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Approaching Trauma Survivors from a Spiritual Perspective
by Caterina G. Spinaris, Ph. D., LPC
Desert Waters Counseling Center, Florence, CO

Do not try to use the posttraumatic confused and needy state of victims as an opportunity to witness your faith in order to win new converts! Victims need to have their spiritual boundaries respected, and they need to be "met", loved and supported where they're at. Discreetly let them know your spiritual orientation, if you wish, but wait for them to initiate discussions about God.

When dealing with traumatized persons DO NOT EVER tell them or insinuate that the reason they experienced a traumatic event may be that

Such statements or insinuations would only end up revictimizing victims in the name of Christ. They communicate blame and give the impression that the trauma victims caused or deserved what happened. They also portray God as a heartless Father who in a matter-of-fact way will put His children through hell on earth "for their own good."

Avoid simplistic "canned" expressions of comfort or reassurance.

Do not quote scriptures about God's love and sovreignty, or His working the disaster out for the victims' good. Instead, listen with compassion and empathy, and VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE the victims' emotional reactions.

Be prepared for trauma survivors to be ambivalent, confused, fearful, cynical, angry or downright hateful towards God. Do not act annoyed, shocked or surprised. Resist the impulse to "defend God's name" if the victim begins lashing at God. The Lord is big enough to withstand such blows, and He has a long history of responding to such outbursts with patience, compassion and mercy.

The most accurate and honest answer to victims questions as to why the disaster befell them, and why God let it happen, is, quite simply, that we do not know. What we DO know, however, is that we are there to be God's conduit of love to them in the here-and-now.

If you feel the urge to pray for victims, either do it privately, or ask them first if they want you to pray for them, in their presence, out loud. More often than not, victims need to see action, not words on their behalf. If they give you permission to pray for them, out loud, in their presence, keep your prayer short and simple, such as asking God to envelop them with His love and compassion, to comfort and provide for them, and to give them peace and direction. Do not turn your prayer to God into a sermon to the victim.

Focus on comforting and assisting trauma survivors in practical and immediate ways, such as providing shelter, meals, clothing, child care, assistance with insurance, medical or legal matters, or by accompanying them to appointments. "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:20). Do not underestimate the healing power of these small, simple acts. Years later, victims sometimes recall such gesture more clearly than portions of the traumatic event itself.

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