Losing one’s job is a very personal experience. It taps into all kinds of feelings. For an individual there may be concern about financial security and what next steps might be. Depending on the circumstances of the stoppage of work there may be shame, or illness, or some other stressful circumstance affecting their feelings about it. Dismissal from work ranks in the top ten most stressful life events a person can experience which can potentially have long term health impacts. On the other hand, there may also be hope and anticipation, a sense of freedom or a fresh start. Walking through work transitions with a directee does not seem like something outside the realm of possibility for most directors. In fact, most directors probably feel very equipped to support someone in that season. But what if that work loss has ripple effects throughout the community? How do our questions and help differ in that context?
Sometimes the loss of one person’s job affects many throughout a community. If that person was a primary provider for their household, or the leader of a community and they are now unavailable or moving away, everyone experiences an upending to some degree. Or perhaps loss of jobs impacts an entire community at once, as when a town has grown up around a particular industry or business, or when experiencing pandemic or recession. There are a variety of reasons that we as directors may find ourselves working with people who are all from the same community. In these cases, we may begin to hear the story of these events told through a variety of lenses. When we are attending to individuals who share many aspects of their lives we can begin to look for common themes between them, especially when something happens that affects the entire community. Identifying these patterns can help us connect people with appropriate services or give language that can aid in communication with local religious or community leaders who may be meeting with the same groups. Spiritual directors can be valuable voices when communities are discerning next steps together.
If you do find yourself meeting with multiple individuals who are all being touched by changing jobs or economies, group direction is also an option. It may help bring together people who are able to empathize with and support one another in unique and helpful ways.
For the individual who’s work or vocation is intertwined into their community life, losing a job or transitioning into something different may be more emotionally loaded. How do they feel about the impact of their changing circumstances on the community? How are they reflecting their experience to their community? Are they able to share and be supported? Are they hiding what’s really going on in their heart? These additional concerns make someone’s experience more than walking through a transition because of the potential depth and complexity of relationships between affected parties.
If you do find yourself meeting with multiple individuals who are all being touched by changing jobs or economies, group direction is also an option. Starting a group may help bring together people who are able to empathize with and support one another in unique and helpful ways. Group direction may also help by providing a variety of perspectives and can give everyone a sense of togetherness and community as they discern how to handle the challenges facing them.
Whether we are meeting with one person or a group, acknowledging and caring for the complex needs that are sometimes hiding below the surface of circumstances, is the ongoing challenge and privilege of being a spiritual director.
Group spiritual direction is a wonderful and unique experience. It is a great opportunity for a number of people to come together and participate in mutual discernment, encouragement, and growth. After a trauma, particularly one that is experienced collectively by a community or congregation, group direction can provide deep healing and a needed sense of unity as those affected come together to process what has happened.
Group direction functions somewhat differently than individual direction. A more definite structure is required to help the group maintain focus, to allow time for multiple individuals, and to allow space for prayerfulness and discernment. If the group has come together for the purpose of processing a collective trauma, it will be helpful to have an agreed upon structure for time together to help provide a safe container for the survivors (for example the 4x4x4 method described by Diane Millis). It will also be helpful to name the purpose for which the group is meeting.
Is this group meeting in order to debrief what has happened? Meeting to grieve together? To pray for healing and a road forward? Some combination? Being sensitive to both the collective expressions as well as the individual experiences will be necessary. If the group was already established when the traumatic incident occurred, it will be worth discussing whether to change focus for a season (acknowledging that even if the group’s stated purpose does not change, the individual experiences of participants will be brought into sessions). Perhaps what was a formal meeting takes on a more informal feel for awhile, or vice versa. Perhaps the group decides to include food or even a full meal with their time as a way of building community.
Discernment will also be needed to determine whether the facilitator of the group functions as a member - sharing their own experiences and processes - or functions as a container - holding space for the other members of the group. As always, as a formal spiritual director or group facilitator, having one’s own space for supervision and processing is a necessity.
As the group processes what has happened collectively, there may be a variety of time and ways that grief, fear, anger, hope, and gratitude are expressed by the different people participating. It is also likely that words will often fail to express the feelings, fears, and hopes of the group members.
Collective trauma, as its name implies, affects not only individuals but also the basic functioning of the group. A community - whether that is meant to describe people who live close to one another, people who share sacred spaces like a congregation, or people who meet together for other shared purposes - is something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It has a spirit of its own that can be affected by damage done to any individual component. Damage sustained by a building for example can be just as upsetting to the rhythms of daily life as damage to a person. Care can therefore be offered not only to participants but also to what the community symbolizes. The restoration of broader shared experiences or emphasis on healing traditions that foster people’s feelings of belonging and unity can help open the way for the healing of individual souls.
As the group processes what has happened collectively, there may be a variety of time and ways that grief, fear, anger, hope, and gratitude are expressed by the different people participating. It is also likely that words will often fail to express the feelings, fears, and hopes of the group members. For this reason it may be helpful to rotate through different practices at different sessions, or to have several options available each time.
These options may include:
Spiritual direction is a wonderful ministry to those who have experienced trauma because it can flex to meet the needs of both individuals and groups. I encourage you to learn about the uniquenesses of group direction so that this specialized form of care can be available to survivors seeking to spiritually process what has happened, together.
Erin Jantz received her Master’s Degree in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from the Institute for Spiritual Formation. She also holds a B.A. in developmental psychology and has furthered her education with trainings in trauma care from Boston University and intensives with Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. She has been practicing spiritual direction since 2012, helped to author ICTG's Spiritual Formation Resource Guide, and also teaches and speaks on a variety of spiritual formation topics. Erin lives in Southern California with her husband and their four marvelous children.
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Expanding understanding and best practices for holistic health in the context of spiritual direction.