This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published March 28, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
Following a death, a shadow often stretches across what can feel like a long valley in life. Sure, there are times when our neighbors or loved ones live long and vibrant lives. There are those people living in “blue zones” in the world, for example, who tend to die in their sleep, often . Their loved ones celebrate their life well-lived. More often than not, though, death comes with little, if any, warning. Death grieves our spirits, individually and collectively. Sometimes, even, death wrenches our hearts in traumatic ways.
Incredibly, human beings possess a seemingly miraculous ability to heal after trauma. Often involuntarily and naturally, we conduct a process of metabolizing the energy of our loss(es), identifying resources, and, even, growing through the aftermath of tragedy. Though this process occurs through individuals, it also appears to function best in concert with survivors perceiving care from others along the way. In particular, care that bears witness to grieving and healing processes appear to be most effective for instigating personal healing processes. Amazingly, it does not seem to matter much who extends care, as long as care is extended.
In particular, care that bears witness to grieving and healing processes appear to be most effective for instigating personal healing processes.
Care may be expressed by strangers, like when Peter Levine experienced the care of a bystander after a car hit him suddenly when he moved through a crosswalk.
Care may be expressed by small groups of close friends or family, like in Blue Zone areas as researched and described by Dan Buettner and National Geographic.
Care may be expressed by professionals or peer counselors, like in cases where therapists conduct EMDR, psychological first aid, trauma-informed pastoral counseling, or trauma-informed chaplaincy or spiritual direction.
Care may be expressed by fellow survivors, like in cases of online or in-person support groups of survivors who have shared traumatic history. “Firehouse families” – a self-proclaimed, precious, and sacred term for the persons who gathered in the firehouse next door to Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 – is one type of group of people who support one another as only they know how based on their shared history.
A skilled caregiver journeys alongside, valuing these senses, and, along the way, witnesses with the survivor to the range of resources available to meet whatever need the survivor may sense.
Renowned traumatologists, including Peter Levine (2010), Babette Rothschild (2003, 2008), Basel van der Kolk (2014), and Charles Figley (1995), all describe ways in which most effective forms of care after trauma view the survivor as an expert. That is to say, the caregiver highly values how a survivor inherently senses their needs along the Valley of the Shadow of Death, whether that need is to grieve, to postpone grief for a time, to resolve grief, or any other type of need along the way. Survivors sense what they need, in idiosyncratic ways, at their own pace, and even through repetitious, cyclical, or pendulum patterns. A skilled caregiver journeys alongside, valuing these senses, and, along the way, witnesses with the survivor to the range of resources available to meet whatever need the survivor may sense.
Today, many survivors are saying that, as a country, we can do much better at valuing the needs and pacing of survivors, particularly those who are surviving violence. For example, following the news that Jeremy Richman, father of Avielle Richman and co-founder of the Avielle Foundation, died by suicide, fellow “firehouse family” member Nelba Marquez-Greene tweeted the following statement:
As soon as 12/14 happened we went right to “Newtown Strong”. It was premature and superficial. I wish we would have said and still say, “Newtown Grieves”. There is strength in grieving. We can acknowledge grief, hope and loss together. There are so many expectations on survivors to change the world. You lose a loved one to gun violence/are injured/survive a shooting AND THEN the weight of world change is on your shoulders. You can’t even grieve. Everyone wants so desperately for you to be okay- that you can never, ever say you’re not. I have rarely met a survivor that has NOT thought about being with their lost loved one. It’s real. We are here. This culture is grief averse and our victim support service structure sucks.
These are important words for all of us who practice caregiving – whether as teachers, coaches, nonprofit or business leaders, or faith leaders – to hear.
Today, many survivors are saying that, as a country, we can do much better at valuing the needs and pacing of survivors, particularly those who are surviving violence.
In what ways is your organization or community caring for survivors, valuing what they sense they need, and pointing out resources along the way? We invite you to share best practices in the comments below. If you are looking for ways your organization – whether a school, nonprofit, congregation, or business – can serve survivors with more effective care, contact us. We’d be glad to help you with education, guides, and support.
Make a contribution today to help educate community-based and faith-based organizational leaders in developing long-term care for individuals and families impacted by violence.
This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published April 26, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
One of the questions our staff repeatedly receives is: How do we know when we've reached a new phase in disaster response?
Several more questions often follow: How do we know if we have reached "disillusionment"? How do we know if we are fully into the rebuilding phase? How do we know if we are healed and have reached a "new normal" or "wiser living" phase?
It's helpful to remember the phases are not prescriptive and progressing through them is more of an art than a science. Each group moves through the phases at their own pace and in their own way.
Over the years, many people have critiqued the phases – which we encourage! If this chart does not adequately represent your community's experience, then how might you draw it in a way that does? It's meant to be a conversation tool that aids your group in identifying together your own collective experience, while providing a sense of what has generally gone on for others.
