A Catholic Guide for Spiritual First Aid
Beyond Trauma is 76 pages long, including space for taking notes. Its design is airy and visually calm. It reads like a compassionate guided tour of the most fundamental emotional impact of abuse. Each topic covers a basic concept and related Scripture, reflection or other exercise, and prayer. The table of contents makes clear its simple and accessible focus: Why Am I Feeling This Way? How Can I Calm These Strong Emotions? Why Do I Feel So Sad? How Can My Wounded Heart Heal? How Can I Relate to God in This Situation? Looking to the Future.
Different Uses, One Goal
The goal is processing hurt and grief from abuse with the help of Scripture and, so, of God. Beyond Trauma offers a personal pathway for reflection about the impact of abuse on adult life. Readers are free to use it as a private reflective retreat but are encouraged to share with someone else, such as a spiritual supporter. I can see where Beyond Trauma might also be a good discussion book for a survivors’ group. Two important positive factors are how it does not delve into the past as a therapeutic step (leaving that to therapy, one presumes), and it does not move beyond the scope of the really, really tough steps of examining pain, grief, emotional impact, and “heart wounds” of abuse.
Simplicity is strength here. Beyond Trauma is a strong guide for hugely difficult baby steps few find a safe way to take. Here, readers find a way to rely on Scripture in a de facto lectio divina. All this is done while remaining safe from difficult, bigger topics! This simplicity makes the path gentle, safe, simple, accessible.
Another positive aspect of simplicity is that someone being treated for acute or chronic mental illness could still use Beyond Trauma with a friend or pastor and not inadvertently blend mental health care and pastoral care. Beyond Trauma is focused enough to provide a safe spiritual reflection. (Just remember: anyone managing mental illness should not mistake this book as an alternative to other crucial healing protocols.)
Beyond Trauma is not a full program for healing mind, body, soul, and spirit. It is a beginning. Beginning is the hardest part. So, Beyond Trauma is a good option for someone just beginning, as long as they feel comfortable and safe with Scripture. For them, it can be a wise early wander through the process of recovery. It can also make for a safe return to the beginning for anyone further along in recovery who has learned the value of going back to basics regularly.
Beyond Trauma does something else wonderful. It manages to get at few trauma-recovery programs have managed to do. It anticipates the inclinations of many cultures outside the West — in particular the affluent West — to deal with recovery from abuse and trauma differently than we (wrongly) assume is a single, proven way. Those groups (and whole nations) often do not recognize therapy as an option at all. Healing from abuse may be handled but not openly. While that “silence” arguably may reflect stigma on some levels, it also reflects significant cultural variations in how abuse and other related wounds are understood, cared for, and healed. It even affects how people define “healing.” The Beyond Trauma Bible-based course walks the line between not feeding stigma while honoring predispositions for healing in faith. Ministry groups are finding that it may be far more effective in early work with some cultural and ethnic groups in the multicultural U.S. to do just that. This is another reason Beyond Trauma is such an important little book to have on hand.
BIG Cautionary Notes
76 pages can only cover so much. Beyond Trauma does not and cannot (in that short span) grapple with the wounds of abuse inflicted on one’s trust in God or on one’s faith. That “God” wound is common among survivors of abuse in a faith setting. The “God” wound is not uncommon among survivors of abuse by other close authority such as a parent. For these survivors, I would not recommend this book, at least as a starting point.
This distinction is also important. Beyond Trauma will not speak to the person who cannot turn to God for shame or other psychological reasons. Or, the survivor who has reason not to trust anything to do with the Church or faith, such as the Bible itself as revealed writing.
Like all resources for survivors of abuse and trauma, there is no cookie cutter answer, no “one size fits all.” Don’t make the mistake of being helpful on reflex, or as a reaction. This can re-wound people at times when they may be most vulnerable. Be sure you talk to a survivor and understand what helps or does not (yes, you may ask us!), before recommending this or almost any other resource! Take your time. Follow the wounded person’s pace. If you feel yourself wanting to roll up your sleeves and fix things in a way that seems logical and efficient to you, take a deep breath and … slow down. Recovery is a process, not a fix-it project.
Beyond Trauma is a great resource. Do not underestimate what a feat it is to write such a book. Simplicity when working with this complicated topic is achieved only with a lot of knowledge, experience, and grace. Definitely do not underestimate how difficult are those baby steps which Beyond Trauma helps people take. For this, the book is meant, and, in this, the book will be a great resource for many.