Skip to content

Healing Traumatized Healers (Part 1)

by Ronald H Wean, M.Div, M.Ed, LPCC, CEAP, SAP, author of “Healing Traumatized Churches”

After treating the traumatized, who treats the trauma exposed medical staff?  Who Heals the Healers following the tragedies of dead co-workers, dead children, or mass casualties?  What are the criteria for critical stress interventions, what kind of interventions are available, and who makes that call?  Does our organization even have a post trauma protocol and where can I look for qualified community resources?

Organizations committed to the health and welfare of their first responders and medical staff have asked and answered these questions long before trauma events occur.  If critical stress interventions are not part of the healthcare employer’s protocol or structured into the disaster plan, they will simply not happen, but at great personal, professional, and organizational costs.  

Without critical incident stress planning, organizations just start “shooting the wounded” with words like, “You just have to forget about it and move on,” or “maybe you are just not cut out for this profession,” or even, “If you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen.”  Either employers provide post trauma healing structures to keep both staff and workplace healthy, or, healthcare teams become disabled, disinvested, cranky, controlling, and numb.  A post trauma reactive team does not assist organizations in employee retention or recruiting.  It is also not cost effective or consumer friendly. 

 So, how do organizations prepare for the inevitable traumas that we hope will never happen?  The following steps are important in establishing Post Trauma Staff Healing.

Recruit, Train, Publicize a Peer Support Team 

Members of a Peer Support Team are chosen because they have demonstrated a capacity to listen to their peers, keep confidentiality, and respond both relationally and therapeutically.  Peer Support Team members are trained to articulate: 

  • the signs and symptoms of post trauma stress reactions,
  • the goals, purpose, plan, parameters, and continuum of critical stress interventions to administrative officials (which is particularly crucial if the team is not the designated decision maker to call for post trauma interventions), and
  • basic post trauma information and self care interventions to peers as a post trauma stress disorder preventative.

In order to provide the trauma exposed healthcare team with immediate access to post trauma care, members of the Peer Support Team need to acquire a knowledge and a working relationship with trained and certified Critical Incident Stress Debriefers in the Community.  In order to expedite individual referrals, Support Team members also need to have a working relationship with trauma trained and Certified Employee Assistance Professionals in the organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Members of the team are to be trained to assess the critical stress reaction of the team and choose the appropriate level of critical stress intervention.  The continuum of interventions range from: one on one conversations with staff with informal referrals to the Employee Assistance Program, to group educational interventions (Demobilizations), to actual group Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD).

Establish Post Trauma Debriefing Protocol

Even though Medical Healers are trained to manage the trauma of others, some traumas are so sudden, unexpected, and tragic that the Healer’s Coping Skills become overwhelmed.  Consequently, the Healers have post trauma stress: natural reactions to abnormal events.  These reactions do not make Healers less competent, but only more human.

 As human beings, we either talk out our experiences, or, we act them out.  Therefore, the goal of a debriefing following trauma exposure is to allow healers a safe place to talk about their experience.  The goal of talking allows healers to begin to meaningfully process and de-power the powerful images, pictures, sounds, smells, and experience of the trauma.  If post trauma debriefing is not done, then it is likely that trauma’s powerful, accumulated, unprocessed sensory experiences, now burned into memory, will have major negative impacts on work performance and family relationships.  These unprocessed accumulated experiences will also cost Healers their personal mission, vision, and sense of calling.

Once the services of a local, certified debriefing team has been identified, the following protocol (CISM by Johnson) structures a safe place for honest interaction, support, and processing:

  • Critical Incident Stress Debriefings are not critiques.  No one will be evaluated or work performance judged from views expressed in this debriefing.  NO notes or attendance can be taken. 
  • Confidentiality is assured in that whatever is expressed in the meeting stays at the meeting and can not be used against anyone.  (Many states now have laws regarding the confidentiality of critical stress debriefing).
  • Only those directly involved will be permitted in the meeting.  ABSOLUTELY NO second or third parties or media can have access to the meeting place.
  • The meeting place needs to be removed from public access or viewing and closed off for confidentiality.
  • There is NO employee rank, hierarchy, or legal representation in the room.  
  • No one is required to speak except to identify your name and your role in the trauma experience.  
  • The attendees are to speak only from their own individual reactions, not from another peer’s experience.
  • All employees directly involved in the critical incident are strongly encouraged to attend.  Although some may not need to process the trauma exposure, those who do may need the assistance from all peers in order to process the events.

