Pastors are accustomed to being approached by church members for help with personal problems. Typically, that involves marital discord, addiction, pornography, parenting issues, dealing with grief, or struggling with one’s own faith. Seminary and real-world experience generally provide an effective foundation for providing counsel on issues like these.
One important area where church leaders may not feel as comfortable is responding to the needs of church members who have experienced trauma. A recent study by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society examined how well-prepared pastors felt about a variety of issues their congregations may bring to them, and it identifies a challenge where trauma is involved.
Specifically, the study found that one in ten Protestant pastors has received no training about helping people recover from significant trauma. Only one in seven reports feeling “very well-equipped” to help, while nearly two-thirds say they feel “somewhat equipped” to help victims of trauma.
Because trauma has profound impacts on an individual’s mind, body, spirit, (and relationships), most pastors readily agree the church should be ready to support those who have experienced significant trauma. However, a large number of pastors and other church leaders have received little or no professional training in how to care for victims of trauma. In particular, pastors feel poorly prepared to deal with sexual, physical, and child abuse, and suicide, as well as rare events such as homicide and large-scale conflicts.
As the coronavirus crisis deepens, more Americans are finding themselves in traumatic situations, ranging from job loss and financial setbacks to the loss of loved ones. And, as if that weren’t enough, the unrest surrounding racial justice may see people of color face trauma associated with racially motivated violence and discrimination. Often these challenges trigger what we call a “trauma response” from long ago. People feel especially irritable, angry, sullen, or depressed. Addictions rear their ugly heads and the fractures in marriages becomes a canyon on the verge of divorce.
Pastors play a key role in coming alongside people who have experienced trauma to guide them in their journey toward healing. However a congregant’s situation may be so severe that the best approach is to reach out to professional counselors, such as the team at Care to Change.
If you’d like, we can deepen your team’s understanding of what trauma is, how it affects people, signs to watch for, and the steps to take through a video workshop, a lunch and learn, or whatever method works best with your situation. If you’re interested in exploring the opportunity, please feel free to contact me directly.
There’s no reason to go it alone. It’s why we’re here!
April Bordeau is the Director of Care to Change. A licensed clinical social worker, she has focused on helping children and families overcome challenges in their lives over two decades and is trained in a myriad of trauma informed approaches of care.