200 – Trauma Healing Institute

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For episode 200, Dave Stachowiak and Dr. Sandie Morgan interview Dr. Harriet Hill. Harriet is the program director for the Trauma Healing Institute at American Bible Society and is one of the authors of Healing the Wounds of Trauma.  Together they discuss the globally accessible materials and training from the Trauma Healing Institute that gives professionals, church leaders, and ordinary people the skills to help others heal from trauma.

Key Points

  • Trauma isolates people from self, others, and God.
  • There are three main ways people respond to trauma: they relive the experience, they avoid anything that would remind them of the experience, or they’re on alert all the time.
  • Three questions recommended asking people affected by trauma are: What happened? How did you feel? What was the hardest part for you? 
  • Healing the Wounds of Trauma is focused on the individual person and their expression of their pain, not on the person who is trying to help them.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. This is episode number 200, Trauma Healing Institute.  

Production Credits [00:00:08] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.  

Dave [00:00:28] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.  

Sandie [00:00:33] And my name is Sandie Morgan.  

Dave [00:00:35] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be voice, and make difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, two hundred episodes in!  

Sandie [00:00:46] can’t believe it.  

Dave [00:00:47] Ya, know it’s amazing.  

Sandie [00:00:48] It was your idea!  

Dave [00:00:51] It was initially my idea, but you very quickly jumped on and were the catalyst for getting this message out.  

Sandie [00:00:57] Dave, your kind of overstating what a good person I am because I did not quickly jump on. I was not a believer at the beginning. You were the persistent professional and you’re the reason we’re on episode number 200. So, I just want to publicly say thank you.  

Dave [00:01:14] Well, you’re welcome. only remember having conversation with you and you’re like ok let’s do it. So anyway, the important part is that we’re here at episode 200, and we’re not stopping for moment, we’ve got so much more to do. And today we have another guest with us, right?  

Sandie [00:01:30] Yes, we do.  

Dave [00:01:31] I’m glad to welcome to the show today Dr. Harriet Hill. She is the program director for the Trauma Healing Institute at American Bible Society. She has been involved in trauma healing since 2001 and is one of the authors of Healing the Wounds of Trauma. Harriet received her Ph.D. from Fuller School of Intercultural Studies in 2003 in the area of communication of scripture. Dr. Hill, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.  

Sandie [00:01:58] Hi, Harriet.  

Harriet [00:01:58] Thank you, I’m happy to be with you.  

Sandie [00:02:01] I remember when we first met and there was such a sense of oh this makes everything so much more clear for me. I’ve been working with faithbased volunteers for a very long time and one of our biggest challenges has been how to integrate trauma-informed principles in the service provided by our largely faithbased army of volunteers. And when I discovered the Trauma Healing Institute, I felt like I had discovered a gold mine. I wanted everybody to know about it. We partnered with the Trauma Healing Institute in Argentina and we have promoted the materials, you’ve been guests at Ensure Justice in the past. So, I thought our listeners need to understand how we can do a better job equipping our volunteers in our churches particularly. So welcome to the show.  

Harriet [00:03:02] Thanks, glad to be with you.  

Sandie [00:03:04] Let’s start with, what is the Trauma Healing Institute?  

Harriet [00:03:07] O, the Trauma Healing Institute is sort of a nexus of people, organizations, churches that are interested in working in this faith-based trauma healing. And so, there is a set of materials that we use that is ever-evolving, and improving, and expanding in different languages and different versions of this material. But it is an institute that supplies the materials and training to help ordinary people but also counselors or mental health professionals. But especially looking at ordinary people, giving them skills to be able to help one another in healing from trauma and loss.  

Sandie [00:03:57] And I have to tell you, my first response when I held, I think it was Healing the Wounds of Trauma in my hand and it was just so simple and accessible. The next thing I did is I took it to someone who is a clinical psych professional and said, “So look at this and tell me what you think.” And I watched her eyebrows kind of go up because she had the same response, “it’s really simple.” And then she came back and she said, “Where did you get this? Its so evidence-based.” And so, then I knew I had discovered gold.  

