The Trauma Recovery Program

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By Rev. Kenneth W. Schmidt, MA, LPC, NCC

Trauma is an event or series of events combined with an individual’s vulnerability that creates an obstacle in normal human development. Trauma can be either abuse or neglect, and it affects the way we think, feel, and behave. Trauma which occurs during childhood has common outcomes regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic status.

The Trauma Recovery Program was created as an outreach ministry of the Diocese of Kalamazoo in response to the child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.  It welcomes all Catholic adult survivors of childhood trauma regardless of who was responsible. The Program has run continuously since 2002 (4 groups per year) and over 400 people have completed the Program. The Program is a ministry with no cost to the participants; all expenses for the facilitators and materials are paid by the diocese.

The Program has ten sessions which are each 2 ½ hours long, facilitated by two mental health professionals and a member of the clergy. Our materials are based on the research and published work of Colin Ross, M.D., found in his seminal work The Trauma Model. Some sessions help the survivors understand themselves – why they think, feel, and act the way they do. Other sessions teach the participants new skills which they didn’t learn or learn well because they were traumatized. As a result, with practice they can make significant changes in their daily living, and enjoy healthier and more satisfying lives.

Each session includes prayer at the beginning and the end, instructional content (to understand the impact of trauma, and to learn new skills for recovery), and time for processing the “homework” exercises completed by the participants during the previous week.  Each group consists of up to ten women and men, who are interviewed individually before and after the ten sessions. They assess whether the person is ready and able to engage in a group; after the Program’s conclusion, the second interview also discusses what are the next steps for the participant’s healing process. There is also a research component to the Program and each participant is free to take the pre- and post-inventories. (The research has demonstrated a significant improvement in survivors immediately, which has maintained after one year and two years.)

The Program has a manual, which consists of teaching content, and homework exercises for the participants to apply the material to their own lives. An extended version contains all the administrative materials needed to conduct a Program, including teaching outlines, agendas and templates for documents needed to conduct psychoeducational groups. The Program is flexible in its implementation

The co-founders were asked to instruct other mental health professionals and spiritual caregivers (clergy, religious, spiritual directors, pastoral caregivers) who were working with childhood trauma survivors, and in the next decade they taught in dioceses and organizations across the United States, some of which now conduct their own Trauma Recovery Programs.  In 2010 we leapt onto the international stage – including Kenya and Rwanda; now the Trauma Recovery Program is a national Catholic program in Ireland. The Model has proven to function well across cultures.

Other organizations have learned the Model and apply it to special populations. They include

  • women leaving sex-trafficking;
  • inner city population;
  • unemployed women;
  • people on probation;
  • and jail inmates;
  • and women living in domestic shelters fleeing abusive spouses.

As we developed our training workshops were approved to offer continuing education hours for Counselors, Social Workers, & Psychologists. We also offer at-home study programs for counselors and social workers.

Full administrative manuals are available in four languages (English, French, Spanish), and a participant manual has been translated into Kinyarwanda). The co-founders recorded an instructional DVD called Healthy Living Skills for use with a lay audience when a licensed therapist is not available. Some programs play a portion of the DVD for the participants rather than teach themselves, and then lead a discussion afterwards to help people understand and apply what they heard.

Much of this work is now carried out by a non-profit we formed called Trauma Recovery Associates.  We have a modest website at www.TraumaRecoveryAssociates.com.  It’s legally incorporated and was approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt organization in 2013. TRA has conducted 160 workshops and presentations for more than 6500 people in 23 states and seven countries. The Treatment Manual is published by TRA and copyrighted; it is available to licensed mental health care professionals in print or as a CD, but is not available for the general public.

The development of TRA has been an exciting Spirit-led enterprise. But we have been more privileged in our work with trauma survivors who participate in the diocesan recovery program. We have been given the gift of their trust, and we watch with awe and gratitude as they move out of their lifelong pain and toward healing and wholeness.

Fr. Ken Schmidt is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Portage, Michigan. He has a doctorate in canon law, a master’s degree in counseling psychology, is a Licensed Professional Counselor (Michigan) and a National Certified Counselor. He is a co-founder of the Trauma Recovery Program in the Diocese of Kalamazoo and the non-profit Trauma Recovery Associates.  For more information about inviting TRA to your parish or diocese for a survivor retreat and/or training program, visit traumarecoveryassociates.com. Fr. Ken is also a guest contributor to The Healing Voices Magazine.

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