Written by Philip Monroe
Monday, 10 March 2014 00:00
This past week the Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute co-sponsored (with the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute) a trauma healing training for church leaders in the Philadelphia area. As Diane Langberg has taught us, trauma is an open mission field of our present time. Trauma is worldwide: wars, ethnic conflicts, rape, domestic violence, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, accidents, and more. Being aware of trauma and how it impacts individuals and community; being able to help those who are traumatized offers great opportunities for ministries of mercy, discipleship, and evangelism.
What is Trauma?
Now that trauma is becoming better understood, we run the risk of making it so commonplace that everyone is labeled traumatized if they have experienced loss, grief, or other forms of suffering. When a person is exposed to overwhelming events (often around the threat of death or serious harm) and feels helpless to do anything about it, they may experience subsequent traumatic symptoms that go well beyond the end of the difficult event(s).
These symptoms include chronic intrusive reminders (memories, nightmares), attempt to shut down from those memories (e.g., by shutting down emotions, substance abuse, reckless behavior, etc.), hypervigilance about additional future threats that are often triggered by things in current life. All of these symptoms end up leaving the person with difficulty trusting others, self-loathing, and in a state of chronic depression and anxiety.
What Can Lay Leaders Do?
We live in a professional world where we look to the experts to help us with our problems. This is not a bad thing. It is good to have experts. But most do not have experts to go to and so they look to their church families to support their recovery. In addition, trauma victims almost always have huge spiritual questions (guilt, shame, anger at God, disconnection from the community, questions about forgiveness, etc.), and many mental health professionals are not equipped to deal with these issues.
Leaders in the church can become better equipped to listen well to the woundedness of fellow congregants. While telling your trauma isn’t everything, it is hard to recover if no one validates your experiences of harm.
But there is more to do than just listen. We can gently guide hurting people to consider how God thinks about our wounding, what he offers us, how he desires our lamentations, and what guidance we have when dealing with those who have harmed us.
This Particular Model: Healing the Wounds of Trauma
What is unique about this training is that is (a) designed for non-counselors, (b) in small group dialogue, (c) experiential rather than just cognitive, (d) and has the goal of being passed on to others. But most importantly, it is a means to engage Scripture around these topics. Trauma has a way of disconnecting people from their faith.
Does God care? Did I deserve this? Is it okay to have these hurts?
This model helps people connect, in their trauma, to God and to their faith community. Sadly, many faith materials focus on what healing can look like (the end result) without allowing participants to experience and struggle through their pain.
About the Author
Dr. Phil Monroe
Philip G. Monroe, PsyD is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical Seminary in Greater Philadelphia. He also directs Biblical's new Global Trauma Recovery project and maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.