Harriet [00:04:38] Yeah that’s so encouraging and yeah, I think we were inspired to write this beyond our own intelligence or education. We had mental health professionals involved in writing it both Africans and we composed it in Africa. So, we had church leaders we had mental health professionals who were Africans and also some American mental health professionals. And then now in the Trauma Healing Institute, we have the Trauma Healing Advisory Council, which was formed in 2011, made up of mental health professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists. And so, we would pass everything by them to make sure it is you know sound psychologically and biblically. So, I’m encouraged to hear your story that your random check with a friend of yours who is a psychologist she found it helpful.  

Sandie [00:05:31] And want to emphasize that because want our podcast community to realize just how accessible this is. And it’s also accessible in multiple languages. What languages is it available in?  

Harriet [00:05:46] Oh the list is long; the list is quite long. I mean there are some that are still underway. There’s always a huge number of them that are being translated but Spanish, French, English, a variety of Swahili: from East Africa, House, Thai, Chinese in Sri Lanka Tamil and single. I’m just sort of floating around the world. The Portuguese are not out yet, it is underway. Danish, German, do you have enough now?  

Sandie [00:06:18] Yeah, I think our listeners understand how globally accessible this is. A lot of times I offer resources on this podcast and then people are disappointed to find out it’s only available in English and maybe Spanish. But in this instance, it is really available in a lot of languages. And I attribute that to the fact that you are part of A.B.S. right?  

Harriet [00:06:46] Yes.  

Sandie [00:06:46] The American Bible Society, which offers Bibles in like over 100 languages.  

Harriet [00:06:53] Actually, all of the authors were members of S.I.L. and when this was developed. And so, we cut our teeth on Bible translation and literacy and working with very rural communities in training in various ways and so in the process of doing that you gain some skills in seeing things simply.  

Sandie [00:07:18] Wow.  

Harriet [00:07:19] And so we intentionally try, I mean there are books and it’s very appropriate to have sophisticated literature and academic material that’s also very helpful. But the express purpose of this, Sandie, is like what you’re saying. We had rural pastures living in war zone saying, “What do we do? We don’t know what to do.” And so those have always kind of been what we have in mind as the audience is rural pastors in Africa who have been overwhelmed by the effects of war. And interestingly if you can say it simply, it also works in Chicago, and in New York, and in Philly.  

Sandie [00:08:02] And right here in Orange County. That’s right.  

Harriet [00:08:06] In Orange County ya! Because a lot of it is participatory, and so a lot of it is a discussion of people you know discussion questions and then some of the material to add if they haven’t come upon it in the course of their own discussions of what they already bring to the topic. But so, the discussions can vary depending on who you’re using it with. But the main principle simply stated from mental health and Bible are invaluable and universal reality.  

Sandie [00:08:39] The first piece that I had was a little booklet and then I began to understand that there is an entire support structure for this. So, can you kind of outline what that program architecture looks like? 

Harriet [00:08:55] Yeah, we tried to keep it simple at all times. Although of course, you know, you can add a lot of bells and whistles to things and before you know it, it’s time to clean the closet again. So, there’s the main book, and then there is a training program that goes with it. So, we train people, church leaders, church members, others in how to really lead a small group through these materials so that they can heal from trauma. And the training process is we train them for usually four or five days, sometimes three or four people who are too busy but it’s better four days or five days. We ask them to go out and use what they’ve learned in leading two small groups through the materials or the basic parts of the material. And then we have a second training of three to five days to talk it up. And we found over the years that it was really necessary we started with just the initial training and people did not feel confident. When they went out and used it, then they said, ” oh now I have some other questions.” And so that’s how the training model has developed from grassroots. It seems to be very good and then there’s a certification process so that we can say if we certify someone as a facilitator that we think they are going to do a good job and we will stand behind their work.  

Sandie [00:10:18] Okay.  

Harriet [00:10:19] So there’s that. And then it’s developed too, Sandie, for children. There’s children’s curriculum that started in 2005 for children to 13. That has been absolutely incredible to work with children who have been traumatized and see them respond and heal. It’s amazing when you think of all these traumatized children in the world and it’s heartbreaking and also very sobering to think of the numbers of children, sometimes whole countries of children, who have experienced trauma and war or other kinds of trauma.  