The Employer needs to advertise the Post Trauma Protocol and the existence of both the Peer Support Team and an informed Employee Assistance Program.  With the EAP, Peer Support Team, and protocol in place, The Healthcare/First Responder Employer can send a clear message: “We acknowledge that the job is tough and sometimes overwhelming.  We care about your personal welfare and want you to be healthy in doing your job.  We have established ways to help you in critical times through Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, Peer Support Team, and an informed, full time Employee Assistance Program.  We encourage all employees to use these ways to stay healthy.” 


Healing The Trauma of Penn State, Part II

By Ronald H Wean, M.Div, M.Ed, LPCC, CEAP, SAP

The first blog, “Trauma at Penn State,” described how the Penn State Family has reacted to the assault and betrayal of children.  This mistreatment of children has become The Penn State Story.  No longer does The Family have control of its own story because it is daily re-written by the media with each new revelation. As a result of this loss of control, three groups have emerged to gain a feeling of control.  Those 3 groups are: The Fighters, The Flyers, and the Freezers.


As stated previously, the post trauma reactions of these 3 groups will not heal the trauma, but make it worse and permanent.  To feel control in trauma’s aftermath, the groups will react by shooting the wounded, creating more distance, or by parking their hearts and minds at the gate to do whatever the Fighters want.   These post trauma reactions will produce a community of the cranky, the controlling, and the numb.  Therefore, without a plan of healing, the negative impact on this university will be both generational and devastating.


The Trauma at Penn State will never be removed, but it can be transformed.  Instead of a place of deadly threat, dark secret, and silent betrayal, The Penn State Story can become a story of healing, recovery, and resiliency.  Through implementing a plan of healing, Penn State can begin to self define and become a place of healing, “a city on a hill,” and a trauma transforming story that will bless all traumatized people.


The Healing Plan will involve Three Priorities: Transparency, Campus Safety, and Education.  The priorities of Transparency and Campus Safety provide the platform for Education.   The goals of Education are: Recognition, Recovery, and Resiliency.


PRIORITY #1:  TRANSPARENCY:  Through Information, Access, and Involvement.


The leadership needs to structure Transparency to give The Family continuous, accurate information, access to decision makers, and involvement at all levels of decision making.  The current story is that Penn State is a place of dark secrets, silence, and back room betrayal.  Therefore, accurate and continuous information needs to be disseminated to all members of The Family.  If there is no structured transparency, the community will be repeatedly traumatized by “Media Surprise” consisting of more “shocking discoveries” and new “graphic revelations.”  The media will feast on The Penn State “Rumor de Jour” at the expense of all. 


The leadership also needs to be accessible to The Family.  Therefore, not only phone numbers, addresses, and electronic presence are required, but physical, face to face community meetings need to be structured so that The Family knows that leadership is out of the shadows, into the light, and, listening.


The leadership needs to lead through empowerment.  Empower the people to think logically, creatively, and empathetically by personal example.  Personally invite  The Family to “Pull Together –  Because everyone’s voice matters and everyone’s help is needed.”  Solicit student, alumnae, faculty, and employee input and involvement.  Empower The Family with accurate information, dialog, voice and vote at all levels of decision making.  The message needs to be clear at all levels, “Here We Are and We’re Not Going Back!”


Priority #2:  SAFETY:  Establish Safety for Children on Campus.


The safety of children was sacrificed for “winning.”  Therefore, policies regarding sexual assault, harassment, bullying and violence need to be publicized and procedures implemented with well trained staff.  Every Penn State student needs to receive yearly preventive education, including the traumatizing effects of assault, harassment, bullying and violence, and what to do and where to go for help.  The message at Penn State needs to be clear: “At Penn State, you get help and protection.  You are not alone!” 


