This post, written by Erin Jantz, originally was published on March 20, 2015, on the ICTG blog.
Read Spiritual Direction in the Face of Trauma: Part One here.
A common theme in helping professions is hospitality. We desire to create and hold space for those we are helping. This is particularly true for a spiritual director who is companioning a survivor of trauma. As we hold space for survivors we must be able to put aside, more than normal, our own egos and allow each person’s experience to be unique to them. We must not take their power, but rather empower them towards health. We become a container, an external boundary, within which people can fall apart knowing they will not be shamed, but rather offered strength and courage. We desire to restore functioning, to encourage non-negative thinking, and to help our “directees” form a coherent narrative that integrates their experience – mind, body, and spirit. A spiritual director’s role in the ongoing process of healing focuses on how a survivor’s synthesis of thoughts and feelings are affecting their experience of holiness.
In discerning what practices may be the most helpful for an individual, a director should consider intricacies of the person’s faith. Directors should ask the following questions:
For further help in assessing a directee’s individual spirituality and its role in their healing process, Donald Meichenbaum has created an excellent comprehensive resource for assessing a psychotherapy client’s spiritual functioning that is applicable to spiritual direction.
As directors dealing with a human being, we would be remiss to ignore the role of the body in experiencing holiness. Incorporating the body into prayer may include practices of mindfulness, traditional postures such as kneeling, or nontraditional postures that help a survivor feel safe such as standing with eyes open. Philip Helsel, friend of ICTG, has written out a beautiful ritual that incorporates blessing the body and intentionally including it in prayer in postures of safety. For some, walking or pacing helps to relax tension in the body enough to allow prayer to happen. For others, praying using the traditional imaginative exercises of St. Ignatius can be helpful in engaging the senses. The Jewish traditions of “sitting Shiva” and Tisha b’Av are rich with tangible rituals and practices that are specifically designed to allow space for grief and healing, both for those who have been hurt and those who are grieving the loss with them.
There is so much room for growth in our understanding of how trauma affects the human spirit. Scattered across the traditions are powerful models of both lament and courage as well as celebrations of both vulnerability and strength. We must gather these resources and stay in dialogue with our colleagues in the fields of mental health, medicine, and theology. As we do, we will continue to see new experiences of the holy integrated, and resultantly, strong, intact people who emerge to tell their stories of survival.
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From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for holistic health in the context of spiritual direction.
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