Helping the Church Become a Resource
Article written by Heather Drew, MA, LPC in the American Bible Society and the Barna Group’s E- book Trauma in America.
Church hurt is real. It only takes one painful church experience for someone to be afraid it could happen again. If a traumatized person seeks help in a church community and does not receive safety, understanding, acknowledgement, patience and compassion (among other things), they may become more hurt, and this second wound can be more painful than the first. If a survivor has experienced church hurt, trust must be earned over time. Expecting a person who has been hurt to trust quickly is the first mistake to be corrected. When church communities have information about what normal responses to trauma are, it may make it easier for them to provide safety and belonging and to become the refuges for survivors. When people have experienced a traumatic event, their primary need is safety and stabilization. Once their basic physiological needs are met, they are out of immediate danger and have personal security (employment, access to resources, health, etc.), they can continue to function, even though this happens at a different level than before the incident. This also means that they need to experience emotional safety within their communities—that friends, family and church leaders do not demand immediate healing.
The second thing a person in trauma recovery needs is a safe space to process their emotions and painful experiences. This is the stage of recovery when a person may relive and / or remember traumatic experiences and require people whom they can talk to about the event. They need space to share and process what happened, how they feel and what is / was hardest for them. Most of all, they need to know that whatever they share will not cause them to be judged or condemned by the listener. This stage of healing requires patience, compassion and empathic listening from the helper. If church communities can provide these things, they may be more readily considered resources and refuges for survivors.
HEATHER DREW, MA, LPC works as a writer, speaker, teacher and licensed professional counselor and is currently on staff at American Bible Society as a trauma healing training manager. She holds a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling and a post-graduate certificate in Global Trauma Recovery. For 17 years she has worked with people who live with stories of trauma and abuse, helping individuals from a vast array of cultural, socioeconomic and spiritual backgrounds.