Each group moves through the phases at their own pace and in their own way.
Still, one of the ongoing and more consistent critiques has been how this chart does not adequately represent the long term mental, emotional, and spiritual care needs that appear to persist for many years, perhaps especially following incidents of mass violence, technological disaster, chronic violence, or abuse. The senses of loss of life, loss of community, and loss of trust in fellow human beings can linger for many years.
Our colleague, Rev. Matt Crebbin, from the Healing the Healers project often describes healing after human-caused disaster as learning how to dance again, but now with a limp. "We've lost a part of ourselves that we will never get back," he says.
At ICTG, we encourage community organizations to host spaces and rituals where survivors can communicate what's happened, express their grief, metabolize their stress or anxiety, and be nourished through their senses of mourning or depression.
Recently, the 20th year marker of the Columbine school shooting, as well as recent deaths related to the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings, have reminded us all how persistent the senses of disorientation and heartache can be.
At ICTG, we encourage community organizations to host spaces and rituals where survivors can communicate what's happened, express their grief, metabolize their stress or anxiety, and be nourished through their senses of mourning or depression. If you'd like to discuss or learn more about how your organization might do that, contact us. We'd be glad to hear from you. Also, you can share helpful tips with others in the comments below about how your community has healed or is continuing in healing.
This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published September 24, 2019, on the
When people talk about emergency or disaster preparedness, they most often refer to exit or evacuation strategies, communication plans, and stocking supplies. They rarely, if ever, refer to the mental, emotional, and spiritual practices proven to help survivors thrive beyond adversity.
What are these healthful practices?
According to researchers like Peter Levine (2012), Bessel van der Kolk (2014), Nadine Burke-Harris (2018), and Nagoski and Nagoski (2019), the keys to thriving beyond adversity are:
... paying attention to how your body feels restored will help you make key decisions about what will sustain you during long-term recovery.
Perhaps what is most compelling about research into the practices that help sustain resiliency is that these acts often are the very elements that make up a community's culture. The food, the dance, the art, the patterns of rest, the family gatherings and neighborly interactions. These are the very things – research is showing – that we ought to embrace in times of crisis and not neglect.
In what ways do you or your community maintain healthy cultural practices, even and especially in times of crisis? How have you seen these practices sustain you? Share in the comments below.
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This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, was originally published September 10, 2019 on the
When organizations – whether they are small or large businesses, nonprofits, schools, camps, or congregations – endure impacts by critical incidents within their groups, or nearby, or experience a community-wide disaster, they can encounter more dynamics than only what is experienced through individual trauma or collective trauma.
To explore these dynamics further it will help to first go over a few definitions and distinctions.
So, what happens when an organization encounters a critical incident within its boundaries or a disaster within its vicinity? How can what the organization experienced be distinctive from other experiences of individual or collective trauma?
In some cases, what occurs within the organization may not be that different from other examples of individual or collective trauma. The determining factor, in our experience, often is the extent to which what has occurred challenges the organization's mission.
We, at the Institute, sometimes talk about collective trauma and healing in the context of how a group's spirit can break and mend.
For example, when a kids' camp sees its mission as providing youth with one of the best experiences of their lives, and then a critical incident occurs in which youth become severely injured or, tragically, die, the organization's staff and leaders may experience compounding pain related both to their grief for the harm or loss of life incurred as well as the seeming assault to their mission. They may feel great feelings of guilt or remorse at having not achieved their mission in such a devastating way.
In another instance, a natural disaster may cause such massive destruction that requires months or even years of rebuilding that an organization's mission may become completely thwarted in that area. This obstacle can be immensely challenging to take in and accept, let alone to adapt effectively.
For second responders, including disaster responders and organizational coaches, who are walking alongside organizational leaders in these types of circumstances, it is important to be aware of the three (at least) aspects of trauma that a leader may be experiencing in a widely spread post-trauma setting: individual trauma, collective trauma, & organizational trauma.
If you are interested in learning more about specific ways to support leaders impacted by critical incidents or disaster, we encourage you to explore the trainings and resource guides we offer or to reach out for a free initial consultation.
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When we work with organizations, whether it's in the aftermath of an internal crisis, such as the sudden loss of a leader due to death or an act of betrayal, or an external crisis, such as a natural disaster or mass attack, at some point we often talk about the Phases of Disaster chart. Forms of this chart first began being published and utilized in the early 2000s (for example, Meyers and Wee, 2005). It is based on anecdotal evidence of common themes that many communities report experience following a singular event of community disaster.
We find it helpful to continue using, even as many communities face multiple disasters in short succession, or a series of events that leave a group feeling like they have been through a larger disaster, or even in times of a global pandemic, because it repeatedly helps participants to find language for what they are experiencing. Even, and perhaps especially, when they feel like the chart in some way does not represent their experience.
