In discerning what practices may be the most helpful for an individual, a director should consider intricacies of the person’s faith. Directors should ask the following questions:
-How does this person’s beliefs interact with other types of care they may need? (e.g. Seeking medical care? Therapy?)
-How do they use spiritual terms in their narrative? What role are shame and guilt playing? (e.g. Are they finding strength and comfort? Seeking meaning? Feeling connected to community? Or, is their experience seen as something they “struggle” with? Do they believe they are being punished? Do they view God as angry or resentful?)
-Do they attribute stressful events to “the devil” or some demonic force?
-How are they using prayer? As a means of invoking God’s intercession? As an avoidance technique? To plead for change or relief of symptoms?
-Which of their faith-based coping strategies are providing relief? How can those strategies be nurtured?
For further help in assessing a directee’s individual spirituality and its role in their healing process, Donald Meichenbaum has created an excellent comprehensive resource for assessing a psychotherapy client’s spiritual functioning that is applicable to spiritual direction.
As directors dealing with a human being, we would be remiss to ignore the role of the body in experiencing holiness. Incorporating the body into prayer may include practices of mindfulness, traditional postures such as kneeling, or nontraditional postures that help a survivor feel safe such as standing with eyes open. Philip Helsel, friend of ICTG, has written out a beautiful ritual that incorporates blessing the body and intentionally including it in prayer in postures of safety. For some, walking or pacing helps to relax tension in the body enough to allow prayer to happen. For others, praying using the traditional imaginative exercises of St. Ignatius can be helpful in engaging the senses. The Jewish traditions of “sitting Shiva” and Tisha b’Av are rich with tangible rituals and practices that are specifically designed to allow space for grief and healing, both for those who have been hurt and those who are grieving the loss with them.
There is so much room for growth in our understanding of how trauma affects the human spirit. Scattered across the traditions are powerful models of both lament and courage as well as celebrations of both vulnerability and strength. We must gather these resources and stay in dialogue with our colleagues in the fields of mental health, medicine, and theology. As we do, we will continue to see new experiences of the holy integrated, and resultantly, strong, intact people who emerge to tell their stories of survival.