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Recognizing grief stages important to violence response, leader says

FORT SMITH, Ark. (BP)–How can pastors and other counselors effectively assist victims of violent crimes? One key, according to Brooks Faulkner, is to recognize the stages of grief which occur following violence in order to help guide victims through the process.
Faulkner, senior coordinator for LeaderCare at LifeWay Christian Resources, spoke to about 40 school administrators, law enforcement personnel, church staff, chaplains and laypeople during a “Church Dealing with Random Violence Conference” held at First Baptist Church, Fort Smith, Ark., Aug. 27.
While recognizing the grief stages is important, Faulkner added “the greatest comforting words you can use … and the most difficult words for them to believe are ‘God will provide.'”
He said that in dealing with grieving victims, counselors can expect to see the following responses:
“First, we run into shock, despair and helplessness, then guilt and fear,” he explained. Often, he said, that is followed by “hostility toward the doctor, the minister, the family and even God.”
Following those reactions, he added, many victims or survivors experience a period of “restless activity. The behavior works its way out in ways we can’t comprehend. In the stages of grief … it’s a part of our behavior pattern that helps us get over grief. Usual activities also lose their importance.”
Faulkner said later stages of grief show themselves through “identification with the deceased” such as “continued work on projects of the deceased.” He said the final stage, “hopefully, is a gradual hope and adjustment.”
He urged participants to keep in mind the “practical aspects of pastoral counseling” such as maintaining a practical spirit — “it’s not a time to make light jokes or comments” — and to avoid preaching or asking leading questions.
Counseling also requires “good common sense,” he said, citing the need to “develop the power to be patient and wait by looking for small victories, not dramatic solutions. Jesus resisted dramatic solutions. God works best in small victories, small in the sense that we almost cannot comprehend they are victories at all.”
He said other necessary practical aspects include “staying in touch with your own feelings,” being “a priest — hear confession but point them to God. Don’t give them advice” — and maintaining “a spirit of quiet hope.”
To develop these skills, he said, ministers must:
— Develop controls. “Understand your own clay feet and stay in touch. One way you get ready for violence that has not yet occurred is to stay in touch with people who have the skills in your community. Know where to turn.”
— Develop compassion, not simple sentimentality. “Recognize the hurdles of being compassionate to depressed, hostile, suspicious, manipulative, withdrawn, dependent and apathetic persons.”
— Develop the power to wait. “Courage to speak is not nearly so important as the patience to not speak.”
— Develop technical skills, “including knowledge of persons,” Faulkner emphasized. “Find out where the resources are in our churches and hospitals.”
— Start on solid ground. “If the relationships with our spouse and children (are) seriously shaky, withdraw from the counseling relationship as gracefully as possible. You will find yourself finding the same faults in the counselee as you find in your family.”
— Learn to express feelings discriminately. “Unbridled candor is irresponsible. Avoid jumping on their case.”
— Don’t disguise sin, but don’t berate it either. “Adultery, hate, incest, deceit and lying should be dealt with as sin, not simply irresponsible behavior.”
— Remember that the primary problem is almost always secondary. “When the question is asked, ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’ it could be, ‘Is God punishing me for what I have done?’ Listen for the melodies and not simply the words.”
— Avoid the trap, “If only I can help…” he said. “An intimate and confidential trust during grief is a cry for help. The truth is, they are searching for someone they can trust because they have never dealt with this level of grief before.”

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  • Russell N. Dilday