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A Guide to processing vicarious trauma

       We know about trauma, and traumatic events:

  •  a car collision
  • the 2020 - 2021 pandemic
  • traumatised survivors of sexual abuse
  • soldiers traumatised by war
  • an injustice
  • an act of terror
  • being traumatised by a natural desaster
  • the trauma of grief and loss


    After the traumatic event  news is conveyed to friends, relatives,

to a church or school and the community.

 those receiving the shocking news  often get vicariously traumatised.


How do we respond when we are vicariously traumatisd?

  •        We respond in our own way.
  •   It's your choice
  •   What we need
  •   the way we need to work through this
  •   it's ok to cry  but we don't have to 
  •   everything has a time, a season and a purpose under heaven


       How does a church, a school, a family, a community respond  when vicariously traumatised?

          I often think of billiards  when I hit a bunch of balls without a plan - they rickashade seemingly randomly.

          that's how I see people responding to a traumatic event.

    In writing this rescource it is not my intention to be prescriptive

but to  provide options which may or be not be of assistance.

   much depends not only upon the dynamics of the traumatic event and our perception,

   the way we view God and life,

   our understanding of the dynamics of the situation.


     In recent years Churches, schools and other institutions have been shocked by disclosures of the sexual abuse of children

 and the enablement  and the conceilment thereof.

    Some institutions have introduced Child Protection Policies and much progress has been made,

 however when disclosures are made the members , their friends and relatives and the community

  are often vicariously traumatised.   I am not aware of anything being written of this.   During this last week I became aware   of a situation where an ex church youth leader has been charged with sexual offences outside the church where he led the youth ministry, however this new has traumatised many in the youth group, the church leaders and members and the news goes out into the extended families, to links in other churches and the community.

    In this case the Church has tight Child Protection policies.

     Indeed the Pastor faced the situation square on.

   All of a sudden the Pastor and leadership are faced with a three to five year set id unfolding issues

which I know from my own experience as a Pastor where a longstanding member was the abuser.

     A death of a member in a car accident or a natural disaster or a heart attack is traumatic.

     family and friends are in grief and loss

 but we have rituals and customs and support to deal with our grief.

  •   We take comfort in the 23rd Psalm.
  •   we sing Amazing Grace
  •  we have a Funeral and celebrate our loved ones life and mourn the passing of our loved one.

       but genererally western society doesn't know how to respond to news of the sexual abuse   within an institution where everyone should be safe.

               for many it is the elephant in the room.


     How can we better respond?

         Firstly, it's hard.

                                   it requires time and working through.

                                   let us pray for endurance placing our confidence in God.

                                    Jesus warned us that ofences would come. Luke 17 v 1

some suggestions - some may assist

                                it's ok to reject or not use those which don't suit you  suggestions only

  • Be open don't hide or sanatise news of what happened
  • better for leaders to be up front than gossip go ahead with a life of it's own.
  • acknowledge a corporate grief and betrayal of trust.
  •  Christians are encouraged to take comfort in the scriptures.
  •  Pray
  •  Sing or play hymns and praise 
  •  pray for comfort and strength
  • encourage one another
  • support leaders who are following Child Protection Procedures and demand better for those who don't
  • use trauma release techniques. 
  • process anger in productive ways
  • take time to process - more months than days or weeks
  • deal with it .  it's hard.  it can get complex often spiralling but resolutions should be found
  • when it's not dealt with it drags on.  cover ups delay resolutions and complicate the situation.    I know a parish where  the unresolved issues regularly surface and it's 28 years later.   I know a Synagogue where a cover up and an injustice  has been rolling on 150 years after the event.  It's there.   A decendant of key people walked into a morning tea of the congregation and without  being introduced to anyone  could sense that there were two groups of families and on reflection splits within descendants.   It doesn't go away. the impacts just roll on.     sometimes a congregation collapses as members drift away .

 a better way is:

  • Mandatory Reporting
  • Leaders fulfilling ones Duty of Care
  •  activating measure to make the members, particularly children, safe.
  • being open with the members and informing stakeholders

  A guide to Processing vicarious trauma - some ideas and options.

  1. overcomming denial.  for many it is a shock that this could have happened   some see such news as a threat to ones sence of security.
  2. Put trust in God or, if you like, a higher power.
  3.  some feel helpless or overwhelmed. 
  4. others saw the symtoms or had senced that something was not right and find the news unremarkable yet are still vicariously traumatised.
  5. Some find the stages of grief helpful.
  6. music  eg   "Let there be peace on earth."       

                            During the covid-19 restrictions when many were experiencing social isolation 

                            various groups recorded    "The Blessing"

   7.   recognise It's hard.   it's takes  time and energy     When there is a massive betrayal of trust such as  sexual abuse in an institution  it spirals because it has so many dimensions and permutations such as:

  •  the Police investigation
  • the criminal and civil legal processes
  • weather  the insurer is helpful or uses the Public Liability Policy to  defend the institution and silence the office bearers who are expected to  speak comfort and support.  
  • weather survivors are given support or left abandonded.
  • My primary purpose in writing this guide is to negate the processes of abondonment

          of survivors and the vicariously traumatised. 












Possable Responses

some  responses:




Why am I feeling this way?

moving towards acceptance



 We all respond in our own way

this is a list to facilitate naming

our feelings and responses

not everyone will respond in these ways

Dynamics of Trauma


Responses out of grace.