With a sizable population of students entering universities already traumatized by assault, harassment, bullying and violence, Penn State needs to establish a counseling center involving all disciplines dedicated to healing childhood trauma.  In addition to a Trauma Healing Counseling Center, Penn State needs to establish a Trauma Chair with a curricula focused on trauma assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.  Trauma Scholarships and Fellowships need to be established.  The message, again, is clear: “Here is a place that is serious about the health and welfare of the traumatized.”


PRIORITY #3:  EDUCATION:  Through Debriefing and Processing, Integrating and Transforming.


Each new revelation will trigger more post trauma reactions in The Family. Rather than reinforce the post trauma reactions of Fight, Flight, or Freeze, why not de-power the trauma through a group process called “Debriefings?”  In debriefings, trained debriefers lead discussions designed to assist in processing the trauma experience.  Through trauma education and a safe forum, people become empowered to call things what they are even when its difficult to speak.


In processing, people become empowered to speak honestly about their own trauma experience, how they were impacted, and what they felt in the presence of those who shared the same experience.  The power of the group process is that people get relief through knowing that they are not alone, and, they are not bad, weak, stupid, or crazy because of the way they feel.  This realization is the evidence of Trauma Recognition.


Group process also helps people to integrate the learning they have received from the experience of the trauma.  Whatever the trauma, if it is survived and people are open, self learning will happen. The trauma will become a life long teacher of identity, strength, and hope.  This self knowledge, learning, and wisdom can be shared with others who are also traumatized.  The openness to the receiving and the giving to others of this personal learning is evidence of Trauma Recovery.


Group process not only helps people integrate the trauma experience, but also in its transformation into a blessing for others.  The whole trauma experience can be seen within the larger context of a journey, a spiritual journey where people, working together, are transformed from being mere trauma survivors to becoming trauma thrivers.  This spiritual journey has the power to give strength and hope to others who are caught in post trauma reactions.  And so, trauma has been transformed into blessings for others, a light in dark places, a healing for the wounded.  To offer oneself as a resource of hope to others is the evidence of Trauma Resiliency.


These trauma journeys of transformation will be the key to Penn State’s continuing existence and whether or not the Penn State Story is transformed into The Story of “the city on a hill.”





Trauma At Penn State

Trauma At Penn State.

The sexual assaults on children at Penn State have traumatized the Penn State Family.  Children have been wounded.  The Community has been wounded. The Penn State Story has been stolen, replaced by a story of dark secrets and the loss of conscience.

Will anyone heal from this trauma?  Will the community even survive, or will this be The Penn State Story for generations?

In order for healing to take place, there needs to be a plan of healing.  This community needs to move from just surviving from the trauma, to transforming it so that The Story is not a story of Trauma, but  The Penn State Family’s Story of Recovery.

This article is the first in a series of Recovery at Penn State.

Ronald H. Wean, M.Div, M.Ed, LPCC, CEAP, SAP

Trauma Healing in Churches

The Penn State Family has been traumatized, blindsided by the revelations that children were not safe.  The Family is reeling in accusation, powerlessness, and the loss of control of the Penn State Story.

How can we ignore the pain filled faces and anguished voices without responding with empathy to this community blindsided by administrative betrayal?  How can we not pray for the parade of assault survivors to get a healing they need and deserve?  But we are left wondering, will The Penn State Family heal?

Without knowledge or consent, the personal stories of those assaulted were ripped and shredded by administrative delusion.  The decision makers asked, “Who will notice that we replaced youth safety for winning?”  But has that callousness also replaced The Penn State Story of knowledge, wisdom, and light?  Is not The Story now a story of deadly threat, dark secrets, and cowardly silence?  

 How could this…

View original post 871 more words

Trauma at Penn State

The Penn State Family has been traumatized, blindsided by the revelations that children were not safe.  The Family is reeling in accusation, powerlessness, and the loss of control of the Penn State Story.

How can we ignore the pain filled faces and anguished voices without responding with empathy to this community blindsided by administrative betrayal?  How can we not pray for the parade of assault survivors to get a healing they need and deserve?  But we are left wondering, will The Penn State Family heal?

Without knowledge or consent, the personal stories of those assaulted were ripped and shredded by administrative delusion.  The decision makers asked, “Who will notice that we replaced youth safety for winning?”  But has that callousness also replaced The Penn State Story of knowledge, wisdom, and light?  Is not The Story now a story of deadly threat, dark secrets, and cowardly silence?  

