The Andrews University (AU) School of Social Work is developing a new International Center for Trauma Education and Care. Working in conjunction with several other departments on the AU campus, co-ordinators said that the center’s purpose is to provide education and tools to support healing from trauma in organizations, churches, and communities around the world.
“We are excited to expand our social work outreach to support long-term emotional healing and help restore people to God’s image,” said Curt VanderWaal, chair of the School of Social Work. “It’s clear that there is an immense need within the church for this type of ministry.”
Additionally, a more immediate interdisciplinary response team, the Post-Disaster Mental Health Team, has also been created. “Post-disaster” is defined as a time starting at least 72 hours after a disaster, when there is some stabilization, up to one year after the crisis event. This team will provide emotional support by trained individuals, psychoeducation on trauma, and connections to further local resources.
Trauma is at epidemic levels in many parts of society and the world, coordinators said. Although many think of trauma only in the context of war and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it can also be experienced through natural disasters, accidents, illness, divorce, forced immigration, and violence of all kinds.
Experts explain that when an individual endures something that he or she perceives as physically or emotionally threatening, the person often experiences overwhelming feelings of stress, fear, and vulnerability, which continue to plague them long after the end of the event. Previous or ongoing traumatizing circumstances can cripple individuals and even whole communities. Long-term effects of trauma can include mental and physical illnesses such as substance abuse, depression, strokes, and heart disease.
“The consequences of trauma are often devastating and long-lasting. Children are especially vulnerable to its life-altering effects, and interventions are needed to help begin the healing process,” said Ingrid Weiss Slikkers, director of the newly created center.
The new center’s primary goal is to help facilitate long-term healing from trauma. For the past few years, faculty, students, and alumni from the School of Social Work have been traveling both domestically and abroad to educate communities about trauma resiliency and restoration, coordinators reported. These groups have worked with local, state, and international educators, ministers, students, refugees, orphans, and children and adults of all ages. In addition to providing training in churches and schools in the United States, including in the Navajo Nation, faculty and students have made trauma education trips to Thailand, Puerto Rico, Ethiopia, and Cambodia.
“These trips have been life-changing for me,” said Katelyn Campbell, a Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Divinity (MDiv) student who recently returned from a trip to both Ethiopia and Cambodia. “People are so grateful to receive practical tools for emotional healing—you can see these amazing changes right in front of you!”
Alina Baltazar, director of the MSW program, adds, “I feel like God has been able to use us to help begin the emotional healing process for people who have been so traumatized by violence and disasters.”
With the formation of the center in August 2019, even more opportunities for education and healing are emerging, including partnerships with other departments on campus. Local schools and churches have made requests for training, and students are becoming involved in hands-on educational experiences by assisting in the planning and delivery of these training sessions.
“I've been amazed at how quickly people can use the trauma training tools to address profound issues,” said Jasmin Wilson, a recent graduate who has participated in several of the international trips.
In addition to facilitating trips in the next few years, and continued local endeavors, the center is working to develop trauma training certificates. These culturally sensitive, research-based, and spiritually informed workshops will allow participants to receive the training needed to offer trauma healing activities in their communities.
“We hope to begin offering workshops to church leaders or members who attend the [Adventist Church’s] General Conference session in Indianapolis [in 2020],” Slikkers said. “Having a GC Session so close allows us to reach out to church leaders from around the world.”
Other upcoming projects include the creation of a full range of training videos that can be streamed online for personal, congregational, or corporate development. Plans are also underway to conduct trauma-based research to better understand the needs of the church, co-ordinators said.