging if it occurs in childhood. Research establishes that if we cannot self-regulate (i.e. manage internal states and impulse control) we will seek alternative means of doing so in the form of defences and/or addictions.” (Kezelman & Stravropoulos, 2012, p. xxx)
Many of the mental health issues that plague so many in our communities are the result of unresolved psychological trauma. (Kezelman & Stravropoulos, 2012)
HISTORY OF THE IMMANUEL APPROACH
Karl Lehman is a Christian psychologist who lives and works in the USA. The integration of his Christian faith with his scientific training and medical science has been one of his primary pursuits. (Lehman K. M., 2016) He has paid specific attention to integrating faith-based emotional healing with knowledge gained from psychological and neurological research. (Lehman K. M., 2016)
He began providing outpatient mental health care in 1990. At that time, he used a combination of cognitive therapy, medication, insight oriented therapy and what he terms a “traditional” prayer for emotional healing when treating patients for psychological trauma.
Dr Lehman states that with this approach, only around 5% of his clients could perceive the Lord’s presence and received emotional healing. The majority of the time, clients could connect with the pain and trauma only. Dr Lehman describes his work with the 95% of clients who were not able to perceive God’s presence in the sessions as “frustrating” because the other approaches were merely helping them manage their symptoms without any permanent resolution.
In 1998 Dr Lehman trained in Theophostic Prayer Ministry. (Smith, 2007) The basic principles of the Theophostic approach are that the erroneous beliefs which are held in traumatic memories are the primary source of painful emotions and unhelpful behaviours. The ability of the client to perceive the Lord’s presence inside the memory and receive His truth are critical factors in the healing of trauma. (Smith, 2007)
Dr Lehman says that this approach was the first form of therapy or ministry that brought healing to his own trauma. He is very open about his own pursuit of emotional healing and spiritual growth and the way in which that has impacted his professional approach.
Theophostic Prayer Ministry then became his primary approach when working with trauma. He developed his technique and skills in this approach and saw the percentage of clients who received a dramatic resolution to their trauma peak at around seventy-five percent.
As time went by, Dr Lehmann made further discoveries regarding the importance of capacity in healing trauma and the need for a safety net. These formed the basis for the Immanuel Approach.
KEY COMPONENTS OF THE INTERVENTION:
• Appreciation exercise.
• Access the traumatic memory
• Have the person describe what they are experiencing in their senses, particularly visually and emotionally.
• Help the client make an interactive connection with Jesus while experiencing the memory.
• Clear out toxic content from the memory through replacing false schemas with truth.
As dissociative or traumatic memories surface, the therapist helps the client maintain their connection to Jesus while processing the memory. In this way, they can maintain a relational connection through the event, bring the memory into the realm of their conscious awareness, have their need for understanding and comfort met, remove any false beliefs and replace them with truth and make sense of the event by receiving truth from God.
The client receives comfort, understanding and empathy from the Lord and anything else that was lacking at the time of the event and which caused them to not be able to complete the pain processing pathway. False beliefs and incorrect conclusions drawn about the meaning of the experiences are also resolved through hearing truth from the Lord. (Lehman K. M., 2016)
The presence of painful emotions in the memory is an indication that the pain processing pathway is not yet complete. The presence of peace in the memory tell us that healing has occurred.
I have found that the Immanuel approach is not only very effective in resolving trauma, but also in facilitating a stronger attachment to God. This builds resilience in the client, strengthens their resource base and gives them practical help outside the therapy room.