...it repeatedly helps participants to find language for what they are experiencing. Even, and perhaps especially, when they feel like the chart in some way does not represent their experience.
For example, presently, we are hearing from many groups about how the traditional "hero" phase feels like a much sharper and lengthier incline right now. There is so much business, so much need, so much to react and respond to, so much information to take in that it does not feel like just a few weeks, but that it is continuing to go on, or is going on in a very bumpy way, as many people also feel sharp moments of fatigue as they strive to take in new information again and again.
many people also feel sharp moments of fatigue as they strive to take in new information again and again
How would you depict how you or your people are reacting? Consider making it an exercise for your staff. In doing so, you likely will find ways to help support one another or to refer one another to additional resources in the community. If you need assistance identifying additional forms of support, reach out. We'd be glad to hear from you!
One of the most challenging aspects to accept when responding to a disaster is how long term recovery differs from other forms of stress. Unfortunately, response to a pandemic also significantly differs from other forms of long term recovery, let alone other forms of stress.
One of the major differences from other types of disasters is that a pandemic simultaneously effects to great degree numerous communities at once. Other types of disasters (i.e., tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or mass attacks, for example) instead may effect one or a few communities at once.
There can be positive aspects to the broad scope of pandemic impacts. For example, many people appreciate how we're all in this together, no matter what county, state, or even country you may be located. If you call a family member or coworker in another region, likely you have similar experiences to discuss.
That said, the level of impact can feel overwhelming to many people. Here are some important practices to keep in mind as you proceed through stages of impact by pandemic:
Pace and Nourish Yourself and the People Around You as You Go
This cannot be emphasized enough. The road ahead is a long one. There will be many needs to address, well beyond issues of quarantine and physical distancing. You will have greater ability to adapt and respond to what comes if you pace your response, do not over function, and incorporate healthy daily practices. You cannot solve the pandemic in a day, a week, or even a month.
As you consider pacing and nourishing yourself and the people around you, in your homes, work, or neighborhood, consider what you have been putting off in the last few days since beginning to realize the gravity of the pandemic spread. Dinners with family or housemates? Smiling at people in your household or in your neighborhood on a regular basis? Taking time to move around, or to take a mental break from focusing on response to think about or enjoy something else for a little while? How many days will you be putting these things off? This week? Several weeks? The demands are not going to lift any time soon. And if you continue to put these important nourishing practices on hold, you inadvertently will prepare yourself for burnout.
Gather Your Resources
What or who helps you personally and professionally? If you do not already know, now is a good time to figure this out, as you will need to draw on these practices, forms of support, or people throughout the weeks ahead. Having a current referral list is very helpful. There may also be certain supplies you regularly need in the weeks ahead. Take time to consider what those are and identify ways of obtaining them, if possible and necessary.
Remember, A Step at a Time
Rather than focusing on the big picture, many people who survive, and even thrive, beyond significant adversity, reflect on how they did it by focusing on what they or the people around them needed next, more than everything that was needed. By focusing on the next step, gradually you create a step-by-step pathway forward.
You can do this! And, your efforts are contagious. Thank you for the tremendous difference you are making.
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In a recent conference call for faith-based leaders, I referenced a term I've used in many settings to describe the process of assimilating or moving through the affects of challenge we can experience in small or large ways throughout our daily living: metabolizing adversity.
When I use this term, I am referring to the range of activities that have been proven to help a body process stress hormones.
We experience stress hormones on a daily basis. They are not only related to crises or disasters. If we do not establish habits in our lives that help us regularly decrease those elevations by increasing our hormones related to self-agency and self-care, we are more likely to eventually develop diseases, including potentially heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, or cancer, as well as potential disorders, including high rates of anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideations.
How best can you develop daily habits that help you metabolize adversity you experience?
Sleep, regular movement, healthy meals and snacks, drinking water, interacting with people you care about and who care about you, and practicing your faith, are all ways proven to help you metabolizing stress or adversity you encounter.
You can practice these, and you can encourage the people in your households, work environments, and neighborhoods to practice them too.
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This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on the ICTG blog.
As ICTG donors, volunteers, and staff, have researched and explored most effective pathways for healing and thriving beyond adversity, we have found one essential practice for getting "prepared": practicing how you want to be in an emergency. You can have all the flip charts, exit strategies, and "stop, drop, & roll" mantras you want, but if you are prone to freezing, dissociating, or freaking out, you (and your group) won't be able to follow your well-laid plans and procedures. While it is important for everyone to consider the type of person they hope to be in an emergency, it is especially key for leaders of schools, businesses, nonprofits, and congregations to consider. Their leadership largely determines how their group will proceed, and the essence of their leadership is contagious.
