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Trauma and Healing: Faith Communities Respond. Philip G. Monroe, PsyD Global Trauma Recovery Institute Biblical Seminary [email protected] Objectives. Review trauma’s impact on faith Recognize and value faith community trauma recovery responses

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Trauma and healing faith communities respond

Trauma and Healing: Faith Communities Respond

Philip G. Monroe, PsyD

Global Trauma Recovery Institute

Biblical Seminary

[email protected]


  • Review trauma’s impact on faith

  • Recognize and value faith community trauma recovery responses

  • Recommend next steps for improved faith/mental health cooperation

1 review trauma impact on faith experience and expression


Negative impact?

Positive impact?

1. Review trauma impact on faith Experience and Expression

Trauma d isrupts f aith identity
Trauma Disrupts Faith/Identity

  • Loss of meaning/connection

  • Existential angst

  • Spiritual struggles

  • Moral injury

  • Disconnection: faith and community

  • Special issue: Shame

Ptsd and meaning loss
PTSD and Meaning Loss

  • Exposure

  • Intrusive symptoms

  • Avoidance responses

  • Hypervigilance

  • Negative mood/cognitions

Complex trauma and meaning
Complex Trauma and Meaning

Prolonged interpersonal trauma?

  • Loss of Meaning and Purpose

    • No longer believe life has purpose

    • Question religious beliefs

Existential angst
Existential Angst

I was ready to tell the story of my life,

but the ripple of tears,

and the agony of my heart,

wouldn’t let me

Rumi(13th C. Sufi Poet)

Spiritual struggles
Spiritual Struggles

Two categories

  • Discontent

  • Reappraisal

    Relationship with trauma symptoms?

    Jennifer Wortmann- University of CT

Moral injury
Moral Injury

War-related moral injuries

  • Weakened faith and increased guilt predict greater usage of VA services

    Fontana and Rosenbeck, VA National Center, 2004

Civilian moral injury
Civilian Moral Injury?

Trauma WITHIN faith communities

“I feel like a spiritual orphan, betrayed by what I loved, and I feel lost and alone”

Kusner & Pargament, Trauma Therapy in Context, 2012


Now here I am

Without myself


How can I go back

To whence I sprang?


Result shame
Result: Shame

Common Refrains

  • I can’t forgive myself; I can’t forgive them

  • I shouldn’t fear…I should trust

Veterans who cannot forgive self are more symptomatic

Joseph Currier, Fuller Seminary

Negative impact on spirituality
NegativeImpact on Spirituality?

Loss of meaning

Spiritual struggles

Moral injury

Disconnection: faith and community

And one more…

Vicarious trauma
Vicarious Trauma

The emotional residue in your life

Evil often undermines and challenge beliefs

  • Listening to stories will change you!

    …or become epitome of evil ̶ E. Wiesel

Can it improve your faith
Can it Improve Your Faith?

The data is mixed!

34 studies

  • 14: significant disruption of faith

  • 12: mixed evidence

  • 8: positive impact

    Clues? Age, context, culture, education

    Don Walker (Regent)

Positive religious coping
Positive Religious Coping

  • Derive meaning and purpose from worship and engagement of the Sacred

  • Connect to others: Community bonding

David brooks theologian
David Brooks, Theologian?

Suffering calls us to :

  • Accept personal limits

  • Acknowledge self-deception

  • Answer the call to the greater good

  • Submit to the moral drama of life

It is a community effort
It is a Community Effort!

Community helps

  • re-telling of stories

  • point to transcendence

Related concepts
Related Concepts?

  • Posttraumatic growth

    • New identities, capacities, meaning

      (≠ absence of suffering and symptoms!)

  • Resilience

    • “Personal moral compass”

  • Cognitive flexibility

    • Live with ambiguity: lessens spiritual struggles

Faith and pathology
Faith and Pathology?