Sandie [00:10:57] What love about the children’s version is that it’s kind of in graphic novel style and so it’s not lot of words on the page and you have an opportunity to sit with child and see their response and let them be part of that story.  

Harriet [00:11:17] Yeah, the kids is the story of two children, and we changed the stories according to the context. So, in Africa, it’s children who flee their village from war. But it’s a typical experience of children that the kids can identify with. And then there is a Bible story and its Genesis, you know the creation story, but then a lot of the story of Joseph because of the young person who went through a lot of trauma. And it’s amazing with children you know they can lament. They bring their pain to the cross of Christ; they tell God if it’s not fair. And we have seen such incredible transformation in the lives of these kids. It’s amazing. And then now there’s also a teen curriculum, that’s another big population that is experiencing trauma. The gangs in El Salvador, the generation in Rwanda for example who grew up during the genocide or around the time of the genocide who are now teenagers. But just teens in the city, teens everywhere. Then there’s a whole other angle of trauma healing materials that have developed to help people who are primarily oral communicators. So, both the mouth to ear storytelling lies and working through the trauma through a series of modern stories and Bible stories and you know various exercises that we do together activities. And then, Sandie, we had people who you couldn’t reach, affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa. So, we made these into radio programs, but now there are radio programs in about 20 languages in Africa.  

Sandie [00:13:01] Really?  

Harriet [00:13:03] Yeah, half a program that takes somebody through the modern stories and a discussion of that story by a small group of people you know four people talk about it like you would in a healing group and in a life healing group. And then the Bible story and they discuss it and then a Bible verse puts a song using their musical style. So, these audio programs have been extremely popular extremely helpful.  

Sandie [00:13:30] We will reach out to you and get the links to that so that we can add those to the show notes here. Because we have friends who listen to this in Africa so I’m sure they’ll be excited about that. Let’s kind of back up and let’s define what is trauma?  

Harriet [00:13:49] Ok. Trauma is when you are overwhelmed, and you have no way to cope. And it actually makes a physiological change in your brain. Your brain goes offline and  your brain stem takes over the fight, flight, freeze reactions and so it really is a physiological change in your mind that happens when you are faced with death, or near death, or sexual assault where you feel you have no options, there’s no way, you’re overwhelmed. And so, these parts of your experience are not recorded in your memory. Like when your brain is functioning normally and they’re fragments and they pop into your awareness uninvited at odd moments you have flashbacks, you have reliving, you have nightmares. You begin to act in ways that you don’t recognize as yourself. You know it really has an effect on your behavior, on your relationship to yourself, like you don’t know who you are anymore. Your relationship with God, like where was he when this was happening. I prayed, why did He allow this to happen. What good is it, where was God? And also, your relationships with other people because the pain is so deep and has so many effects on your behavior that it’s hard to relate to others. Like if you have a sore, that’s all you can feel and think about. And so, you’re consumed with this pain inside.  

Sandie [00:15:30] Well when I was looking over the Website recently, one sentence stuck out to me. I’ve been doing this work for a couple of decades and I’ve seen this over and over. It says, “trauma isolates people from self, others, and God.” And that sense of being trapped. And I’ve always known that walking up to somebody and patting them on the back and saying, “Oh I’m so sorry for you. And I believe things are better now because you’re out of that,” doesn’t help us recognize the reality of what we can’t see from the outside of what’s happened in their brain. So how does the approach of the Trauma Healing Institute, The Healing the Wounds of Trauma help someone overcome that over-simplistic “I’m here for you. You should be better because I’m with you.”  

Harriet [00:16:29] Yeah. One is just to appreciate the fact that trauma does affect people and it’s not a moral issue, it’s not a spiritual lack of faith. It is a very normal response to a very abnormal experience. And so, helping people tell their story, helping them feel safe enough to tell you how they’re feeling, what happened. We boiled it down to three very simple questions that we recommend. I mean counselors have books full of questions that make it easy to teach as just helping somebody with these questions. What happened? How did you feel? And what was the hardest part for you? And learning to listen and not to preach. Learning to let them express. And often people I’ve been with people who went through life-threatening horrible things. I remember one woman and man from Sierra Leone they were nearly executed during their war there and they managed to escape. They had not told anyone. And this was like seven or eight years later. There was never a time when they could talk about it because people thought they were strong, they survived, after all, they should be thankful that they are alive, but that pain still that trauma was still trapped inside their bodies. So, giving people a listening ear, listening feels like love.  

