Sue Taylor has been working in the counselling space since 1994, specialising in trauma recovery as an ACC Sensitive Claims Registered therapist and as a trainer with CPS training (now Child Matters). From 2005-2018 Sue worked in Cambodia (12 years) and in Kolkata, India (1 year) with survivors of serious human rights abuses such as human trafficking and sexual assault.
Since 2010 Sue has been involved in writing curriculums and delivering training in the field of Trauma Informed Care. She has provided training to staff working in non- government organisations in Cambodia, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, Afghanistan, Fiji and New Zealand, recently she delivered training to a group of Resource Carers from Oranga Tamariki.
Sue has been featured in the GC3 Daily Prayer Guide and is currently back in New Zealand where she attends Te Awamutu Bible Chapel.
Rongopai Editor Sophia Sinclair caught up with Sue to draw from her extensive experience in working with people impacted by trauma:
Since returning to New Zealand, what has day-to-day life as a trauma counsellor looked like for you?
Currently I am working two days a week with a crisis support organisation in Hamilton, providing counselling to survivors of sexual assault. I also work two days a week in private practice, meeting clients who have survived trauma or who have mental health conditions.
I also provide training workshops on “understanding the effects of trauma” to organisations, churches, and the Ministry of Social Development.
Let’s talk about the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, obviously this was a traumatic event for many people, what are some important things to know about collective trauma in relation to this event?
After the Christchurch Mosque Shootings there are many who have been directly and indirectly impacted by this trauma.
For families who witnessed the shootings and/or lost a family member this is a serious acute trauma which continues to cause these people to feel unsafe and will continue to impact them for many years. The mitigating factor is that these people are a part of a strong supportive community. The community has experienced a collective trauma. How each member recovers depends upon other factors relating to previous traumatic experiences and the level of personal support they have.
If a person has experienced multiple traumatic events and horrors this will impact on their ability and the time it will take to heal.
Do you have any advice for engaging with multiple worldviews of trauma, in the wake of this event? How might someone’s worldview impact the way they process trauma?
Culture does impact a person’s response to trauma as well as their ability to recover. Culture must be respected when support is given. For many, culture sees a need to grieve and bury the dead and then move on. It is possible that individuals will continue to grieve and experience trauma which is an emotional wound. It is important when interacting with trauma survivors that well-meaning supporters do not take over control and assume but always seek out what it is that individuals need. Trauma results from a betrayal of trust and safety and an abuse of power so healing needs to take place within the context of safe, trusting, empowering relationships.
The live streaming of the event has added to the trauma for many people, particularly young people, who saw the video. What are some ways to help support people who witnessed the attack in this way?
Many people have seen media coverage of the traumatic event and have had their sense of safety and security compromised. The need for those around them is to respond by validating and normalising their thoughts and feelings.
Normalising is letting the person know that many are experiencing the same or similar feelings at this time. This helps the person realise that they are not overreacting or ‘going crazy’. It gives them permission to feel and think this way. Validating is acknowledging how the person is feeling.
For example, ‘I know you worry and feel scared about being in a public space or going to your church now because you wonder if something like this will happen again.’
What do you wish Christians and churches would know about trauma and recovery?
Everyone needs to understand that trauma can have a pervasive impact on a person. Affecting their thoughts, feelings, relationships and behaviour. It may also affect a person’s belief to trust in God.
There is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma. Everyone is a unique individual and may respond in different ways. This may be due to many individual personal factors, culture and a person’s own trauma story.
Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event activates our stress response and affects our ability to think and regulate our emotions.
How can we grow in our ability to provide love and care to people who have experienced trauma?
Survivors of trauma need unconditional love and support without judgement. We are to comfort those with the comfort we have experienced from God ourselves. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.’
We need to walk the journey alongside without disempowering the person. Just be there. Maybe just listening and providing practical support like meals.
How can the gospel speak into the life of someone who has experienced trauma?
Unconditional support is love in action. Others are impacted by our non-judgemental support with ‘no strings attached’. Our love in action says it all. When asked ‘why’ we can say: ‘because I am being the hands and feet of the God I serve.’ We introduce them to the God who loves us. First we must be prepared to have our hearts broken by the things that break the heart of God.
God’s Word has so much to offer. God offers us his peace, his strength, his love and life in all its fullness. Many recovering from trauma will not have the brain space to read it for themselves, but they will know this through his servants who choose to walk the journey with them.
Sue Taylor is available to speak and offers training to churches and ministries on the area of trauma and recovery. For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org