Not all faith responses are helpful

  • Desecration…rejection…angry/ominous

  • Passive spiritual responses

    • Predicts depression

    • Accounts for 50% of trauma variance (Falb & Pargament)

Soften problematic beliefs
Soften problematic beliefs?

“…cognitive techniques aimed at softening client beliefs about right and wrong or disputing the validity of the client’s guilt might paradoxically deprive a religiously committed client of rituals such as the confession of sin as an avenue to grace.”

W. Brad Johnson (USNA)

Soften problematic beliefs1
Soften problematic beliefs?

“therapists who strip away the language of sin from Christian clients may unwittingly take away a source of peace and hope by foreclosing the possibility of grace and forgiveness.”

Mark R. McMinn (George Fox U.)

2 recognize and value faith community work in trauma recovery


Brief Review of Spiritual Interventions

Lament in Special Focus

Faith Community in Trauma Recovery: Exemplars

2. Recognize and value faith community work in trauma recovery

Spiritually integrated interventions
Spiritually Integrated Interventions

  • Mind/Body interventions

    • Yoga; Tai Chi; Mindful attention

  • Prayer/Meditation

    • Yogic meditation; Transcendental Meditation/Sacred word; Prayer

Epp and health professionals
EPP and Health Professionals

  • Passage meditation

  • Repetition of holy word/mantram

  • Slowing down

  • One point attention

  • Training the senses

  • Putting others first

  • Spiritual association

  • Inspirational reading

    Doug Oman, Oakland Public Health Institute

Sacred texts laments
Sacred Texts: Laments


  • Complaints about injustice and loss

  • Questioning God

  • Asking for rescue, calling on promises

  • Waiting expectantly

Benefit of laments
Benefit of Laments?

Increased communion and intimacy

Kim Snow

Holding communion and complaint together in our “winter of faith”

R. Beck

Elie wiesel on lament
Elie Wiesel on Lament

I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.



  • Sample Article Titles:

  • Spirituality in Clinical Practice

  • Spiritual Functioning Among Veterans Seeking Residential Treatment for PTSD

  • The Morally-Injured Veteran

  • Spiritually Oriented Disaster Psychology

  • Anger Concepts and Anger Reduction Method in Theravada Buddhism

  • Enchanted Agnosticism

For Faith Communities (FC)

For Mental Health (MH)


Next steps for the fc
Next Steps for the FC

  • Self-examination; Admit fears and biases

  • Develop whole body perspectives of trauma

  • Educate communities about value of MH

    • Encourage empirical evaluation

Next steps for the fc1
Next Steps for the FC

  • Build relationships with MHPs and other FCs

  • Re-capture spiritual practices that support trauma recovery

Next steps for mh
Next Steps for MH

  • Identify biases

  • Respect religiously committed individuals

    • Inquire about faith with every client

    • Avoid marginalizing spiritual healing practices

Dialogue topics
Dialogue Topics

  • What acts of faith/worship are most meaningful to you?

  • What concerns do you have about your own faith practices?

  • Concerns about my faith/spirituality?

  • What do you wish others understood better about your beliefs?

My faith is me
My faith is Me


Develop competencies
Develop Competencies

  • Develop spiritual/religious competencies

    • Seek out learning relationships with FC leaders

Learn 16 competencies

Vieten, Scammel, Pilato, Ammondson, Pargament & Lukoff (2013). Spiritual and Religious Competencies for Psychologists. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 5, 129-144

Cross cultural engagement
Cross-cultural Engagement

  • Utilize literature, anthropology, and related disciplines to arrive at a more accurate view of person of faith

  • Learn local “language” of distress and develop agreed upon goals

  • Study local healing interventions and healers

  • Choose set of integrated interventions in order to do no harm

    Adapted and modified from Siddarth Shah’s unpublished

    essay on ethnomedical competence

Concluding thought
Concluding Thought

What is your tendency?

  • Nihilism/despair

  • Messianism/presumption

    Warren Kinghorn (Duke)


Consider Job’s “friends”

Curse God and die!

When will you end this ranting?


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”

Jeremiah 29:11