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Giles Lascelle - Breakthrough interview

15th Aug 2019

Giles Lascelle - Breakthrough interview

Breakthrough: The Art of Surviving is a brand new release from Instant Apostle, helping churches navigate their way through pastoral issues around supporting survivors of childhood abuse and trauma.

Written by psychotherapist Giles Lascelle, it offers resources for survivors to help them journey through to healing and find help during crisis times, as well as in-depth gritty exploration of how trauma can affect the brain, how this can present in a Church setting, what can help and what doesn’t! It also includes discussion questions for those supporting survivors, providing Churches with time to reflect on how they pray for and encourage those in their community who are struggling.

We took some time to meet with Giles and discuss how this radical book came to be, and why it’s so important...



Many won't know about you or the charity, so tell us about you:

First and foremost I am a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma. When I was growing up I suffered some significant abuse both within and outside of my family. So I’m very familiar with the lengthy journey of recovery and healing that survivors have to face. I suppose it was those experiences that led to me working for social services, with children and young people who had been through a lot of the same things I had. That in turn got me interested in helping people to heal from the emotional and psychological scars caused by trauma and abuse, so I trained for about six years, and eventually qualified as a psychotherapist in 1995. I worked for a number of years in the NHS, and also for a whole range of other voluntary organisations. I didn’t really intend to specialise quite as much as I've ended up doing, but I found very quickly that abuse and trauma were at the root of most of the difficulties faced by the people I saw.

Around 2000, I became a Christian, through a combination of personal crisis and the witness of Christian colleagues. The strange thing is that I was encouraged by a number of people in the church to give up being a therapist, because they saw it as ‘not godly’. I was a bit of a baby in the faith and I wanted to do the right things, so I stopped doing therapy for a while, and focused on other things, eventually working full time in Christian ministry. After a while though I realised that the church I was helping to lead had in it a number of survivors, all of whom needed a lot of help. Gradually I sensed that God was calling me back to my original mission as a therapist working with people who had been abused or traumatised as children. So I established a charity called Breakthrough as a way of reaching out and helping survivors.

What is Breakthrough?

Breakthrough is a charity based in the south-west of England that works to support survivors of childhood trauma abuse through low cost specialist psychotherapy, support groups, and training and consultancy to churches and community organisations who want to learn to support survivors more effectively. Everything we do is from a Christian perspective, though our services and training are available to everyone, whatever their faith, or whether they have a faith or not.

The news today is full of statistics around mental health, especially for young people. How big an issue is trauma in adults?It’s an absolutely huge issue. Around one in four people in the UK are abused or maltreated in some way as children, and the long-term consequences can be severe. Survivors are three times more likely to develop a serious mental health issue as non-survivors, and twice as likely to develop a long-term chronic physical health condition. Survivors are more likely to become dependent on drugs or alcohol, because they use these substances to numb their emotional pain. In fact around half of dependent drug users also fit the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So the personal and social impact is vast.

What prompted you to write the book?

There were lots of reasons, but probably the biggest one was a growing awareness that survivors are generally not getting the help they need. On the one hand they are not being well-served by the mental health services, primarily due to lack of resources and training. On the other hand, they are also often not well served by churches, due mostly to a lack of understanding. I guess I decided (prompted by friends and colleagues) to try to address some of these issued by writing a book.

Why did you choose Instant Apostle to publish it?

InstantApostle were the first publisher I queried, and that was largely down to the fact that they publish books that deal with real issues and struggles. I felt that the average Christian publisher might not be willing to get to grips with what are at times very gritty and distressing topics. Added to that IA have a great ‘indie’ feel about them, and that is reflected not only in the content of their list but in their whole design ethos. I particularly like the fact that their covers don’t pander to the slightly fluffy Christian stereotypes.

Who is the book for?

The book is primarily for survivors and their supporters, whether they are friends, family, church leaders or whatever. I also really hope that it will be read by people in church leadership, whether pastors, vicars, small group or ministry leaders, as it raises issues that I believe the church needs urgently to get to grips with.

