Healing the Healers
This post was originally published April 9, 2019 on the ICTG blog.
What happens when a community's spirit breaks? Perhaps, even more poignant, how best does a community's spirit mend? And, who conducts that delicate work of remembering, constructing or re-constructing, building or re-building after severe loss(es) that overwhelm an entire community?
Often, the mending of a community's spirit occurs through the dedication and simultaneous efforts of mental health professionals, social workers, somatic therapists, artists, sports coaches, school teachers and counselors, and youth workers, along with chaplains, clergy and ministers, and spiritual directors. Each of these important threads, together, weave the tapestry of whole community care. In fact, those who study healing after collective trauma consistently find that the most "resilient" communities tend to bring about healing and restoration when local leaders listen carefully to survivors and create solutions with survivors – solutions that represent the local community and which often include acts of fellowship, nourishment, lament, shoring up senses of belonging, movement, and descriptions of what has happened, what is happening, and/or what will happen.
... the most "resilient" communities tend to bring about healing and restoration when local leaders listen carefully to survivors and create solutions with survivors ...
Those who lead these acts of healing often are referred to as "second responders" and "healers". Studies also have shown that second responders and healers are at risk of developing compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, and other forms of stress relevant to the work of long-term recovery.
So who heals the healers? And how best do they heal?
Healing the Healers, a film project by Odyssey Impact, partially funded by the Lilly Endowment, and in partnership with ICTG, focuses on answering these particular questions related to the broad long term recovery processes of communities that experience violence. This living conversation begins with members of the ministerial alliance of Newtown, CT, as one starting point in observing how healers heal. The conversation gradually expands to involve expressions of how neighboring faith leaders, chaplains, and health providers reached out to support members of the Newtown ministerial alliance as they supported survivors and family members of students, teachers, and administrators of Sandy Hook Elementary School. The conversation continues, as viewers of these first five films host conversations in their own communities, including using corresponding essays and questions, to consider the diverse and varying dynamics that interface when any community's spirit breaks because of acts of violence.
We look forward to continuing to participate in the expansion of this living conversation.
Who is represented here? Who is missing? How do the initial expressions represented here compare with your community's experience of violence or of conducting the sacred work of healing after severe losses? How do these conversations inform or expand your own understandings of impact, healing, and restoration?
As this living conversation starts with the Newtown, CT, ministerial alliance and gradually moves outward, viewers have opportunity to consider critical issues related to traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress, injustice, how different communities and community leaders experience and respond to trauma, how faith leaders support one another across common divides, and how communities grieve and practice healing together.
ICTG is grateful to Odyssey Impact for getting a broader public conversation going in this way, honored to partner with them, and proud that so many of our directors, advisors, and staff have contributed substantially to the educational components of this project. We look forward to continuing to participate in the expansion of this living conversation.
Learn more about how you and your community can get involved by following links below.
Looking for more information?
Trauma And The Inoculation Effect
This post, written by Rev. Doug Ranck, originally was published on September 3, 2019, on the ICTG blog.
Another day, another shooting. Ten people killed and twenty-seven injured in Dayton, Ohio. Another twenty-two killed and twenty-four injured in El Paso, Texas.
I found myself on the edge of not caring. How had it come to this?
To be inoculated is the process of introducing a microorganism into one’s body, just enough to fight the potential bigger threat. Over the course of our lives, we receive countless inoculations to be pro-active in a healthier life. Given the regular occurrence of shootings in our nation and world I had to consider I may have been “inoculated” to the point of accepting shootings as a more standard part of life and not feeling the horror and sadness as I once felt. This realization shook me. It was anything but pro-active in making my life healthier.
My understanding of the inoculation effect became magnified in mid-July of 2019. In my role as youth minister of a local church, I chose to take some select high school students to our denomination’s once-every-four year national/international leadership conference. For four days they experienced leadership at work on the national stage. We observed different processes of electing leadership, the debate of theological and social justice issues and ratification of new policies to be introduced in the polity of our denomination. In addition, we spent time interviewing various leaders from around the nation and the world to gain a better perspective on what it means to be a leader.
... I had to consider I may have been “inoculated” to the point of accepting shootings as a more standard part of life and not feeling the horror and sadness as I once felt. This realization shook me. It was anything but pro-active in making my life healthier.
