Newsweek recently carried an article that mentioned the harms of stress debriefing (June 18, 2007), referring to the practice of some therapists helping people who have gone through painful experiences by dwelling on the trauma they experienced in order to “process” it. In many cases, this practice only makes things worse, and is cited as an example of questionable therapies in vogue today:
“Stress debriefing,” for instance, is designed to prevent symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in those who have suffered or witnessed a trauma. In a three- to four-hour group session, a therapist pushes patients to discuss and “process” their feelings and to describe in detail what they experienced or witnessed. Many of those who undergo stress debriefing develop worse PTSD symptoms than those who deal with the trauma on their own, controlled studies show, probably because the intense reliving of the trauma impedes natural recovery. Burn victims who underwent stress debriefing, for instance, had worse PTSD 13 months later than victims who had no psychotherapy; people who went through it after being in a car crash had greater anxiety about travel three years later than those who did not.
I wonder if this might also apply to those who have had a negative experience with a religion? When I look at some of the people I have known in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who left the Church, I think there is a risk that some of the support groups a few have become involved with or even started have, in effect, become extensive “stress debriefing” sessions that really don’t seem to have helped, in my opinion.
Is it possible that extensive dwelling on negative experiences or other problems can increase the pain and the bitterness, or even create “recovered memories”? False recovered memories is what comes to mind when I read some people’s description of the their Church experience, where home teaching in pairs becomes remembered, years later, as oppressive mind control with a senior Mormon there to make sure nobody starts asking questions, where every action of a bishop becomes some form of mind control or manipulation, and where possibly good-natured visits from home or visiting teachers or other members becomes shallow manipulation or insincere “love bombing.”
I have some good friends who have left the Church without all the “stress debriefing” therapy that some online groups offer. They simply determined that they didn’t believe it anymore, or disagreed with a policy or position, or were too ticked off about something to come back. And then they moved on without needing to come back and pick at the church and repeatedly trash our faith, though they aren’t necessarily shy about why they disagree. They can talk openly about what they respect in the Church, without having to color every aspect of the Church in dark and sinister tones. We can disagree calmly on key issues, agree on some others, and move on in our friendship. I hope they come back some day, but their current religious status is no barrier to my liking them and respecting them, and I am glad that they can respectfully allow me to have my beliefs without having to “hate bomb” me with anti-Mormon spam or assume I’m an idiot for disagreeing.
Stress debriefing: be careful about what kind of support you get for the pain you’ve been through, religious or otherwise.