“Why can’t victim-survivors just get over it?”

It’s a question often asked within the Church of people ready to move on from the abuse crisis. Laura Harder, a compassion fatigue therapist, has worked with staff members of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on the effects of trauma. She is bringing her expertise to St. Odilia Feb. 10 from 6:30–8:30 p.m. to help people understand why people who have suffered abuse or trauma “can’t just move on” — and why that matters for the Church.

The Catholic Spirit interviewed Harder about her upcoming presentation via email.

Laura Harder

Q) You’re a compassion fatigue therapist. What is that? What perspective does that give you when it comes to understanding the effects of clergy sexual abuse?

A) “Compassion fatigue” refers to the emotional toll taken on by professionals who work directly with people in need. When it comes to the issue of clergy sex abuse, I use my compassion fatigue training to understand the perspective of those who are continuing to work with those who were traumatized — whether it’s the survivors, Church staff, members of the congregation or current priests not involved in the sex abuse.

Q) Your upcoming talk at St. Odilia is “Why can’t they just get over it?” Why is this an important topic?

A) For this event, I was asked to present on the topic of clergy sex abuse specifically from the perspective of the survivor. My hope for this talk is for folks to leave with a better understanding of the psychological underpinnings that make it difficult for survivors to “move past” trauma. It’s critical to begin with a basic understanding of how trauma functions if the Catholic Church as a whole is going to move past the sex abuse.

Q) So, why can’t Catholics “just get over” the abuse crisis and
move on?

A) To be clear, this presentation will be more about the survivors of abuse “getting over” what happened to them — not Catholics as a whole. That being said, it is absolutely the case that Catholics may have experienced personal trauma from this, even if they themselves didn’t experience abuse. Trauma affects the brain in a very deep, physiological way and completely changes the way we view the world and what we expect from the people in it.

Q) Instead of “getting over it,” how should Catholics approach the crisis?

A) The best way to bring the healing process is to accept the situation as truth — NOT get over it, but more so affirm it as the reality it is. Only then can the critical next steps of understanding, connection, empathy and healing take place to move the Catholic community forward.

Q) From your perspective, will the Church — local and universal — ever be able to move on from this?

A) Cultural shifts are difficult and complex, but I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t believe it were possible. The Catholic Church is a colossal organization that is deeply rooted in tradition. It will be a slow, arduous process, and it will need to start small and local.

Q) What do you want people to understand about the effects of trauma and abuse?

A) Wow, many things! First and foremost, I’d hope people leave with an understanding of how trauma impacts the actual physiology of the brain. It morphs the brain to view things differently and, therefore, isn’t something one can just “get over.” Trauma changes who someone is and how they view the world. That’s not to say trauma survivors are forever dismantled, but once you’ve experienced such horrific trauma, one cannot go back to viewing the world and others as they did before.

For more information about the Feb. 10 event, contact Paula Kaempffer, the archdiocese’s outreach coordinator for restorative justice and abuse prevention, at 651-291-4455. Learn more about Harder’s work at her website, happywithwork.com.