Most of these interviews were planned in advance but one day I was led by a third party to a table in the middle of the exhibition hall where seated were Bishop Lubunga and his wife, Esther of The Democratic Republic of the Congo, who cares for over 500 churches there. Having known a little about the unrest and danger of this country I found myself frozen in where to begin the interview. Out of respect for him, we stuck to very general questions and let he and his wife talk about their leadership role. In their statements, we heard some of the challenges they faced.
Fast forward four weeks and I received an email from our denomination calling for special prayer focusing on our brothers and sisters in the Congo. The ongoing civil war was escalating with waves of tribal conflicts, armed groups causing havoc in villages, houses being burned, animals slaughtered and people being killed. The U.N. refugee agency reported that 4.5 million are displaced inside the Congo. Ebola and cholera are spreading since the U.N. and Doctors Without Borders are unable to operate at full strength.
I had not understood the depth of trauma our bishop and his wife were experiencing - personally, and vicariously as they care for their people. My heart was broken as our congregation came together in the morning worship services to lament and pray for peace and deliverance. As I led the prayer I found myself physically shaking and my heart was racing.
These leaders understood the value of being ready not for “if” but “when.” They were not comfortable settling for a world swirling with trauma.
I felt the weight and pain of this beautiful country and yet I was no longer feeling it for my own. How true might this be for many more people in the U.S. who have grown “accustomed” to shooting deaths and fear in our public places?
A few weeks ago, I was invited to Pendleton, Oregon for the purpose of training faith-leaders on how to shepherd trauma-informed ministries. Whenever I am in the presence of other leaders who desire to be pro-active in trauma work, I am inspired. There is often little to no motivation until an event occurs. These leaders understood the value of being ready not for “if” but “when.” They were not comfortable settling for a world swirling with trauma.
How do we move from inoculation and apathy to lament, compassion, and action?
In our ICTG Resource Guides, we propose calming, connecting and communicating as core ingredients for healthy trauma response. I would like to also propose those, with a few details, on how we make the much-needed move:
Do you have an ICTG Resource Guide?
Each is an in-depth training manual for trauma preparedness and response. They include restorative strategies to expand care, build resilient groups, and provide safety for traumatized people to heal and thrive.
The experience of joy can be especially challenging in times of adversity. As we experience loss and grief, we may struggle to see or even be willing to accept moments of joy as they appear.
For example, how often have you felt a twinge of guilt after finding yourself spontaneously laughing when recalling a happier time with a loved one who has died? And yet, you may have also found that laughter, too, reminded you of what meant the most to you.
These glimpses of joy – and, of course, joy does not only involve laughter – invite us into the complexities of life. How even in our most tragic moments, we can experience goodness and warmth, too.
In recalling multiple disaster events, the Revs. Kime, Crebbin, Swain, and Gardner speak of these complexities and nuanced interfaces here at the 46:33 mark.
You may also find this book on Joy, edited by Christian Wiman, meaningful in this season of conducting “safer at home” practices. In the introduction, Wiman speaks eloquently to how experiences of loss and elusiveness interplay with perceptions of joy. As much as we might prefer them to be distinct from one another, nevertheless, they often call one another to mind and heart.
How are you finding yourself surprised by joy, or missing joy, in these days?
Are you finding joy appearing throughout your experiences of the phases of disaster, or are you finding its absence complicating your experience? What is sustaining you as you move through these days?
As a leader of your organization, your ability to find moments of refreshment along the way will help you manage the multiple ups and downs and lead your community well. Share below what you are doing to maintain your health and encourage those around you.
Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe serves as the Executive Director of ICTG. She is an organizational health consultant and pastoral psychotherapist. She lives with her family in Santa Barbara, CA.
In this series we acknowledge that "disasters do not wait until we are fully prepared", that many leaders are learning as they go, and we extend our hope that though sharing perspectives you may find some easier ways to create a new rhythm at this time. Read What’s Working For Me Right Now - Part 1 here.
When I was younger in ministry, many years ago now, I remember talking to another pastor who had just returned from a sabbatical. I had never had a sabbatical so I was curious to hear what he learned. Without hesitating, he said, “I found out what kind of a Christian I was outside of my identity as a pastor.”
Those words were a game-changer for me in how I assessed my own identity. I am a professional Bible studier, prayer, leader, teacher, shepherd and a whole lot more but without the role of pastor who would I be as a person, a child of God?
The role of a pastor is to shepherd, guide and be with one’s people, in the same physical space. What happens when that is taken away? In the middle of this unprecedented pandemic, we are finding out.
