Responding to trauma: Resources to help ministers, parents, others process painful situations


Recent news headlines remind us of a troubling statistic: 1 in 5 American adults has been a victim or witness to events that traumatized them in just the past 10 years.

The release of the Sexual Abuse Task Force report reminds us that traumatic situations happen both inside and outside the church. But the church is also uniquely positioned to serve those who have experienced trauma, such as those healing from sexual abuse and those reeling from recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Riverside, Alabama; and Uvalde, Texas.

What can we as believers do? How can we respond? Here are some resources from TAB Media that might help:

Helping children

When children witness or experience violence, they may become distrustful of the people in their lives. They also have a heightened risk for conflict with others, self-destruction, suicide, post-traumatic stress and elevated aggression.

The trauma follows them into adulthood. Research shows children who are exposed to long-term violence — as witnesses or victims — are at a higher risk to suffer poor mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, criminality and neglectful or abusive parenting during their adult lives.

Christian parents and grandparents are justifiably concerned about the rising violence in their communities. They want to protect their children. Here are some suggestions:

  • Provide daily opportunities for children to talk, honestly expressing their fears and feelings about personal safety. Listen, ask questions and respond in age-appropriate ways.
  • Reassure children you love them, pray for them and will always do whatever you can to protect them from harm.
  • As a family, read Scripture and pray together during regular family devotional times.
  • Teach children to dial 911 and call for help when witnessing a crime outside the home or if their safety is threatened within the home.
  • Reduce children’s exposure to violence on television news, social media, videos, films and computer games. If they spend time with neighbors and/or other family members, make those caregivers aware of your family’s boundaries and ask them to honor them.

From “Guard kids from negative effects of surging violence” 

Know the symptoms

How would a person know if he or she is experiencing vicarious trauma?

According to psychologists, vicarious trauma impacts the whole person — physically, cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally. Symptoms include sadness, anger, anxiousness and numbness. A person can become cynical in his or her thoughts and develop a jaded view of the world. He or she also might over-worry about the person(s) affected and no longer find purpose in his or her job.

Vicarious trauma can present itself physically such as through headaches, stomachaches and overall fatigue. Isolation, poor coping mechanisms such as alcohol or substance abuse, risky behaviors and change in eating/sleeping patterns also can occur.

If the symptoms of vicarious trauma are evident, what action should a person take? The Office for Victims of Crime offers these practical suggestions:

  1. Maintain daily life routines.
  2. Stay connected with family and friends.
  3. Discuss the demands of your job with your supervisor.
  4. Be intentional about doing something creative — reading, writing, exercise, prayer.
  5. Seek professional help from a therapist who is trauma informed.

The most important thing to remember no matter the situation is to not suffer alone. It is not a sign of weakness for professionals, family, friends or ministers to need the assistance of another professional to learn strategies for coping and ongoing self-care. You cannot give what you do not have. You cannot pour yourself out and be present for those in need if you are experiencing vicarious trauma. It is OK for the helpers to ask for help so they can be mentally and emotionally available to provide victims the best help possible.

From “Vicarious trauma affects those walking alongside, caring for trauma victims” 

Additional resources:

Practical ways parents, church leaders can help when trauma strikes

Finding a trauma-competent Christian counselor for processing, recovery

How church leaders can support survivors of sexual abuse

9 ways the church can help address community violence

A new normal: 10 things learned about trauma and healing

Patience, compassion, empathy helpful in recovery process, counselors say

Death, abuse, other difficult situations may lead to physical, mental symptoms

Bible reading, discussion, pastoral shepherding help victims find healing

Ministering to abuse survivors requires careful, thoughtful approaches

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