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.
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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.
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