California was the first state to adopt “shelter-in-home” standards. When the order was given my home became my “permanent” office. Previously, working from home, was a nice little change in the weekly routine. Now, it is the routine.
Presently I feel I am asking the question again, but for a very different reason, “Without the role of pastor, with one’s people, who would I be?”
To get at this I want to share a shortlist of what is working for me, at the moment (Check back with me in a few days or weeks!):
In the midst of all the turbulence and unprecedented circumstances may you find what works for you. May it bring you strength, wisdom and peace to walk forward as you care for yourself, your family and your people.
On Sleep: Mukherjee, S., Patel, S. R., Kales, S. N., Ayas, N. T., Strohl, K. P., Gozal, D., & Malhotra, A. (2015). American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 191(12), 1450–1458. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201504-0767st https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.201504-0767ST
On Positive Consequences: Updegraff, J. (2008). Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 709–722.
Following 9/11, and many other types of disasters since, I've heard a lot of stories about new relationships. Stories about the marriages that occurred or the babies that were conceived. Stories about how, for the people telling the stories, tragedy helped them to clarify what they wanted in life, what mattered to them, what joy they had right in front of them, or how love helped them feel more grounded amid incredibly destabilizing loss.
Of course, I've also heard the stories of how, for others, tragedy wreaks more tragedy. How the overwhelming stress of disaster can lead others to act in abusive ways, ways they thought they had settled in the past, or ways they never before imagined enacting. I've listened to the shame and guilt, and, most of all in these cases, the difficulty in finding the words to acknowledge what unfolded. The way they may have sexually, physically, emotionally, or spiritually harmed people in thier circles of home and work.
People react differently to stress, to grief, and to loss.
People react differently to stress, to grief, and to loss. For some, proceeding through their emotions and reactions becomes a pilgrimage in discovering more about what is most meaningful to them. For others, experiences of loss, grief, or immense stress feel so alien, they struggle to recognize themselves and, rather than moving toward healing and restoration, their suffering becomes the preoccupation.
Faith leaders hold a quintessential role in shepherding, or hosting spaces for, the wide range of responses to tragedy that may unfold within their congregation.
Faith leaders, especially in the aftermath of great community loss, hold a quintessential role in shepherding, or hosting space(s) for, the wide range of responses to tragedy that may unfold within their congregation. They help the congregation to bear witness, together, to the scope of what has happened – not only the catalyst(s) of heartache, but the range of responses as well. They honor each person's perspective, while helping one another to participate in co-creating senses of belonging.
Here are some of the ways that happens:
Overall, faith leaders guide the congregation in discovering, living out, and recalling the story of who they are before, during, and after tremendous upheaval.
This video outlines 4 simple embodied coping practices, which may be useful to manage anxiety and panic during social isolation, lockdown, quarantine, and response to the COVID-19 disaster. You can watch the whole video or forward to a particular practice.
The presenter is the Rev. Dr. Storm Swain, the Frederick Houk Borsch Associate Professor of Anglican Studies, Pastoral Care, and Theology at the United Lutheran Seminary, and author of 'Trauma and Transformation at Ground Zero: A Pastoral Theology,' Fortress, 2011.
Watch the whole video above, or use these timestamps to skip to a particular practice.
Instinctual Response in a time of Crisis or Disaster- Skip to this section 0:25
Embodied Coping Practices- Skip to this section 2:49
Read more from Rev. Dr. Storm Swain here.
In the coming weeks, pastoral care needs will escalate exponentially as COVID-19 impacts continue to increase. Here are some ways your ministry team can prepare:
Creating a Trajectory Map
Use the Phases of Disaster as a starting place, and begin to draft a trajectory map for your organization or community. You can share your maps on twitter, facebook, instagram, or linked in, using hashtag #carerestores.
As you're creating your map, consider the differences your organization or community are experiencing compared with traditional understandings of episodic or singular incident disasters. For example, many groups are finding their sense of the initial "hero" stage has been a far sharper incline or spike, as leaders and volunteers have rushed in this last week to solve as much as they can and now, even within just a week or two, are experiencing significant senses of fatigue. The fatigue appears to be related to a combination of the strong push to help along with the remarkable speed at which new information is released, often changing and becoming out-dated even hour by hour.
Continue to use your map as a draft or living document with your team, a template that you can update over the coming weeks and months.
