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Spiritually Oriented TF-CBT Clinical Trials

Children who have been physically and sexually abused often have spiritual struggles. For example, they may wonder if God exists and loves them and how God could have allowed the abuse to happen. They may ask such questions while also praying and trying to lean on their faith to work through the abuse.

To address spiritual struggles, we have developed a form of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT). In its secular form, TF-CBT is a gold standard, empirically supported treatment for child abuse. Our spiritually integrative version assesses the impact of the abuse on children's faith in the early stages of treatment, and then, as appropriate, incorporates spiritual content throughout treatment. Those who have spiritual questions or who have experienced religion-related abuse may need to work through their struggles later in treatment.

In collaboration with Genesis Counseling Center in Hampton, Va., we are currently conducting a free clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of our Spiritually Oriented TF-CBT to secular TF-CBT. We anticipate seeing 30 to 50 children in 2013, and continuing this annual project locally. Data collected in the clinical trial is used to better understand specific ways in which abuse damages children's faith and effective interventions.

We are currently negotiating with a foundation to fund the next two years of this project and the training of additional therapists to launch spiritually integrative child trauma clinics around the country. We are also seeking prospective child trauma sites to participate in this training and collaborate on conducting outcome research.

International Child Trafficking

We are currently conducting a clinical trial of spiritually oriented TF-CBT that has been culturally contextualized for use with restavek children in Port Au Prince (PAP), Haiti. Restavek is a Haitian cultural phenomenon in which children are given away from their families in exchange for money or the promise of care. Unfortunately, these children are often forced to work as house slaves and are frequently physically and/or sexually abused.

In collaboration with the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, Restavek Freedom Foundation in PAP, and the University of Notre Dame in Port Au Prince, we received a generous grant from the Equitas Foundation in Knoxville, Tenn., to train Haitian therapists in SO-TF-CBT and to conduct a clinical trial of its effectiveness. We anticipate applying for additional funding to continue year two of our project.

We hope to offer similar training followed by outcome research on the effectiveness of a culturally contextualized form of treatment in other countries. One of our current Psy.D. students directs a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children who have been trafficked in Togo, Africa.

Domestic Child Trafficking

Similar to our local and international work, we hope to partner with a number of clinics in the United States serving children who have been trafficked. We are identifying partners in this area and would like to set up training for such agencies and to assist them in implementing SO-TF-CBT in their work. We have developed surveys to better understand factors involved in children being trafficked, as well as how the abuse that they experience affects their faith.

Religion and Intimate Partner Violence

Although we work primarily with children, we recognize the unmet need for women who are raped and battered to receive treatment that addresses both their abuse and resulting spiritual problems. For example, many women who have been physically abused by their male partners receive conflicting counsel from other church members or clergy. Some abusive partners may misrepresent Scripture as being supportive of physical abuse.

We are developing a spiritually oriented version of Cognitive Processing Therapy, an empirically supported treatment for women who have been abused, and anticipate conducting clinical trials on this approach.

Clergy Attitudes Toward Abuse

We are conducting qualitative research with clergy members to better understand their responses to children and women who have been abused, and the ways they would use the Bible in counseling victims of abuse. We also hope to identify model ministries for abused children and women. We plan to use this research to train clergy in understanding the needs of these victims and how to effectively minister to them.

Spiritually Oriented Parent Training Clinical Trial

We have developed a spiritually integrative version of Russell Barkley's "Defiant Children" manual and are currently negotiating to be trained in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) through PCIT international. We anticipate launching clinical trials of a spiritually integrative version of Barkley's approaches in collaboration with Genesis Counseling Center in Hampton, Va., in fall 2013. We hope to launch a PCIT clinical trial in 2014.