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Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events

Author: Andrew Weaver, Laura Flannelly and John Preston
Published By: Abingdon Press (Nashville)
Pages: 214
Price: $20
ISBN: 0 687 05243 2

Reviewed by Mike Thornton.

Whether we are local church ministers or in sector ministry, there is an increasing probability that we will be called upon to offer counsel of one kind or another to survivors of a traumatic event. Only recently was I invited to a seminar focussing on the role of clergy in the wake of a catastrophic event in London, something which has now been put into practice. Part of our civil emergency response procedure includes the coordinated use of clergy to counsel survivors and other emergency response service staff.

Yet it is most likely that we will be called upon to offer support and counsel in the less dramatic, but no less traumatic, events that hit ordinary people without invitation and without warning. In this there is nothing new as that has been the role of those offering pastoral care on behalf of faith communities for many centuries.

However, the types of trauma have changing faces and we need to be prepared to offer comfort and hope in a measured and competent way. Counseling Survivors (a recognisably American publication not only by the spelling in the title, but the format and some of the contexts of the book) offers some useful hints in this regard. The book is a multi-disciplinary collaboration and offers some psychological insights to add to our tool box as we apply our own theological response to each individual and her trauma.

The first three chapters offer the framework within which the rest of the book seeks to operate. They outline the nature of PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tell-tale signs, the psychological context and the general principles to be applied to support the sufferer. They set the context of multi-disciplinary support and the role of clergy in quite a generalised way, perhaps expressing an implied assumption that clergy will be contacted as a primary means of support, which may or may not be the case in this country. Yet the outline is a helpful and informative one.

The final chapters give a view of why clergy are in a unique position to help, but this is not a faith statement - merely a pragmatic one of helping people flexibly outside bureaucratic structures. There is nothing distinctively Christian about this book! If you are looking for distinctively Christian guidelines, look elsewhere. But if you work or are looking to work within a multi-faith and/or multi-disciplinary setting, this is probably a must for you. There is a chapter on making multi-disciplinary referrals. It is also a useful tool to help make the case to others of the place of clergy assistance for survivors of traumatic events.

The main body of the book looks at particular ‘case studies’ - different types of traumas people may have physically survived, but need help to survive emotionally, psychologically and perhaps spiritually. They include:

·         road traffic accidents;

·         natural disasters (such as Tsunami);

·         acts of terrorism;

·         bereavements of many kinds including of a child (cancer or suicide), through traumatic event such as murder;

·         torture (refugees);

·         rape;

·         hate crime;

·         help for traumatised police officers, burn survivors and abuse of the elderly.

A further chapter deals with compassion fatigue in a pastor.

Overall this is a helpful manual for those who already know their theological stuff and could do with a few practical hints with PTSD.

Mike Thornton

Baptist minister

Ministry Today

You are reading Issue 36 of Ministry Today, published in March 2006.

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