 How could this have happened without even a whimper of conscience?  In losing safety, has not The Family also lost its own story and identity to public opinion?  Will The Family arise and find themselves?  Where is the healing plan to debrief, process, and transform this trauma into a story of redemption?  If no trauma healing plan is in place, will Penn State ever again self define, or, will it forever be defined by this trauma?  Will burying and forgetting work? 

Three camps seem to be emerging in the post trauma community.  Each group corresponds to one of the three post trauma survival reactions.  Those three survival reactions: Fight, Flight, or Freeze, are attempts to regain a sense of control in the loss of control experienced in trauma.  When a whole community is traumatized, the following post trauma groups arise:


The Fighters react to the loss of control by seizing it, any way they can.  It’s a drowning person grabbing the life guard by the throat, killing both.  This group becomes very busy “taking charge” in order to “save the institution” by labeling all perceived opposition to their complete control as being “anti Penn State.”  Rather than a focus of actually healing the community’s trauma, their goal is to bury it, fast and furiously.  Their rallying cry is, “A true Penn Stater will just move on!”  But how a traumatized community moves on without healing is by shooting the wounded, traumatizing the community even more.  However, “If I don’t feel anxious anymore (because I’m in charge and feel in control because all opposition has been silenced/removed), then the community must be healed.  So why even talk about this?  Why bring up the past?  The news people are just out to get us!  That’s why they keep running the stories.”


These folks attempt to get back a sense of control by fleeing “the scene of the crime,” physically and/or emotionally.  They may transfer schools.  They may continue to go to school, but not participate in the community’s life.  They may cease contributing, give up their season tickets, or passively lose connection to The Family, and just, “get busy with other things.”  And if they do participate, it is only for that one event and nothing more.  Their distancing will eventually lead to disconnection from community.  However, “If I don’t feel anxious anymore (because I distanced myself from any reminders of the community’s trauma), then the community must be healed and getting along without me.  So why should I even talk about this?  Why bring up the past?  Why can’t the news people just leave us alone?”


The Freezers attempt to gain control by surrendering their will to whatever the Fighter Camp wants.  After all, the Fighters are in charge and want to “save the institution!” and “Just move on!”  And so, The Freezers conclude, “the Fighters know what they are doing, and will prevent us from experiencing the loss of control ever again!”

The Freezers are now so fearful of the loss of control, they park their brains and hearts at the door, duck meaningful conversation, stifle any questions they might have, and react with silence when opinion is required.  In their survival surrender posture, they await their marching orders, giving the Fighters free reign to autocratic rule through centralizing power by top down unilateral decision making.  In playing possum instead of self defining, this silent majority continues to march off the cliff of community vitality. Without the Freezers, the Fighters have no one to carry out their agendas, because there is simply no one else left with any investment.  But the Freezers know, “if we open our mouths … rock the boat … speak our minds in opposition, then we might face the terror of losing control, again.”  They then conclude, “As long as I do exactly what I am told, I won’t feel anxious and the community will be fine.  But those new people just keep asking questions and making our leaders mad.  Can’t everyone just get along?” 

Without a structured healing plan to debrief, process, and integrate the trauma experience, The Three Camps will define The Family.  And without healing, what will The Family become?  How could it not become the Community of the Cranky, the Controlling, and the Numb? Without facing the trauma and healing, the negative impact will be generational and devastating.  

 Trauma.  Either organizations are busy burying it, or, are busy healing it.

However, a trauma healing plan will not take away the trauma, but transform it.  A traumatized community can become a place whose trauma is turned into a source of wisdom, strength, and hope.  The good news is that through trauma healing, The Penn State Family can become “a city on a hill,” a light for trauma transformation and recovery.  Through trauma healing, it could be known as a place that defines itself, rather than a placed defined by its unhealed post trauma reaction.  And more importantly, it could also be known as the community that took responsibility and the time and energy to become a healing place safe for students.  

A potential plan of healing will be outlined in the next blog. 

Ronald H Wean, M.Div., M.Ed., LPCC, CEAP, SAP