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For many years I have shared both the pain and the joys of those who work with churches. Like many of you, I have asked many times whether there are better ways forward to thrive together and have missional impact on our world. And sustainable ways - it's not about trying harder - but doing different things in different ways. Interrupting and reflecting on practice. That is what I do as a pastoral supervisor/mentor. What I do as a church and non-profit consultant. And what I endeavour to do as a blogger and writer. I hope what is posted here is water, God willing, for those planted in churches that we may thrive together.

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Or you can contact me through my website:

Embracing Healing: Trauma-Informed Pastoral Care

Trauma is all around us. Whether through a natural disaster such as flood or bushfire, an unexpected death of close family, experiencing violence, or workplace trauma, the diagnoses of trauma is increasing, as the above graph indicates. This is a good thing, because Phoenix Australia states: "Many people that have PTSD don’t realise it, and only half of those affected will seek treatment."

Research suggests that for Australians, the most common traumatic events are:

  • experiencing an unexpected death of a close loved one

  • witnessing a person critically injured or killed, or finding a body

  • being in a life-threatening car accident (Phoenix Australia 2019).

Seeking treatment for trauma is vitally important because "Experience of trauma can contribute to the development of many different forms of mental illness such as depressive and anxiety disorders, alcohol and substance use disorders, and self-harm and suicide-related behaviours (Heim et al. 2010; Phoenix Australia 2019)."

In the ups and downs of John’s story, there has been one constant: the Church. It was his local Baptist church that hosted the funeral ser vice for John’s mum. John connected with the church’s Alpha program and got along well with his group leader. They started to regularly catch up and John soon began attending Sunday ser vices. It was this leader who first recognised the extent of John’s grief and put him in touch with a counsellor, and that same leader who encouraged him to see his GP when he was showing signs of depression. When John didn’t want to go by himself, the leader attended the appointment alongside him. It was a Christian ministr y that provided John with free financial counselling, and a friend from an Anglican church that offered John a room in her shared house when he could no longer afford to stay by himself. And it is members of his local church community who are praying daily for John during his time in rehab. They visit when the program allows and will be waiting to welcome him back when he is discharged.

In the above example, the role of professional support – from grief counselling through to drug and alcohol rehab – is crucial and should not be understated. (NAYBA, The Church & Mental Health in Australia, 2024)

However, what professionals cannot offer, and which powerfully complements their work, is a community of stable relationships that are consistent over time; people to walk alongside one another in the highs and the lows, who notice when things are not going well and can refer professionals in; a place to belong, where individuals are genuinely missed when they are not there.

We are called to embrace the complexities of trauma with empathy, understanding, an awareness of our limitations, and above all, love. Trauma-informed pastoral care explores the transformative power of compassionate presence in the face of adversity.

It's crucial to grasp the multifaceted nature of trauma. Trauma isn't confined to the realm of catastrophic events; it encompasses a spectrum of experiences, from childhood neglect to interpersonal violence, from systemic oppression to sudden loss. Trauma, in its myriad forms, leaves indelible marks on the psyche and soul, shaping perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors in profound ways.

At its core, pastoral care is about tending to the spiritual, emotional, and relational needs of individuals and communities. It's a ministry of presence, offering solace and support amidst life's trials and tribulations. In the context of trauma, pastoral care takes on added significance, serving as a beacon of hope in the midst of darkness, a source of comfort in times of distress.

Trauma-informed pastoral care is grounded in a set of guiding principles that inform both theory and practice. These principles, rooted in empathy and sensitivity, provide a framework for creating environments of safety, trust, and healing. Some keys are:

  1. Safety and Trust: Creating a safe and trusting environment is paramount in trauma-informed care. This involves cultivating spaces where individuals feel empowered to share their stories without fear of judgment or retraumatisation.

  2. Empowerment and Collaboration: Trauma survivors are the experts of their own experiences. Empowering them to make choices and collaborate in their healing journey honors their autonomy and dignity.

  3. Cultural Humility: Recognizing the impact of culture, ethnicity, and identity on trauma is essential. Cultural humility entails a willingness to listen, learn, and adapt one's approach to meet the unique needs of diverse individuals and communities.

  4. Resilience and Strengths-Based Approach: Resilience is not the absence of adversity but the ability to navigate through it with grace and fortitude. Avoiding dependency and overprotection, a strengths-based approach focuses on nurturing inherent strengths and resources, fostering a sense of agency and empowerment.

Trauma-informed pastoral care can be facilitated within various contexts:

  1. Individual Counseling: Engaging in empathic listening, validation, and psychoeducation can lay the foundation for healing and growth. Integrating spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, and scripture can provide additional avenues for connection and support.

  2. Group Support: Facilitating support groups or therapeutic workshops offers opportunities for mutual aid, validation, and solidarity. Creating safe spaces where individuals can share their stories, express emotions, and receive peer support fosters a sense of belonging and community.

  3. Crisis Intervention: Responding to crises with compassion and skill requires a delicate balance of empathy, boundaries, and resourcefulness. Providing immediate support, linking individuals to appropriate resources, and following up with ongoing care are essential components of effective crisis intervention.

  4. Community Engagement: Engaging with communities affected by trauma involves building partnerships, advocating for social justice, and promoting collective healing. Addressing systemic injustices, fostering resilience, and amplifying marginalized voices are integral aspects of community-based pastoral care.

While trauma-informed pastoral care offers profound opportunities for healing and transformation, it also presents challenges and complexities. Navigating boundaries, managing vicarious trauma, and addressing power differentials require ongoing reflection, education, and supervision. However, these challenges are also invitations for growth, resilience, and deeper connection with others.

Healing is not a destination but a journey—a pilgrimage of courage, compassion, and grace. May we walk alongside those experiencing trauma with humility and compassionate presence, offering solace and sanctuary to all who journey through the shadows into the light.


© 2024 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Rev Dr Ian Duncum is a trained and accredited (with John Mark Ministries) church consultant with over 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has also included denominational leadership in church health and development and church research in the tertiary education sector. An accredited minister with a track record of growing churches, Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and mentors/supervises pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted at

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this is so important!

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