What are some of the signs that someone may be struggling?

There really isn’t a stereotypical survivor, and the thing about abuse and trauma is that people are usually very reluctant to talk about it; so there are going to be people in our churches and amongst our friends and family who are carrying a history of abuse and trauma, and we may know nothing about it. Most of the time survivors look pretty much the same as non-survivors. But there are also times when stress or pressure can cause their coping mechanisms to break down, and at those times there are a few things that might be a clue, though all of them can also have other explanations as well. Sometimes survivors struggle in relationships – intimate and social ones, so they may isolate themselves a bit, or occasionally seem to rub people up the wrong way. They may well struggle with anxiety or depression, though they may keep it well hidden. At times they can seem easily startled or jittery. Some survivors may struggle with alcohol or drugs, others with eating issues or other compulsive behaviour. Sometimes survivors may seem to be a bit zoned out or not with it, because they have learned to cut off from distressing or painful feelings and experiences in order to survive. The thing to remember is that survivors are like everyone else, and there is no foolproof way of 'diagnosing' someone. When or if they feel safe enough, they will begin to talk about their experiences.

What can readers expect to find within the pages of Breakthrough?

A lot of the book is taken up with explanations of what is happening psychologically for survivors. This is important because most survivors believe that there is something wrong with them, when in fact most of the ways they respond to life are totally understandable when we consider the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds they have suffered. These explanations are accessible and suitable for the average layperson, and illustrated with true stories, both from my own life, and from the lives of some of the people I’ve worked with over the last thirty years (though I’ve carefully altered details so people can’t be identified). There are also a number of ‘survivor resources’ at the end of most chapters. These are practical ideas for survivors about how to help themselves in navigating their journey of recovery and healing. Most chapters also have a ‘supporters pause for thought’ with Scripture, prayer ideas, and discussion questions to help those who are supporting survivors, whether as individuals or in small groups to unpack some of the issues.

Why did you write this book for Christians?

There were two reasons I wrote the book for Christians. Firstly, because coming to know Jesus was such an integral part of my own journey of recovery. I had received healing from therapy before I came to know Christ, but a lot of the deeper wounds were still there, and my life was still a huge mess in many ways. I have come to realise that healing from trauma needs to encompass our spirit as well as our mind, and for me that means a living connection with the source and creator of life, through Christ.

The second reason, is because there seems to be a bit of a lack of understanding in the Christian world about the reality of trauma and abuse, and the long term psychological impact it can have. Unfortunately Christians who are struggling with the legacy of childhood abuse are sometimes made to feel quite guilty that they are not ‘fixed’ or that the prayer-ministry they receive hasn’t been more effective.

I want Christians to know that most of these struggles do not indicate sinfulness or a lack of faith on their part, but are a normal consequence of the appalling ways in which they were hurt as children. I also want them to know that there is hope for them to be able to heal and make a full recovery.

Can churches and individuals be doing more to help?

Absolutely. Churches need to educate themselves about abuse and trauma, and learn how to make themselves a true sanctuary for survivors – a safe space in which they can be enabled to heal and recover. That could be quite a challenge, as it probably means taking a long hard look as some of the attitudes and ways of doing things that may, without them meaning it to, cause survivors considerable problems. The same goes for individuals. If you know someone who is a survivor, then it is important that you learn how to come alongside them and help. Mostly it isn’t rocket science. Care, love and a willingness to listen non-judgementally can go a long way to helping those who are struggling with the legacy of abuse.

Which story from the book has impacted you most?

Probably the ones that impacted me the most were the ones I wasn’t able to tell, because they might have been too distressing for the average reader. Of the ones I was able to tell, the stories about people not being understood, or being made to feel shame in church contexts, were the ones that upset me the most. My understanding of Jesus, is that He is full of understanding and love towards those who are hurting and struggling, and He never puts anyone to shame. For survivors to go to a church where they are supposed to encounter Him, and being met with ignorance, lack of understanding or even condemnation, absolutely breaks my heart.

