The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Speaker uses spirituality for sexual abuse recovery

By Frankie Farrar-helm/reporter

Sallie Culbreth blamed God for the sexual abuse she experienced as a child.

“I felt that God was an abuser,” said Culbreth, founder of Committed to Freedom, a non-profit organization that provides people with spiritual tools to help them move past abuse.

Now, Culbreth uses the organization to examine the role of spirituality in sexual abuse recovery.

Culbreth spoke about her own abuse experiences, which she said started when she was in pre-school and continued until she was in middle school, during a seminar Spirituality and Childhood Sex Abuse Recovery held earlier this month on NE Campus.

Spirituality helps abuse victims as a method of therapy, Culbreth told a group that included students from TCC and other colleges, licensed counselors, therapists and social workers.

“How spiritual someone is, is not the issue,” Culbreth said. “How it is internalized and understood is the larger issue. Spiritual community establishes social norms, acceptance, support and personal growth.”

Culbreth said she was furious with God when she was abused. She said her abuser was a family member who would make her kneel down to pray after each episode of abuse, telling her he didn’t want her to go to hell.

Negative coping for anyone who is abused often includes blaming God, which correlates to negative mental health, depression, substance abuse and guilt, Culbreth said.

Culbreth said 50 to 90 percent of sexually abused clients who seek therapy are committed to some level of spiritual practice, and 78 percent of them want spirituality included in their treatment.

“In ages 18 to 29, one in four have no affiliation but are deeply spiritual,” she said.

Culbreth’s seminar included tips for professionals.

She suggested that therapists and counselors use what she called direct questioning, such as flat out asking the client, “Do you believe in God?” or “How do you feel about the abuse?” and listening for keywords in the answers.

Culbreth also said professionals should respect the client’s autonomy and spiritual diversity.

“You want to let the client go their path but also explore their resistance,” she said. “Use relational experiences to activate a therapeutic alliance.”

Ellen Brunt, a 47-year-old NE student, attended Culbreth’s seminar looking for answers and support. Brunt is enrolled in the mental health program on NE Campus and wants to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor who helps people recover from addiction.

A recovering addict who has been clean and sober since August 1988, Brunt used spirituality as a method of therapy. She said using spirituality saved her life.

“Many addicts have been sexually abused, and I want to be able to understand how to help them,” Brunt said. “This seminar should be beneficial to my education and future clients.”

After Culbreth’s presentation, Brunt said everything made sense.

“It’s true how children feel betrayed by God and how that shows up in their adult life,” she said. “I recommend anyone to Culbreth.”

Texas Wesleyan University student and certified elementary school counselor Christina Stanley attended the seminar seeking guidance as well.

Stanley, 33, is studying to become a licensed counselor and marriage family therapist and wants to include spirituality in her work.

Stanley said she was abused as a child. As a second-grade teacher and counselor, she has discovered children she works with who have been sexually abused.

“Hopefully, I’ll learn how to better help them,” she said.

Listening to Culbreth, Stanley said she went through the same quest and asked herself the same questions.

“I learned that there are many helpful ways to deal,” Stanley said. “I feel a sense of relief knowing what I know now.”

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