By David Lichter
This issue of Vision is devoted to spiritual care and trauma-informed care. We have seen “trauma-informed care” discussed in so many places over the past couple of years. We have all ministered in and reflected on the multiple environmental, health, social, and economic realities that cause trauma. None of us has been a stranger to some form of trauma in recent times.
You can recite the litany with me, yes? Dual pandemics of virus and racism, fallouts of natural disasters, economic hardships, deep political and social divides leading to violence of many kinds, and many other losses. Some days it’s living in layered levels and dimensions of trauma. It’s more “Which one today is causing my unease, sadness, and unsettledness?”
Over these recent years, I have needed to educate myself more on trauma. We were all taught that the most common type of trauma is from physical injury, but now we realize the list of sources is long: community violence; sexual, physical, and emotional abuse; disasters; early childhood and bullying; systemic and generational trauma. I have come to learn about acute, chronic, and complex trauma, and the types of responses we use, such as fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.
It has been very helpful to learn about the five general principles of trauma-informed care: safety; trustworthiness and transparency; peer support and mutual self-help; collaboration and mutuality; and empowerment voice and choice.
The 2016 white paper, “Key Ingredients for Successful Trauma-Informed Care Implementation,” by Christopher Menschner and Alexandra Maul, was most instructive. The paper, available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, states, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
Trauma now is often defined to also include the systemic cultural, historical, and gender issues within which individuals suffer for generations. Thus, trauma-informed care, while tending to individuals, must also address the stereotypes and biases that have caused and perpetuated historical trauma. How do we develop appropriate ministerial responses?
Two books have helped me look more closely at these social contexts. One is Spiritual Care in an Age of #Blacklivesmatter, edited by Danielle J. Buhuro. Published in 2019, its articles were written after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the birth of the #Blacklivesmatter movement. Several authors are CPE educators. It is a thought-provoking, challenging, and critical read. It’s very helpful for understanding the broader social, cultural, and historical context of trauma from systemic racism.
The other book was Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care by Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen B. Montagno. Now a dozen years old, this invaluable collection of marginalized people’s voices examines the myriad experiences of those who have endured some form of oppression from society and church – sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, classism, or others. The authors challenged me to think differently about ministry to others whom I often don’t understand, and to appreciate the larger context that deeply affects their trauma.
Finally, I appreciated very much the workshop that David Hottinger gave at the APC’s recent virtual conference: From “What’s Wrong with You” to “What’s Happened to You?” Reframing Spiritual Care through a Trauma Informed Lens. David, the manager of the spiritual care department at Hennepin Healthcare System in Minneapolis, introduced the participants to Dr. Sandra Bloom’s Creating Presence, an online resource to help become trauma-informed, responsive, and resilient. Take a look to discover how Presence is an acronym for … !
I appreciated the way David shared his own journey of powerlessness in the face of other people’s trauma, and his frustration with the individualized spiritual and psychological models of care in which he had been trained. Acute and complex trauma, he said, can be expanded to intergenerational trauma that is passed on over decades. Historical trauma is when specific groups of people experience emotional and mental wounding for generations. Finally, system-induced trauma is when trauma victims become trauma inflictors or become retraumatized via unjust policies, harmful practices, or racial/cultural bias. His PowerPoint presents a redeeming story worth reviewing both for his specific context and the resources he shared.
Please take time to read the articles in this issue of Vision. Trauma-informed care responds to a very complex, interconnected web of traumas. This is a personal and communal journey we are all on together as we seek to continue the healing ministry of Jesus in the name of the Church.