Most recently, I attended a convention addressing complex trauma, which involves affects from ongoing abuse. One of the recognized affects of complex trauma, in particular, is a disrupted belief system. In cases of ongoing abuse, the ways in which persons find meaning become altered, and their senses of spirituality become troubled. Listening to my clinical colleagues wrestle with how to incorporate spirituality into their practices, I was touched by the incredible honor and opportunity that being a spiritual director or clergy member allows when addressing the spiritual needs of a survivor of trauma.
After experiencing trauma, in this case, complex trauma, one of the choices a person of faith eventually makes is, “Do I still believe?” One of the challenges clinicians face in addressing this area is incorporating a client’s spiritual practices or in making spiritual recommendations into what clinicians traditionally keep a “values free environment.” Sacred experiences and expressions are so personal and “loaded” for many people that it can feel incredibly tricky to integrate into therapy. As spiritual directors, however, we possess the distinct honor and opportunity of addressing spiritual needs, getting to intimately talk with people about belief and meaning. Broadly, we focus on
How they discover meaning?
How they experience holiness?
What has changed?
What they hope for?
Then, from within our own faith traditions, we can
Give structure to prayer
Instruction in mindfulness
Participate in celebrations of awe and wonder
Encourage compassion and acceptance for self
Support connectedness to others through music, spoken word, and other rituals
We can do all these things without hesitating to enter in to this sacred space with another.
In the same way that I believe a spiritual director or clergy member needs to have a go-to referral list of trusted therapists and others who can help congregants address psychological development needs or critical mental health concerns, I see too how therapists benefit from a reliable referral list of spiritual directors and clergy to partner with in helping clients discern safe places and people with whom they can process their spiritual life. In expanding these types of referral lists, therapists might consider:
How aware are you of the faith traditions represented among your clients?
Do you practice helping someone discern healthy spirituality from unhealthy?
Do you partner with local clergy or spiritual directors to attend to your client’s sacred dissonance in the face of trauma?
And if you are a spiritual director:
Are you aware of your own mental health development?
Are you aware of your own places of questioning?
How do you feel about companioning someone who may choose to leave the well-worn path of tradition in an attempt to integrate their new perceptions of the world with their faith?
Do you have a well-developed theology of suffering?
What helps you to be secure in your faith without needing to offer specific theodicies to survivors?
As we at ICTG continues to expand programs and tools to support those caring for souls, I find it incredibly encouraging to hear about the research emerging among my colleagues as together we work to create vibrant professional communities committed to whole person health and spiritual care in the light of trauma.