Recognize the Range of Impact
Over the next several weeks and months, your congregants, ministry recipients, or community members, will experience a range of impacts. Some of these will be directly COVID-19 related. For example:
Some of the impacts will be indirectly related to COVID-19. For example:
Pacing Care for Sustainability
As you consider what needs already are present and what may be coming, in what ways can you and your staff pace and nourish yourselves now so that you can avoid burnout and provide sustainable care through the long-term?
Here are some helpful resources for understanding trauma, pacing, and sustaining long-term care:
In-depth Training Manuals:
General Ministry Training Manual
Youth Ministry Training Manual
Spiritual Direction Training Manual
Download Free Network Inventories:
Spiritual Care Network Inventory - Congregational
Spiritual Care Network Inventory - Personal
Youth Leaders' Care Network Inventory - Congregational
Youth Leaders' Spiritual Care Network Inventory - Personal
Congregational Care During COVID-19
Ministry in the Time of Public Health Crisis COVID19
Becoming a Companion along the Valley of the Shadow of Death
How Long Term Response to Pandemic Differs from Other Types of Disaster Response
Congregational Care During COVID-19
At the Institute, we have a phrase we use in times of collective trauma response: disaster is your business now. It's a mantra that helps us and our service recipients bring to mind the new reality that now is not business as usual.
Even so, all of that is easier said that done. It's difficult to fully take in all that any disaster means, let alone what the ramifications will be of a global pandemic.
In terms of congregational care, here are some important things to consider is you focus on the primary business of response to COVID-19.
Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health
The longer quarantines last, the less people are infected or die, but the more behavioral health challenges may arise related to people being cooped up in their homes, having limited touch, and having lost significant income or jobs. The shorter quarantines last, the more people are infected or die. This presents additional behavioral health challenges related to grief and bereavement, especially if people are unable to visit their loved ones in times of distress or death, as well as challenges related to conducting memorial services under these circumstances.
What you can do to prepare: Continue to keep your staff and self informed about the trajectory of the virus in your community. Maintain an up-to-date referral list of behavioral health providers in your community to refer your congregants to as needed.
Worship and Care
Depending on the trajectory of the virus in your community, your congregation may need to provide worship and pastoral and peer care services remotely for many weeks or months. Your staff and volunteers also may need to provide ongoing volunteer services to assist more persons in your congregation or community who are unable to access basic necessities, including groceries, assistance with utilities maintained online, banking, and so forth.
What you can do to prepare: Continue to keep your staff and self informed about the trajectory of the virus in your community. Also stay informed about what services your greater community is providing that your congregants can access as needed, or how your congregation can assist your greater community in meeting needs. Consider ways you can help your healthy volunteer base pace themselves for the long term. Encourage volunteers and staff to take regular breaks and not over-function, in order to be available for the duration and avoid inadvertent burnout. If you are part of a smaller congregation, consider partnering with a larger congregation in your area that can assist with remote worship and care services.
Your congregants, your community, and your congregation likely will experience financial challenges in the weeks and months ahead. These may include loss of jobs, loss of businesses, significantly reduced investments, reduced donations, and so forth.
What you can do to prepare: Continue to keep your staff and self informed about the trajectory of the virus in your community. Consider whether there are important, and frank, conversations that may need to be had with your governing body about the reality of your congregation's financial state before the virus and what it may experience with loss of income. Recognize the fact that you may have to pace not only yourselves but what you focus on in the weeks ahead to ensure stability, if you are able. If your congregation is not facing significant financial risk, consider the ways you may prepare to assist or even lead your community in providing financial assistance for persons in the community that may endure great financial challenges in the weeks ahead.
Remember that you may not have the size organization to address all types of needs, and that you personally cannot be all things to all people. Anticipate now the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of people you want to encourage your congregants to be, in light of long term challenges and what is feasible. Take time now to prepare for how best to practice those traits amid remarkable adversity.
Additionally, you may find these posts helpful as well:
Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe serves as the Executive Director of ICTG. She is an organizational health consultant and pastoral psychotherapist. She lives with her family in Santa Barbara, CA.
On March 13, 2020, Desta Goehner, Director of Congregational Relations at California Lutheran University convened an online forum for over 200 clergy, pastors, and faith-based leaders to consider together what ministry may look like in the days, weeks and months to come around the public health crisis related to the coronavirus COVID-19.
The conversation included the stories, wisdom and experiences of these four:
1. Mike Anderson, a pastor in the epicenter of Kirkland, WA who shifted ministry, worship and pastoral care due to COVID-19.
2. Priscilla Austin, a Seattle area pastor, who describes how ministry is changing and also how she is caring for herself in the midst of it all.
