4 Reasons I Promote Scripture-Based Trauma Healing

[Note: broken link fixed. If anyone is interested in taking this course with me this summer, see here.]

As a psychologist I have had a front row seat to observe the destruction that traumatic experiences have on individuals and families. And as a professor training future counselors I see the necessity of passing on best practices for treating those with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New understandings of trauma’s impact on bodies, minds, souls, and relationships appear on the pages of our academic and clinical journals. As a result, I read daily about innovative attempts to hasten trauma recovery for individuals and even whole communities.

With a world filled with trauma, it is clear to me we need an army of psychologists and mental health practitioners. How else could we address problems faced by 60 million displaced peoples in the world at present? How else could we address the scourge of sexual abuse, where worldwide 1:4 women and 1:6 men have experienced sexual violation before they reach the age of 18?

So, given the needs I have just mentioned, why would I spend considerable time and effort to promote a bible-based trauma healing training program? Let me tell you four key reasons I think this program is essential to address the world-wide problem of trauma. [Note, this is NOT a paid advertisement.]

Trauma disrupts faith and identity. The church must be at the center of the response

While many practitioners recognize the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD, fewer have noticed that trauma disrupts and disables faith and connection to faith practices. Just now the scientific community is beginning to track this problem and acknowledge the role faith plays in the recovery process. Some are brave enough to suggest that failing to utilize faith practices and communities in the recovery process is tantamount to unethical practice! But most mental health practitioners have had zero training and experience engaging faith questions as part of treatment. The field of psychology is waking up from more than 100 years of training practitioners to ignore, even reject, faith as essential to healthy personhood. If faith is essential to most people on the planet then any intervention must engage faith and spiritual practices if it is going to consider the whole person.

Dr. Diane Langberg recently reminded a world gathering of national Bible Society leaders that trauma needs in the world are far too large for any government to handle. The only “organization” in the world situated to respond to at both a micro and a macro level is the Church. But is the church prepared? We need the church willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses. These responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.

The Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) program fills this void. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples and provides simple yet effective care responses average believers can enact without being professional caregivers.HWT_USA_2014

While I believe we psychologists with specialized skill sets are essential to trauma recovery, much of what we do can be done by every day individuals. I tell my students that most of counseling is not rocket-science. Being present, listening well, building trust, validating, asking good questions, and walking with someone in pain is largely what helps counselees get better. With a little training, the church can be at the forefront of the trauma healing.

But we need an army…of capable trainers who reproduce

There are approximately 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. If we decided (and I am not suggesting this AT ALL!) to only serve traumatized Christians, we do not have enough capable practitioners to serve those in need. The ONLY way we would be able to serve this population is to train up capable trainers (wise, able to work well with others, understand group dynamics, know when to be quiet, etc.) who are then able to reproduce themselves and make even more trainers who subsequently serve ever increasing populations. This creates a cascade effect—1 trains another who each, in turn, trains others. Conservatively speaking, one training of 35 future trainers could reach up to 15,000 traumatized people in 3 training generations.

To maintain quality, the program must be able to be delivered and passed on in a consistent manner. The HWT program is designed not merely to educate participants regarding trauma symptoms and good care/healing practices but how to pass on such knowledge and skill to others. The facilitator (trainer) handbook provides a wealth of information to ensure that the quality does not erode as the information is passed on.

Experiential learning trumps lectures every time

In the West, we cherish academic lectures as the primary training mode. Lectures enable a speaker to give a large amount of information in a short period of time, with minimal interruption. A good lecture casts vision, identifies problems, and points to effective responses. But a lecture cannot produce skilled practitioners. Any academic mental health program worth attending will require practicums where head knowledge is put into repeated practice.

Consider this scenario. My father is capable of building a house. He sits me down and he spends hours gong over the steps to building an addition to my house. I listen, take notes, and even handle the tools that will be used. Am I prepared now to build the addition? No! If I am to build a proper addition, I will need to do so under his close supervision. In fact, most of the hours of lectures are not necessary at all. What will be more effective is his teaching me as we build together.

The HWT program is all about experiential learning. Participants learn as they experience trauma and trauma healing through story, dialogue, and practice. First applied to self and then in consideration of others. This is in stark contrast to most continuing education programs that amount to little more than monologues and passive audiences. While the monologue may give more information, it is highly unlikely that participants can in turn teach what they heard to others. The HWT program is not designed to deliver large amounts of new academic information. And yet, what participants get via experience and practice will be far more easily passed on when they become the teacher. There will be no army of trainers if we cannot quickly get experience and practice and pass on what we learn in simple everyday language.

Good training hinges on contextualization

If trauma is universal, then it might be thought easy to deliver trauma healing training across cultures. This is not so. If I prepare a lecture or training on trauma in my context (the megalopolis of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States) but deliver it on a different continent, my training may be of minimal value. The reason it is sure to fail is that what I had to offer didn’t fit the context; it didn’t speak to the heart of that audience. Good training must be contextualized so that participants immediately recognize trauma in their settings and that interventions make sense. Imagine if I deliver a talk on good conflict skills to a hierarchical society but emphasize the need to speak in “I” language (I need, I feel, I would like)? Such interventions will rightly be rejected as inappropriate. And if experience holds, whatever else I say will also be rejected.