Sandie [00:17:53] OK got to ask you question because you just said the pain is trapped inside their body. And thought it was in their minds.  

Harriet [00:18:02] In every part of you. I mean we divide us into different parts, but we know even from western medicine, all of these parts affect one another. So, it is in your body and yeah there is a way that trauma is trapped in your body as well as in your mind. It’s in you, you need to let it out with words with actions. We tried to make it as full body participation as possible because I think that really helps a lot to not just talk with your mouth but to draw, to act, to do these things that will get it out.   

Sandie [00:18:42] One of my pet peeves has been responses that come in and give you a solution that is based on I’m going to tell you what to say, and think, and do. And then when it doesn’t produce results, to blame the victim for not following your guidelines. Or in another scenario, “Well we prayed for you and then you didn’t follow through.” So, I think one of the things that I particularly love about Healing the Wounds of Trauma is it’s so focused on the person and their expression of their pain, not on the person who is trying to help them.  

Harriet [00:19:29] Yeah, I mean this is what we do in our training, Sandra, and through the materials is trying to help people know how to help, how to be helpful. Because sometimes we say things or do things intending to help thinking we’re helping, but I’ve had pastors in Goma. I remember in the Democratic Republic of Congo saying after we went through the course that they experienced the healing of their own trauma and then they said, “we’ve been telling our people all the wrong things. Now we know how to help them heal.” Because if you do the kinds of things you were just saying that person feels not only the pain of their experience and the shame of their experience, but also now the added pain of they’re not OK, they’re not acceptable. So, it actually can have quite a negative effect, and that’s not what anybody wants really.  

Sandie [00:20:29] No. So, tell me how do I, if I’m a first timer and you’re coaching me on how to begin to work with someone. What are like three things you would try to teach me that first day?  

Harriet [00:20:45] I would try to teach you some of the effects of trauma, so you get your mind around a bit about how trauma affects people. And there are three main ways people respond: they relive the experience, they avoid anything that would remind them of the experience, and they’re on alert all the time. A really simple way of saying it, but those are three very common responses to trauma. When we talk about trauma, we found it helpful, many languages don’t have this word or if they have it, it’s a transliteration from English. They don’t really know what it is exactly, or they think of physical trauma, so we compare a physical wound with a heart wound and see that both of them are painful, both of them need treatment, both of them need careful treatment. You can’t ignore either of them without some grave consequences. I would do that with you. I would then take you to understand the grieving process and there are many ways people talk about this and in our trauma healing, we found we needed to have something that was teachable and that the pastors could teach to their people in villages and in towns and cities. So, we talk about it as a journey that goes through three villages. One is the village of anger and denial, and we talk about that. And then the village of no hope and talk about that. And then the village of a new beginning. And as I would be talking with you about those things, I would also want to work with the data of your own experience in your life because everybody has some pain whether it’s full-blown trauma or massive trauma. But everybody has something where they have been hurt where they have felt pain. So, I would want to make it that we think about your own experience as well as we talk about these things. Because I think that puts you in a different posture than if you go to help someone who has trauma and you say, “oh they have trauma, I am a healer come to help them”. But if you realize we’re all suffering to one degree or another, some more than others, some more at one time in your life that you don’t know what’s around the corner then we’re on a level playing field. And your role would be more, at most a midwife of helping somebody you know get their pain out. So, we would do those two things. And then I think, the third thing if I could only do three is we would work on lament because there is so much teaching in the Bible, in the church, and in the culture and cultures around the world that we need to be strong we shouldn’t cry we shouldn’t bellyache we shouldn’t complain, we should always be happy-clappy. And it’s in the churches, in society but especially in the church, it has the religious. You know we have a lot of verses we used to do that, and it is absolutely not helpful for someone who is going through a painful time. And what the church sometimes doesn’t recognize adequately is there are more lament psalms than there are praise psalms.  

Sandie [00:24:11] That’s really good to know.  

