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A wide open door

I agree with Dr. Allender’s statement. A growing awareness about trauma has created a wide-open door for all churches to ‘deal with trauma.’ However, while there is a growing awareness, by and large ‘the church’ still lags behind in becoming trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive.

In her book, Suffering and the Heart of God How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Christian trauma specialist, Diane Langberg, paints a ‘visual parable’ of the distance between the traumatized and the church.

“When I was in Ghana a couple of years ago for a conference on violence against women and children, we visited Cape Coast Castle. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were forced through its dungeons and through the door of no return onto slave ships. There were five dungeon chambers for males, and descending into the blackness to one of those dungeons felt claustrophobic. Two hundred men shackled and chained together lived in that dungeon for about three months before being shipped across the Atlantic.

"We stood in one of the male dungeons listening in the darkness to the whole horrific story when our guide said this: ‘Do you know what is above this dungeon?’ Our Heads shook. The chapel. Directly above two hundred shackled men-some of them dead, others screaming, all of them sitting in filth-sat God worshipers. They sang, they read the Scripture, they prayed, and I suppose took up an offering for those less fortunate. The slaves could hear the service, and the worshipers could sometimes hear the slaves (though there were those making them behave so as not to disturb church). It took my breath away. The evil, the suffering, the humiliations, the injustice were overwhelming, and the visual parable was stunning. The people in the chapel were numb to the horrific trauma and suffering beneath them.” Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC 27404, 2015, p 4-5

Langberg's imagery reminds me of the importance of bringing a trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive approach to A Door of Hope's peer facilitator training. A high percentage of women who experience sexual betrayal in their marriages report feeling isolated, unheard, or unseen in their churches. And far too many other partners report experiencing spiritual abuse after turning to their pastors/clergy, other church leaders or even friends. I don't believe these wounds-upon-other wounds are intentional. Instead, they often come from a lack of awareness/education around sex addiction and betrayal trauma. That lack of awareness/education is a barrier for the woman sitting in the pew, looking for help and hope in what she hoped would be a place of refuge.

That's one reason A Door of Hope peer facilitator training exists: to reduce partner barriers by equipping women to facilitate groups in their local churches or communities. Well-trained trauma-informed peer facilitators have a basic understanding of trauma and the various ways it may impact those who’ve experienced trauma. They …

  • Realize… the impact of trauma (s) and how it impacts the overall quality of life, their relationships with other people, and how they see the world

  • Recognize…trauma signs and symptoms

  • Respond…with policies, procedures, practices

  • Resist…re-traumatization

Trauma-sensitive facilitators remain aware of trauma’s impact so partners have a safe pathway for healing in groups, but the facilitators do not function as clinicians. Instead, for the welfare of the individual or safety of the group, they are trained/equipped to recognize when it is necessary to refer someone to a therapist/clinician.

Trauma-informed peer facilitators...

Listen – because they understand listening and validating what happened to them is instrumental in helping those whose lives were impacted by trauma.

Connect – Provide safe groups where those who experience a traumatic event no longer feel alone. Reconnecting with others is a critical part of trauma recover.

Offer hope – Help those who are traumatized rediscover hope within the group experience.

So, are you wondering how to identify a trauma-informed/sensitive church/ministry or organization? Typically, they'll follow SAMHSA’s trauma informed approach principles:

  1. A structure is in place that provides a pathway for vulnerable people to feel included and protected within the worshiping community.

  2. Trustworthiness: Authenticity as a characteristic is highly valued within the community of faith

  3. Peer Support: The church/ministry/organization goes beyond being friendly to intentionally providing safe places where people connect and develop friendships

  4. Collaboration and mutuality: Caring for victimized people, traumatized individuals, and vulnerable children is integral to its call to Kingdom work.

  5. Empowerment: Those who are cared for are also fully integrated into the community and provided a pathway toward active involvement.

SAMSHA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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