Updated: Jan 17
According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, at least 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives. That's over 223 million people . And even with this number in mind, we have yet to see the full impact of the collective trauma we've experienced due to Covid-19. Needless to say, trauma is something that the church can no longer ignore. So the question becomes, what can the faith community do to support their members on their trauma healing journey?
Before I share my top 5 steps, I need to emphasize that the process of becoming a trauma-informed church is a collective effort that requires involvement from staff and lay leaders. A pastor cannot do it all, and if they try to do so, they will burn out. The church must be committed to becoming aware of the impact of trauma and identifying key resources to make available to the members of their congregation. Here are some basic steps that put you well on your way.
Step 1: Form a Committee
Once again, the onus of such an important initiative cannot remain on the pastor's shoulders. The church leadership should set aside some time during a meeting to identify some key lay leaders and staff who can help form a committee that will lead these efforts. Inform those invited to the committee that their role is to help identify and create resources to help their members who have been impacted by trauma receive the support they need.
Step 2: Assess the Resources that Already Exist Within your Congregation
Most churches have a wealth of knowledge, resources, and gifts sitting within their pews that go underutilized. Take a moment within this process to assess what members of your church are licensed social workers, counselors, or other mental health professionals that can offer critical insight and support as you begin to plan. Maybe they might consider forming a ministry or healing group at your church that supports individuals impacted by trauma or they can help you develop a counseling team. At a minimum, they can provide helpful insight as you continue to plan.
Step 3: Research, Resources, and Referrals
The goal of becoming a trauma-informed church is not to try to do everything internally. Some of the resources already exist. Instead of recreating the wheel, spend some time researching local and national resources that exist that support various individuals who experienced trauma (ie: suicide, domestic violence, sexual assault, gun violence), and have that information on hand so that staff and volunteers can easily access them to support a member of your congregation. If your church doesn't have a team of counselors on hand to refer people, you want to have a list of external counselors available that you can share with your members as needed. I strongly advise that you don't engage in the next step without having your list of referrals on hand. A free national resource guide is available on our resource page.
Step 4: Educate
Education is an essential part of this process. There are several stigmas that people have internalized regarding going to therapy and receiving support from others. Education through forums designed to cultivate candid and authentic conversations on this topic can help dismantle the narrative that impedes someone from getting the help they need. Consider organizing a workshop with trauma-informed professionals who can facilitate workshops on various issues that impact your members. During these workshops, they can also discuss the benefits of finding a good counselor and a community's role in our healing journey. These workshops also serve as the perfect opportunity to inform your members of all the resources you have identified after completing step 3. Our company assists churches with this step by offering free online workshops. Information on how to request a free workshop is available on our resource page.
Step 5: Equip
Not everyone is called to go to seminary or graduate school to become a mental health professional. Still, there are some steps that a lay leader can take to become equipped to support those who have been impacted by trauma. In recent years, faith leaders and mental health professionals have become increasingly aware of the need to help people within the church to become trauma-informed. As a result, the Trauma Healing Institute developed a bible-based trauma-informed curriculum that has been adopted by people all over the world. Individuals who don't have a seminary degree or mental health experience can utilize this tested curriculum to support others on their trauma healing journey. And the good news is, the cost to train individuals on this curriculum is nominal. You can find more information about this training on our resource page.
Trauma is a serious issue that will continue to impact our communities. However, how we come out on the other side is primarily influenced by the support we receive. This year, let's commit to becoming a trauma-informed congregation to help our members heal.