Harriet [00:24:14] Yeah, the rich tradition in the Bible. I mean in the book of Lamentations is a complete five chapters are a lament. There are laments all the way through, even Jesus on the cross, ” My God my God why have you abandoned me? Why have you forsaken me?”  

Sandie [00:24:28] Well just a few comments back, you were talking about trauma you talked about grieving. And I’m in the West, we’re not very good at grieving. We don’t even call funerals “funerals” anymore we call them celebrations. And I think this call back to lament and to allowing someone to grieve something that they’ve lost is a powerful gift to the person that you’re within the process.  

Harriet [00:25:05] Yes, the grieving is huge. Whenever you have trauma you have a loss of something. Loss of maybe your virginity, if it was a sexual assault. Maybe the loss of home, loss of country, loss of life, loss of limbs, loss of innocence. So, we have to grieve these losses. It’s normal for the wound to heal, we have to grieve them. We have to feel the pain of our loss and not try to avoid it or pretend that it’s not there. So, we do all this with kids. One of the things we do is we call it bottles under water and talk about trying to hold our pain down by trying to hold like where we are in the world there are water bottles now and lots of them, so we get a basin of water and try to have the participants or one participant or the kids hold those under water or hold lots of them under water. And we talk about what happens when we try to hold our pain inside, and it takes so much energy and focus and, in the end, you know these bottles pop out of the water before long. And this is my prayer for the church, Sandra, is that the church would be a place where we can heal from pain. You know the pain of life the pain that we encounter in life and we would embrace our vulnerability, our weakness, our pain and know how to help ourselves and help one another by listening, by allowing this, by helping people heal.  

Sandie [00:26:37] It sounds like these are everyday skills that we all need when we live in a community in order to give space and presence to other people. Will you tell us how to connect with you with the Trauma Healing Institute? Where should we go? What should we do?  

Harriet [00:26:56] There is a Website called traumahealinginstitute.org where you can go and find out some things and then there’s an email address which is on the site as well, TraumaHealing@AmericanBible.org. And those are two ways to connect and then hopefully our systems will all be working lovely and you’ll get a response in a timely way. But yes, if you are in another country the Bible Society’s in about 50 countries are now doing trauma healing programs so they would know about the resources. And you know, we tried to create a community of practice in the various places. So, people who are involved in this are meeting together, sharing ideas, prayer. It’s at the Website or with the Bible Society and then there are other partner organizations SIL, SIM, World Renew, Pioneer Bible Translators, African Leadership, and others who are also involved in this.  

Sandie [00:27:59] So my recommendation to those of you listening, especially if you work with lot of volunteers that don’t have the professional background but you want and they want very much to be involved in serving survivors of human trafficking and/or other trauma. recommend that you go online, you find out when they’re going to do training. And what have to tell you is that their training are very focused on delivering their materials for you in way you can do that. And even when they’ve had training conferences where I’d really like to do that, then find out can sign on online to do this. They just are gifted at making things accessible and for that, Harriet, just want to say am so grateful for that and grateful for the scope and globally where you are in so many different countries and this is valuable resource that we can use to equip volunteers.  

Harriet [00:29:09] Thank you, Sandra.  

Sandie [00:29:10] So, our show is just winding up and I want to remind you it may be summer but nobody’s taking a vacation. Please go online and listen to a few of the podcasts you’ve missed and look at our Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate. We added a fifth course, so now we have a labor trafficking course that is absolutely stellar. You know our assistant director and former B.J.A labor trafficking fellow wrote the course and you are going to be really encouraged if you are able to take that course. So, join us again in a couple of weeks.  

Dave [00:29:55] Thank you, Sandy, and thank you so much, Harriet. And we’re inviting you to take the first step on both those areas we’re going to have all of the links mentioned by Harriet on the show notes. You can find those at endinghumantrafficking.org and also find information there on the Human Trafficking Certificate program that Sandie mentioned just a moment ago. In addition, if you haven’t already, you’re going to want to hop on that site because you can download for free a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. We’ll walk you through the five critical things that Sandie has identified that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access right now just by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org, all of those resources will be right there. And Sandie, I’ll see you back in two weeks.  

Sandie [00:30:46] Thanks, Dave.  

Dave [00:30:47] Thanks, everybody.  

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