Trauma and Boundaries: Membranes, Walls and Drawbridges

I recently attended a conference on trauma and grief along with members of my CPSP chapter. The impetus for the event was the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which was where our group met where some members were leaders.

While it wasn’t discussed, I realized that one of the things that makes traumatic grief so painful is that those who are going through it are so vulnerable to continued pain. Our speaker talked about how triggering events, images and even sounds can bring trauma back to the surface even years after. Some participants found that even discussing traumatic grief was difficult for them in the context we were in and had to leave the room to gather themselves. Continue reading

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The Dangerous Necessity of Hope

I had a request from one of the facilities we serve to visit one of their residents. This man had some tremendous losses in the past year. His wife, who had dementia, had died rather suddenly some months ago. He also had a stroke which affected his speech and mobility, requiring him to move in to the facility as well. I spoke with his daughter  before visiting and she spoke of how concerned she was for him, saying he had talked with his physical therapists about how depressed he was. Continue reading

Moving Beyond Helplessness: An Update

I recently wrote a post about the difficulties of overcoming helplessness in grief and grieving. Since then I wanted to give a bit of an update not only on the case but on my CPSP group’s reaction to it when I presented it to them for feedback.

I had written about a woman who recently lost her husband and since then had become very depressed. She felt that everything good was gone in her life and that nothing could make it better. The only thing that could make things better was for her husband to come back, and she knew that wasn’t going to happen. She often told me that there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do for her. I described talking to her as feeling like I was putting the needle back into the groove of a skipping record. After several discussions, visits, and referrals for her I brought the case up to my CPSP group for feedback and at least a listening ear.

The first response I got after detailing the situation surprised me: “so how long are you going to do this?” Continue reading

Moving Beyond Helplessness

In my working with individuals who are struggling with their grief, one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve had is the sense of helplessness that sometimes accompanies grief. I made a call the other day to the wife of a past patient the other day, and she expressed her feelings this way: “You can’t help me.” She went on to talk about how she and her husband did absolutely everything together and how they planned on growing old together. Life without him was unimaginable. Now, two years after his death, every day feels worse than the day before. She has no picture of a future without him, feels unmoored and purposeless, and lacks a sense of her own identity. She has panic attacks and is very depressed most of the time. Worst of all though is her feeling that there’s nothing I or anyone else could do to help her. Continue reading

Self-Disclosure: How Much is Too Much?

A reader asked me a while ago about the appropriate use of self-disclosure and I thought that was a great topic to write about more in depth. It can be a touchy subject, as I expect we have all met those who engage in too much self-disclosure with those we support. To completely avoid self-disclosure though is to not use our most valuable and powerful tool, our own story. Continue reading

CPE Verbatim: Avoiding the Unavoidable

I revisited an older verbatim that I wrote back in 2011. It’s interesting to go back and review older visits and interactions with the lens of history and experience. I don’t remember this particular case, but it reminds me of several other cases. I do remember that it was rather frustrating for me, which will be evident in the interaction. Continue reading

The Bookshelf: “Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?”, by Dwight Carlson

The relationship between body, mind and soul is one of the most complicated and least understood in the modern world. One reason is that while the three certainly seem distinguishable (at least to those who believe we have a soul) the boundaries are extremely hazy. Is depression a result of a chemical imbalance, a poor self-image, or guilt from personal sin? How you answer this question will be a reflection of not simply your faith but your worldview as well (and the answer is most probably “yes” to all three). Continue reading

Serving the Servers: How Chaplains Can Help Prevent Burnout

The Rev Daphne Preece (right) gives support to a member of staff. Photograph: Milton Keynes University hospital NHS foundation trust/The Guardian

Burnout is a common problem for those in helping professions, and while the word or term “burnout” may be used without much thought at times, it is a real problem with specific features. Maslach noted that the features of burnout are multifaceted, including  “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment”. Since caregiver burnout was first described in the early ’70’s a great deal of material has been written in order to study its effects and possible ways to alleviate it. Because of their visible role in the workplaces where they serve, chaplains can become a resource to help their coworkers prevent burnout and provide staff support as well as indirectly provide better patient outcomes.

Continue reading

Safe Spaces: Reflection on Luke 10:38-42

J. Vermeer: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

I love it when I read an overly-familiar Bible passage and something jumps out at me that never had before. It feels like that moment when you watch your favorite movie or read a favorite book and you discover something important that was hidden in plain sight. That happened recently as I was reading the familiar story of Jesus, Mary and Martha. Continue reading

Repost in Response to John Piper: The Chaplain and Mental Illness

Recently John Piper, through his Desiring God twitter account, sent out the following message: “Stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, and start drinking in the remedies of God in nature.” The result was a backlash from many concerned with this apparent disregard for the nature of mental illness. A friend of mine told me afterward that he had recently lost a friend to suicide and that this sentiment was not helpful in the least.

Piper later walked back on his statement a bit, adding the context of the statement for clarification, noting that “mental health” meant something different 40 years ago.

To be quite honest, the suggestions included in the text (“10 Resolutions for Mental Health”) were quite interesting and would be beneficial for anyone. I recommend you read them. However couching this advice for “mental health”, knowing that true mental health is not just an intellectual endeavor but involves the interplay of biology and psychology as well, is still irresponsible.

Many shared their own stories of the battle between faith and true mental illness.

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Christianity today still has much to learn about mental illness. Following is a post I originally wrote in 2015 which speaks to this further. Continue reading