Here are a few tips for becoming the person you hope to be in an emergency. Take some time to answer the following the questions:
1. If an emergency, crisis, or disaster occurs, how do you see it best unfolding? For example, perhaps you hope your staff and constituents all have the information they need to make wise and quick choices. Or, your staff and constituents know and have access to the right contact person. Or, your staff and constituents know how to be in touch with one another and determine if everyone is out of harm's way.
2. As you consider emergencies, crises, or disasters in the past, in terms of your organization at that time, what do you wish had gone better? Were key people absent or unavailable? Was it hard to communicate with one another, and if so, why? Was there misinformation, rumors, or other forms of frustration that inhibited help and care from happening?
3. As you think of those past events, and what you wish may have gone better, recall your mind, body, and spirit in those hours and days. Become mindful of what you felt like. What did your muscles feel like? Were your thoughts racing or flowing with ease? Were you irritable? Irrational? Or easy to talk with? Did you feel nourished or fueled along the way, or did you find yourself realizing it had been hours since you had used a restroom, eaten, drank water, or slept?
4. Right now, today, how are you practicing care for your mind, body, and spirit? This practice is most helpful if you are honest with yourself. For example, try drawing a Venn diagram. On the left side, write out what practices you, personally, find help you make it through. Not necessarily the things you should or ought to do. But the things that actually make you feel better, even just a little bit. Then, on the right side list the things that contribute to your long term health. These may or may not be the same things. Whenever they are the same things, put those things in the middle overlapping section. You may find that the things that help you feel some relief during crises are not necessarily things that contribute to your health long term. You also may find the left side more empty than the right side. That's ok for right now. Right now, it's best to be honest and get your real practices out in front of you.
5. If you found that the left side of your Venn diagram is more empty than the right side, or you found that not much overlap exists between the left and right sides of your diagram, take some time now to consider one or two practices from the right side that you feel you could practice today. For example, here are some things that people often put on the right side that you may choose from:
These are just some of many examples of daily or weekly practices that contribute to a person's long term health. While not all, many of these practices can go on regardless of external circumstances and even during days of responding to crises or disasters. Many people find that continuing these practices through times of emergency help them to re-member themselves or the group to which they belong, especially after feeling temporarily fragmented.
6. In terms of leadership, what do you hope to model for your staff or constituents during times of emergency? If you hope to provide steady leadership that can withstand extreme pressures, what does that mean to you? What is the character of that leadership? What does it look like, specifically? Compare your answers to these questions to your answers to #2 and #3. Are there expressions of leadership that you can be practicing more today?
During the height of an emergency, people often draw upon their muscle and involuntary memories before having access to their rational training. That is why it can be most helpful to practice being the kind of person you hope to be in an emergency in, what we at ICTG refer to as, "times of peace." Those times when you are not "amped up," "clenched," "freaking out," or "stressed." Perhaps, you are in circumstances which feel constantly stressful and unending. In those cases, you may have to be more intentional about carving out space to begin practicing the care you hope to extend to yourself and those around you.
Your presence, as a leader, is contagious. We encourage you to take time to consider the presence you are offering to others, especially in times of upheaval. If you would like help doing so, please do not hesitate to reach out for more information. We'd be glad to hear from you.
Meanwhile, share your best tips in the comments below. What's worked well for you and your group?
The spread of a pandemic virus can happen rapidly and its far-reaching impact can take many by surprise. Organizations, including schools, businesses, congregations, and community groups, especially can find themselves frustrated by how their missions can be halted by wide-spread illness.
Here are several important things to keep in mind when facing the potential of a pandemic outbreak:
For example, in terms of healthy practices, you might consider updating or adding signage around your facility that provides access to trustworthy information (maybe dedicating a bulletin board to CDC or other reliable information, or including CDC or local government or hospital recommendations in your newsletter, etc.) and posting signs about healthy hygiene (washing hands, having tissues & trash cans readily available).
Remember, it's not just about washing hands
Washing hands is one of the number one ways to help stop the spread of viruses. That said, there are many ways to spread germs, and washing hands may not prevent illnesses from spreading. In the case where your community does become impacted, you may need to consider how your organization exercises its mission, especially whether you provide services, education, worship, or other forms of connection to your members or constituents who may become home-bound for some time.
Throughout our website you will find many resources for ways to support your constituents and we encourage you to explore them. Also, reach out if you have questions or would like additional guidance on getting prepared or responding.
This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on March 3, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
As our hearts ache, again, following another terrorist attack, many of us feel that restlessness that forms in the aftermath of atrocity. What can we do? How can we help? Many of us are far away and feel so much sorrow. We are challenged, again, to know how best to encourage, support, and enact care.
Here's a few practices that ICTG staff, directors, advisors, and colleagues have found most useful following human-caused disasters that occur far away:
Spread love locally
Spread love throughout the country and the world
With these acts you get involved in countering terror locally and globally. These acts make a difference. Be a blessing this week.
From 2012-2021, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.