Have We Healed Yet?
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.
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!
This post, written by Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, originally was published June 17, 2019, on the
Almost two years ago now, board director emeritus and former clinical psychologist, Rev. Dr. Gordon Hess, PhD, wrote on this blog. It's about how ICTG started out five years ahead of the curve on topics of trauma, groups, and communities. It may be hard to believe, especially these days when it can seem like nearly everyone is talking about trauma, PTSD, brain science, fight/flight reactions, and long-term impacts of adversity, but back when ICTG was starting in 2012 it felt like hardly anyone was talking about these critical issues. We reviewed the original ACEs study and considered how those statistics may be reflected in schools, congregations, and businesses. Then we compared that with the types of disasters that had occurred around the country during the early 2000s. We saw an immense need to inform organizational leaders and provide coaching and therapeutic services for them. Our tremendous donors, volunteers, and staff have been doing that ever since.
Though we're immensely grateful to see more resources becoming available to organizational leaders, we see that many resources, like the Phases of Disaster Response, and the current categories for disaster funding (which segment according to the type of incident that has occurred, such as a tornado or a wildfire or an act of terror), do not fit the mold of challenges communities are facing today. This great disparity further complicates, frustrates, and hinders the healing and restoration processes for survivors. We can do so much better.
Of course, our country has always had communities facing compounding traumatic stress, particularly in cases where neighborhoods experienced oppression, hatred, poverty, addictions, and violence on an ongoing basis. Thankfully, organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative that is helping the country come to terms and make amends to great wrongs we have caused or perpetuated, and Fearless Dialogues that is helping people recognize our mutual humanity and work for change.
Now, the same communities that have experienced decades of heartache and destruction, as well as communities that have experienced far more privileged circumstances, all are facing additional cascading tragedies. These include multiple natural disasters within close proximity, or combinations of natural and human-caused disasters, or combinations of natural and technological disasters, or disasters in communities amid overwhelming rates of opioid addictions and suicide.
We must all do our part to consider the ways we can sustain ourselves and our neighbors amid impacts of trauma and disaster, add good back into a troubled world each day, and share strength and nourishment we have to offer to others as we go.
Beyond our blogs, some of the ways that donors, volunteers, and staff at ICTG are making a difference is by providing a range of support for leaders. Leaders often need and want:
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you think any of these resources may be helpful to you.
If you would like to encourage this critical work, I invite you to make a financial contribution today. Your generosity makes a great difference! Thank you.
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