The HWT program is founded on contextualization. Not only has it been translated into many different heart languages, the central stories and illustrations are also contextualized so that the participants can see themselves in the stories and interventions. At heart of each lesson, participants are asked about their own culture’s take on the particular problem. In dialogue, they compare responses to that of biblical passages highlighting trauma, grief, loss, and pastoral care. Nearly every major training point addresses context and encourages participants to develop creative interventions in keeping with key biblical and psychological foundations.

Is the HWT program all a traumatized person needs? No, it doesn’t assume this. Is the HWT program perfect? Of course not. I continue to make suggestions for improvement and the authors and developers are some of the most flexible I know, always looking for ways to improve the materials and training program. There are many other solid programs out there, but few programs I know have refined the content and delivery systems to be able to scale out across the globe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Mission: Trauma Healing team at the American Bible Society as co-chair of their advisory council and occasional trainer.

For a more visual exposure to this training, see this downloadable documentary.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, teaching counseling, trauma, Uncategorized

14 responses to “4 Reasons I Promote Scripture-Based Trauma Healing

  1. Phil can you please fix the link in this post to ” a non-psychological, bible-based trauma healing training program?”

    • Fixed. Thanks for pointing out. Also added a link at top to the next HWT trauma training that I will be offering this August in Philadelphia.

  2. Tom

    A fair turn from my other rantings… Scripture-Based Trauma Healing is a monumental program and I support you and all the others who can get involved – 100%. It is a global movement. Impossible not to recognize the Spirits leading AND the need of the church for this kind of ministry. Your “4 reasons” do a good job summarizing why its hard to meet the demand SBTH workshops. Carr, in his book, “Holy Resilience” notes that the Bible’s attention to people’s trauma/suffering may be the reason why it has superseded all other literature in longevity and relevance. This program is distributing that good-news in ways that have never been dong before.

    • Tom, you are right. The demand for SBTH is so large we cannot keep up. Shows the absolute need for lament language in the church. Just saw a bit on the Carr book but have yet to get. You recommend?

      • Tom

        Looks like a great book. Solid research – IMHO. See Bible Gateway interview w Carr. There’s a very personal connection/w trauma from a serious cycling accident several years ago. Not just academic.

  3. liztinnea

    I really appreciate this post and the video from the American Bible Society. It holds the answers to so many questions I’ve had. As a victim of spiritual abuse, one of the primary reasons I was abused is because people in the church do not know how to deal with trauma. It breaks my heart that so, so many churches just do not understand and in their attempts to fix actually damage more. Thank you for educating others with real solutions. It is impossible to minister to others in the name of Jesus if we are not willing to enter their suffering. May God bless all that you are doing. I’d love to see this course offered online at some point.

    • Some day it will likely be online. for my taste however, I love the live dialogical and experiential part that might get lost in the online world (said as one who teaches online).

  4. Very important work you are doing! Our pastor referred us to a PTSD specialist who happens to be Christian. My husband and I both suffer from PTSD and the work he has done has been of immeasurable gain. This has brought me from a place of believing god to be a harsh judge to a place of knowing that we live in a benevolent universe with a creator who is grace filled.

    I have also been counselled via Nouthetical Counselling….this added abuse upon the abuse I had endured and continued to endure. Pastors….please refer your congregation to trained Psychologists who understand PTSD. Yes the bible is sufficient for teaching however, God is working through Psychologists just as He works through heart surgeons, EMT’s, MD’s, etc.

  5. cmostrom@cox.net

    Hi, Phil. I am an abuse survivor and very involved with an organization called Mending the Soul (MTS) that was instrumental in my healing journey. MTS beautifully integrates the knowledge we have gained about trauma from social/psychological sciences with the true source of healing in Christ in a theologically sound manner. MTS works both domestically and internationally.

    Here’s a link to their website – http://mendingthesoul.org/, including recent updates from their current work in the DRC.

    Perhaps another resource for your readers?


    Cheryl Mostrom

    • Cheryl, thanks for your comment and your reminder of the Tracy’s work. I know Steve and approve 🙂

      • Tom

        I would distinguish Steve’s work with victims of domestic violence (great) from information he provides in Mending the Soul (seriously out of date). Phil, have you reviewed this book – esp chs 6-8? It is odd that in 2008, Tracy was so dependent on 1990’s material from the RMT movement – including Diana Russell who had since reversed her position on the existence of repressed memories and the use of memory retrieval techniques. Sorry to toss cold water on this happy discussion, but I’m not a fan of Tracy’s writing.

  6. Anita

    Is there a possibility of this training being offered in different regions of the USA?

    • There is a possibility. Check out the calendar at thi.americanbible.org. It will list upcoming trainings. I know there have been trainings in the South, Texas, Phoenix, St Louis and am sure many other locations.

  7. Jessica Allen

    Is this program still available?

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