What was the most challenging part to write?

The most challenging part was probably the section where I tried to answer common questions survivors (particularly of childhood sexual abuse) have about sex and sexuality. I wanted to be sensitive to the complexity of some of the issues, but also to be real. I felt I was labouring under the Church’s history of discomfort in discussing sex and sexuality. Even now the book is finished and going to print, I’m not sure I got the balance quite right, and there may be some people who will be offended by what I have to say. But these are important issues, and survivors can be so damaged in this area. We have to learn to do better, even if it is uncomfortable for some of us.

What was the most encouraging?

I think the most encouraging chapters to write was the one where I begin to imagine what a trauma-informed church might be like, and how that could become a safe space for survivors. It made me realise again that although it can be a challenge to change our thinking and our practice, many of the changes are not actually huge, and they are not that hard. It reminded me that with some good-will, some education and training, and the willingness to embrace a view of survivors as ‘the least of these’ that Christ calls us to love, Church can become a safe and empowering space for survivors.

What is your hope for the book?

My hope for the book is twofold.
First, that survivors can start to understand what they are experiencing, and that they can be empowered to take bacl their lives and become whole. especially on the days when the journey feels too hard.
Second, that those supporting survivors, whether inside or outside of churches, can gain a better understanding, and feel more able to come alongside to love and care for them, even though that may be a bit out of their comfort zone.
 

This isn’t your standard ‘light and fluffy’ Christian book. As well as taking a real look at the impact of abuse, you’ve also shared a lot from your own story. What have you’ve learnt from promoting the raw and counter-culturally honest parts of your journey? Has the feedback surprised you?

It wasn’t an easy decision to share some parts of my story. My life before I became a Christian involved a lot of pain, and some pretty destructive lifestyle choices. The same is probably true of many survivors, and it is very much an effect of the pain and the distress we experience. I know that sharing some of those things, and my sense that God does not condemn us for those things, but walks with us as we learn to be whole, caused more than a few raised eyebrows in some quarters.

I really felt it was important to get across the idea that salvation, and wholeness can be pretty rough journeys for survivors. We probably won’t fit the expectations of many churches and those who have not experienced the things we have. I know the standard plot-line is, ‘I was a mess, then Jesus came and saved me, and then everything was alright and we all lived happily ever after.’ But that wasn’t the case for me. Jesus certainly saved me from several sorts of mess, but some of the hardest parts of my own journey of recovery came afterwards. I can tell you, there are few things more humbling than leading a Christian mental health charity, and then experiencing a spectacular, public and messy breakdown a few years later.

That, however is the reality, and for survivors if we allow our reality to be sugar-coated, our recovery and our healing will never be complete. I didn’t set out to make people uncomfortable with this book, but I know it probably will. Forgive me, but I’m not really sorry about that.

If readers took one thing away from this collection, what would you like it to be?

If there was just one thing it would be this: The reactions of survivors to the trauma they suffered is understandable, and there is hope for healing, recovery and breaking through to a life of abundance.

What’s next for Breakthrough?

As a charity, Breakthrough is always looking to expand our services and make them more effective. We are slowly increasing our capacity to provide therapy for more survivors, and eventually we are looking to establish a permanent therapeutic community, where survivors can be helped and supported on their journey of recovery. We are also changing our training and education programmes so that we can reach more people – developing online training and other initiatives.

If people have questions, where can they go?

People with specific questions are welcome to contact us. They can email us at admin@traumabreakthrough.org they can check out our website: www.traumabreakthrough.org, and they can follow us on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/traumabreakthrough 
More general questions about child abuse and its impact can be found via the NSPCC at: www.nspcc.org.uk


Buy your copy of Breakthrough: The Art of Surviving HERE!