Future Directions for the Study and Application of Religion, Spirituality, and Trauma Research

By Walker, Donald F.; Aten, Jamie D. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Future Directions for the Study and Application of Religion, Spirituality, and Trauma Research


Walker, Donald F., Aten, Jamie D., Journal of Psychology and Theology


A year ago at the international meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, I (Walker) stood in a symposium being chaired by Aten and asked if the church was really ready to respond to issues of child abuse, domestic violence, and in supporting survivors of wars or disasters. A year later, not much has changed with respect to the current state of research, training, and practice in religion, spirituality, and trauma among Christian practitioners. However, seeing the work that has been done in this special issue gives us cause for hope. In concluding the special issue, we topically review the issues that were raised by authors throughout this volume, and present our reflections on the state of research and practice in each area, with some suggestions for future research, training, and practice. In doing so, we will discuss child abuse prevention and treatment, intimate partner violence, responding to survivors of natural disasters, and integrative approaches to trauma treatment.

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment

In presenting their call for more effective prevention and treatment of child abuse in the church, Vieth and his colleagues highlight several important issues for the Christian community to consider. First, Vieth provided a number of practical suggestions for preventing child abuse in churches and Christian organizations. We appreciate the thoughtfulness and practical nature of these policies, but question the degree to which they are currently being implemented in churches around the country. As practitioners who have treated courageous survivors of child abuse, we cannot emphasize enough the urgency with which we undertake the call to help churches prevent the abuse of children in their care. Collaboration with churches in implementing the protection policies that Vieth recommends is sorely needed. Along with that, as Vieth suggested in his article, training for clergy in responding to survivors of abuse is also needed. We are encouraged by Vieth's development of the When Faith Hurts Curriculum, and look forward to seeing its dissemination among clergy.

As psychotherapists, we also highlight the need for Christian counseling and psychotherapy training programs to comprehensively consider child abuse treatment in their training, both in the curriculum and in providing opportunities to receive clinical supervision of treatment with survivors. One of us (Walker) directs the Child Trauma Institute in the PsyD program at Regent University. The Child Trauma Institute (CTI) aims to become an exemplar for research, training, and practice in this area. Students in the PsyD program at Regent have an opportunity to take a course entitled the Psychology of Trauma and Crisis, during which they receive training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT; Cohen, Mannarino, & Deblinger, 2006) as well as Spiritually Oriented Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (SO-TF-CBT; Walker, Reese, Hughes, & Troskie, 2010). As part of the course, students are also taught to assess and comprehensively treat complex trauma among children and adults using evidence based, best practice assessment and treatment methods (e.g., Courtois & Ford, 2009). In addition to learning other treatments for adults, students are also taught Eliana Gil's play therapy methods for treating abuse (Gil, 2006). A primary emphasis in the course is on reading, then seeing therapeutic models of the various approaches, followed by opportunities for practice in the form of role-plays. Students participating in the Child Trauma Institute also have the chance to participate in clinical trials of SO-TF-CBT and, as a result, to receive clinical supervision of child abuse cases. To date, no research has been conducted on the comprehensiveness of training for child abuse and other forms of trauma among Christian counseling and psychology programs. However, we suspect that training may he lagging behind our secular counterparts in this area among most programs. …

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