3 Steps Every Church Can Take to Become Trauma-Informed

Trauma has become a buzz word. I hear it everywhere. TV. Blogs. Social Media. TED Talks. Books. What does it mean?

According to the dictionary, trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” But trauma means more than that. The concept of trauma also encompasses the short-term and long-term effects of the experience in question.

In an article for Psychology Today, Melissa Withers discussed just how common trauma and its after-effects are: “The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente assessed associations between childhood trauma, stress, and maltreatment and health and well-being later in life. Almost two-thirds of the participants (both men and women) reported at least one childhood experience of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or family dysfunction, and more than one of five reported three or more such experiences.”

The Six Risk Factors

There are six risk factors* that create trauma:

  1. Prenatal stress and harm. Over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Also, cortisol can cross the placenta, alter the structure of the brain, and damage the immune system.
  2. Difficult labor or birth.
  3. Early medical trauma. This could be a hospital stay, surgery, etc.
  4. Trauma. Examples include a house fire, natural disaster, auto accident, or the death of a parent.
  5. Neglect. When kids are neglected, it tells them, “You don’t exist.”
  6. Abuse. When kids are abused, it tells them, “You don’t matter.”

* You can read more about these risk factors and listen to a podcast on the subject here.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Being trauma-informed isn’t just knowing what trauma is; it’s also knowing what to do about it. As Melissa Withers put it in that Psychology Today article, “Trauma-informed care means treating a whole person, taking into account past trauma and the resulting coping mechanisms when attempting to understand behaviors and treat the patient.”

Trauma-informed care means treating a whole person

Here’s a good analogy:

You go to the doctor and he says, “Listen, I’d really like to help you. I know all about the body, how many muscles and bones, etc… but I don’t know how to treat what you have. I’m not informed about your condition.”

Wouldn’t you hightail it out of there and find a new doctor or asked to be referred to a specialist?

I had this experience when my primary care physician diagnosed me with CFS. He said, “There’s nothing I can do to help you. I don’t know anything about the disease.” I had to go see a specialist.

The big “C” church is doing the same thing with people who are wrecked from trauma. They’re wounded, broken, bruised, and afflicted. We greet (or ignore) them when they visit the church. Their kiddos go to Sunday school and kids’ church. The adults listen to the sermon. The families might even attend for a few Sundays. Then they never come back. Why? What’s going on behind the scenes?

The staff, like the doctor in the example, doesn’t know how to treat the condition. The condition is trauma. Trauma shows up in behaviors and beliefs. Trauma looks like dysregulation. Trauma is the kiddo who can’t sit in a chair or melts down when the lights are too bright and the music too loud. Trauma is the adult who can’t sit through the service because the preacher pounces on the theme of forgiveness before the victim is ready.

Trauma victims have a shame-based core, so when they are corrected in behavior (which stems from a need), it only solidifies the belief that they have no right to exist.

What’s Our Response?

We beef up programs. We look at numbers and add more programs, all while ignoring the sickness. We play more games. Get new puppets. Deliver cookies to the new families. We have more meetings and talk about how to get attendance up. And….we keep losing people — physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Why?

The church isn’t trauma-informed. There seems to be a brick wall when it comes to churches listening to the call of trauma-informed ministry.  I know. I’ve tried getting my foot in the door to train local churches. I get a myriad of responses. Some think I’m self-promoting. In the end, though, it usually boils down to “We don’t need it.”

It’s sad. Children and adults alike are suffering because the powers that be don’t want to humble themselves and ask for help — or even stop and consider that they might need help. So, every week, the church re-wounds the wounded. The church refuses to make accommodations for those who need them. And the wounded leave in a trail of tears. The wounded run into the arms of the world, to people who accept them and offer them a drink.

Science and the Church

Some people think being trauma-informed falls into the category of science and therefore has nothing to do with the Church. Some believe that science and religion don’t mix. Or they think the idea of trauma-informed care is a fad that we should just wait out.

It’s disappointing to see the viewpoint of “science and religion don’t mix” when God invented science. Every real scientific principle lines up with the Word of God. Every trauma-informed principle is Biblical.

Spoiler alert: Jesus is the great physician.

3 Steps Toward Trauma-Informed Ministry

1. Follow the example Jesus set. Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted, to bind up their wounds. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus when we become trauma-informed. Jesus came for those who are sick. Not those who are well. When we Christians march around with our hypocritical false faces, pretending we have it all together, we fail. Trauma-affected people will only be further traumatized by hypocrisy.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

2. Invest in the proper tools and training.

You can’t minister to those affected by trauma unless you have the proper training and tools. Training takes time, and we must be intentional about it. We can’t keep walking in the same traditional ways. Let’s face it: Many of the traditional ways are not inherently Biblical. They’re man-made rules. Let’s set those aside and tend to the wounded, learn to accommodate them, set up a sick-bay, and get to work.

Make no mistake — the devil, our enemy, wants to devour the wounded. He roams about looking for the weak link. When we continue to wound the sick, maltreated, abused, and neglected, we are walking in the devil’s footsteps.

Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour. (I Peter 5:8)

3. Change your mind (renew it) about what a church service looks like.

When you minister to trauma-affected people, you are going to see some behaviors that don’t fit traditional religious ideas. It’s okay. You want revival? You want to see a change in peoples lives? Then you must invite the people who need help, not the kids and adults who can dress up nicely and sit in the pews.

Church in the early years didn’t look like our modern-day services. It was meeting in people’s homes and breaking bread together (Acts 2:46).

If the church wants revival or radical change, we have to change our mindset. We have to get ready by doing the work. It’s messy work. It’s hard work. I’ve never seen a well-behaved revival service, have you? Let’s set aside our pre-conceived ideas and do our homework. Church, let’s get biblically based trauma-informed.


Empowered to Connect Training equips teachers, pastors, and caregivers with a holistic understanding of the trauma-affected child/adult needs and development while empowering them with the tools and strategies to effectively meet those needs, build trust, and help the survivor heal and grow. The training is taught from a Christian perspective and focuses on a wide range of topics, including the six risk factors, the five B’s affected by trauma, understanding how the past affects the present, and some tools that can be used to help bring hope and healing.

Want more info about trauma training for your church? Contact us:

 

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