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When Horror and Loss Intersect: Traumatic Experiences and Traumatic Bereavement

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Abstract

Members of the clergy serve on the front lines as caregivers for individuals whose lives have been forever changed by life-threatening traumatic events, and by the sudden traumatic deaths of loved ones. This article is intended to provide useful information to clergy about the nature of traumatic experiences, predictable human reactions to them, and ways that clergy can be helpful in restoring psychological and spiritual equilibrium among their service recipients when bad things happen to good people. We first review several types of traumatic events, making a distinction between natural disasters and those that involve human perpetration. Next, two common pathologic reactions, PTSD and complicated or prolonged grief, are described. Current theoretical models for the disorders are discussed, along with description of the intersection of the two disorders. We then present aspects of spirituality as key resources in recovery from traumatic exposure and loss, emphasizing their role in making meaning of tragic experiences. Finally, key principles for clergy to follow in providing psychological first aid to those in crisis after a traumatic experience are discussed.

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The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the U.S. Government or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Correspondence to Kent Drescher.

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Drescher, K., Foy, D.W. When Horror and Loss Intersect: Traumatic Experiences and Traumatic Bereavement. Pastoral Psychol 59, 147–158 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-009-0262-2

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