3. Kate Wiebe, MDiv, PhD, trauma expert and Executive Director of the Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth, who shares about what ministry looks like in times of crisis and trauma.
4. Rozella White, coach and disaster chaplain, who talks about spiritual care and emotional support for leaders in times of crisis.
Together, along with a vibrant chat room conversation with many participants, Desta and the speakers fostered a powerful time.
Below you can find the resources related to the talk:
1. Recorded web gathering: http://bit.ly/MITCCLU
2. Open Google Drive: http://bit.ly/MinistryintimesofCrisis
In this folder you'll find the chat box notes with resources and questions, the recorded web gathering and the slides with the guest speaker information.
3. Webpage with all the details: http://bit.ly/CLUcongregationalrelations
This gathering also developed into a weekly series, which you can find more details about on the CLU Congregational Relations webpage listed above.
Help sustain online education by making a financial contribution today or becoming a monthly donor. Thank you for your generosity!
This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on June 19, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
Anne Lamott spoke at my church, in Santa Barbara, a couple years ago. She was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for a church collaborative effort my husband helps to coordinate, offering shelter for neighbors without homes. Among various topics that evening, she described some of what she experienced in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, CT. As a volunteer Sunday School teacher, she recalled instinctively wanting to be with her kids and to provide them with more opportunities to create, to feel safe, and to grow.
At ICTG, we often refer to that leadership activity as "adding good into the world." Over the years, we've noticed how easy it is to talk A LOT about the trouble in the world. But changing that trouble happens when we offer more goodness in response.
Listening to Anne speak, I wondered, what helps a person lean in with goodness – like that – immediately in response to heartache? What makes a person think, I should go be a caring presence with kids, help them feel safe, and, possibly, find a glimpse of pleasure again, after great loss?
It can seem too simple. Not nearly enough in the face of horrendous heartache.
Like how, recently, at a training I was leading for youth leaders, a participant whose youth predominantly have experienced traumatic experiences balked at this sentiment. "Sorry, but, calming myself down and building relationships hardly seems like it will make enough of a difference in the face of so much overwhelming tragedy."
It's certainly not a quick fix. In fact, many times, people who call us are hoping we might have a silver bullet or a magic pill – a miracle – that will instantly change the circumstances and forever relieve the pain and suffering. They would much rather not have to trod the Valley of the Shadow of Death. As one minister put it, "Can't I just scale up the rocky ledge, and skip this whole depressive Valley?"
Trauma, severe loss, moral injury, or ambiguous losses (like the loss of childhood, of innocence, of playfulness) can seem a lot like a hot potato. Most often we don't want to hold it, and we instinctively toss it away from us as soon as we can. Like when a group rashly removes a person who is making efforts to resolve what happened. Or when people refuse to talk about or acknowledge what happened in any way and instead encourage others to pretend like it didn't happen. Or when it seems like people are not responding at all, and rather just moving on and expecting "time" will heal the hurt.
These efforts have all been tried and failed. Instead, they result in the exact opposite of what was intended. They prolong and even increase symptoms, as survivors bodies continue to insist on accounting for what's happened. As we become more conscious of the far-reaching effects of trauma on persons, families, organizations, and communities, leaders can be more effective in response by recognizing how attending to the effects of trauma permeating our congregations and communities today takes patience, being present, having courage to be honest about what has happened, and being compassionately curious in listening to the surviving individual or collective body express what it needs next for care and restoration.
In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, traumatologist Bessel van der Kolk says he believes we are on the verge of becoming a "trauma conscious" country. In terms of the character and components of congregational care today, I believe we're on the verge of becoming a trauma conscious Church. As a Christian, I understand the Church to be the Body of Christ at work in the world today. We are becoming conscious of how wounded the Body is, has been, and also the ways the Body can become restored and respond more fully to wounds in the world – adding more good in response to profound sorrow.
That night, in Santa Barbara, Anne suggested, we allow our tears to wash us, cleanse us, and water the ground at our feet. Though a much slower act of response, nevertheless in my experience survivors find it miraculous when, in the presence of caring companions, they find their tears of lament leading everyone toward relief and refreshment. Through intentionally caring companionship, we witness over and over again how the path of the Valley of the Shadow of Death leads from a sense of feeling forsaken by God toward a sense of being led beside still waters.
To learn more and gain restorative strategies for responding to collective trauma among congregations and communities, visit the ICTG congregational resources page.
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.
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