Trauma and Pastoral Care
A Practical Handbook
By Carla Grosch-Miller
Canterbury Press Norwich, pp. 128, $31.99

Review by Anne O. Weatherholt

In this very timely book, Carla Grosch-Miller has laid out the fundamentals of trauma-informed pastoral care. This is not the first time she has tackled this subject, and this book is a continuation of her research and work in the United Kingdom exploring how congregations deal with tragedy. What makes this book so useful is its practical structure and attention to the “season of pandemic” experienced by churches worldwide.

Grosch-Miller notes that the field of traumatology is fairly new. While priests, pastors, and counselors have seen the signs of extreme stress and have dealt with post-trauma wounds for many years, we did not always have the language or the scientific knowledge of the human brain informing our intuition. Likewise, we could read about traumatic events in the sacred texts but did not always have the tools to interpret the stories of our faith in ways that were accessible and insightful for people who experience trauma. This book is designed to help clergy and others survive, adapt, and reflect, always keeping in mind the inherent stress of ministry and congregational life.

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The book is divided into two major sections. Part 1, “The Traumatized Individual,” delves deeply into brain chemistry, then sets out a trauma response toolkit. Each chapter can stand on its own and contains takeaway points at the end. Part 2, “Collective Trauma,” not only helps leaders understand the trauma of a system, but brings biblical scholarship to bear, and provides ideas for liturgical response.

I had worried that Grosh-Miller would not address the age-old question of theodicy or, worse still, fall back on simplistic interpretations such as “God is in control,” or “God allows sin.” But she did not disappoint. She summarizes the major types of theodicies, and skillfully shows how each addresses the “shattering of assumptions,” as well as providing relief of anxiety. Leaning on the idea of holy practices, she reminds us to look to lamentation, unforced forgiveness, thoughtfulness, and hospitality as the foundation for how a community of faith balances irresolvable tension with hope.

Throughout this book, I found phrases and ideas that I could easily use and share as part of the training I lead for clergy on the recognition and response to domestic violence. Most helpful was the idea that the “survivor is the expert,” which reminds us that as we listen openly to stories of trauma, we should not respond too quickly, but affirm and offer gentle support.

Like most clergy, I am often annoyed by folks who tell me to “take care of myself.” I find that many of the offered remedies do not seem appealing, or just add to the already full plate of responsibilities and expectations. In a time when most clergy are feeling the overwhelming stress of change brought by a worldwide pandemic, finding that the way we do church has shifted, and wondering what our ministry will look like in the future, Grosch-Miller reminds us to listen for our compassionate inner voice, telling us just enough of her spiritual journey to make such attentiveness seem possible, without burdening us with details.

This is one of those books I wish had existed when I was in seminary, but could have only been written in this time when research into traumatology is fresh and new, and when the unprecedented anthropocene epoch is unfolding in front of our eyes. It helps link body, soul, and mind, reminding us that our imago dei is the vessel.

The Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt is a retired priest of the Diocese of Maryland. She provides training on recognition, response, and prevention of intimate partner violence.

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