Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is There Help for Herb?

Written by: on April 14, 2022

His name was Herb. He attended our church on the east coast and saw that we sought a custodian. I hired him, knowing he had a history of changing jobs frequently. All went well until summer came. Forest surrounded the church and became lush and green as the weather warmed. A nearby army munitions plant occasionally flew helicopters. One day, Herb worked outside the building, and the helicopters flew overhead. He quickly got in his car and left for a local bar. When we talked the next day, he relayed how the combination of the lush foliage and the helicopter sound took him back to the jungles of Viet Nam. Decades of help sought from the Veterans Association could not alleviate the effects of PTSD. Herb quit the job that day. He bounced around to other jobs, never overcoming the trauma of war.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk wrote The Body Keeps the Score for people like Herb and others affected by trauma. This book includes aspects of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine as he seeks to connect the physical and emotional impacts of trauma. The author states his premise in the prologue as being “to  serve as both a guide and an invitation – an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, and to commit ourselves, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.”[1] Van der Kolk references the conclusions of Robert Anda and others in a 1990s study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) when he states, “they had stumbled upon the gravest and most costly public health issue in the United States: child abuse.”[2] The implications of providing solutions to trauma offer financial and emotional benefits. “(Robert Anda) had calculated that its overall costs exceeded those of cancer or heart disease and that eradicating child abuse in America would reduce the overall rate of depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-quarters. It would also have a dramatic effect on workplace performance and vastly decrease the need for incarceration.”[3]

Most of van der Kolk’s book relates to crucial questions around the issue. What are the dynamics of trauma? How can child abuse be lessened and its effects treated? The first section explains modern discoveries about trauma by psychology, the neuroscience of various traumas, the impact of trauma experienced by children, and the complexities of traumatic memory. He stresses the difference between traumatic memory versus the memory of those who grew up without trauma. His connection of past events to present fear reminded me of Eve Poole’s research of the impact of “stored” fear-inducing events from childhood surfacing in adulthood. “Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on – unchanged and immutable – as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.”[4] If trauma dominates, the ability to love and care gets compromised. “As long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.”[5] In language similar to Simon Winchester, van der Kolk describes a map not of geography but the mind. “As long as their  map of the world is based on trauma, abuse, and neglect, people are likely to seek shortcuts to oblivion. Anticipating rejection, ridicule, and deprivation, they are reluctant to try out new options, certain that these will lead to failure.”[6] The physical and emotional interplay of trauma cripples its victims.

The second part of the book focuses on various methods of treating trauma medically and through psychotherapy. Diverse methods seek to create new pathways for memories and a new sense of self. Van der Kolk does not endorse one method of treatment for all. He does not endorse psychotropic medications for treatment, viewing them as a suppressant, not a solution. He also recommends caution about therapy utilizing only talking. “Even years later traumatized people often have enormous difficulty telling other people what has happened to them. . .their feelings are almost impossible to articulate.”[7]

One application of this topic significantly relates to ministry. Trauma has always been a part of broken humanity. The pandemic, however, increased trauma events. The findings of one study state, “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected trauma patient demographics. . .mechanism of injury, and mortality.”[8] The amount of those with trauma encountered in the past will increase in the years ahead. For those not explicitly trained, a ministry would do well to know how and where to refer those suffering from ongoing effects of trauma. As the book points out, talking does not provide needed help. If the connections to body-based treatments like yoga help, could that become a non-traditional ministry effort beyond increased flexibility and relaxation? Van der Kolk ends his book by saying, “Trauma is now our most urgent public health issue and we have the knowledge necessary to respond effectively. The choice is ours to act on what we know.”[9] If I could ask the author one question, I would want to know how a church proactively helps rather than merely reacts to the critical needs that present themselves? In other words, what specific help can a church offer the Herbs in our midst?


[1] Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 4.

[2] Ibid., 150.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 53.

[5] Ibid., 76.

[6] Ibid., 307.

[7] Ibid., 43.

[8] Nicholas W. Sheets et al. “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trauma Encounters.” The American Surgeon, July 4, 2021, accessed April 13, 2022. doi:10.1177/00031348211029858.

[9] Van der Kolk, 358.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

13 responses to “Is There Help for Herb?”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    Good stuff here. And that’s a great question at the end.

    The unfair expectation of perfection among American Evangelicals certainly does not help those facing trauma’s unseen scars and burdens. We are quick to judge people’s missteps but not willing to recognize that there is probably something more.

    Maybe if church leaders used the examples of the imperfect figures within Scripture to show God’s favor to those facing the very real challenge of being human.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Great reflection, Roy. I’m interested to know if you or your church have had any initial thoughts or ideas to answer your questions at the end of the post.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, the way we’ve sought to help people with trauma is indirect, in my opinion. We have ministries like Celebrate Recovery, Divorce Care, Grief Share, to name a few. Those do encounter some people who have endured it, but we have not been able to directly engage those with trauma in their past. We just hire a very sharp lady who worked for 20 years a psychiatric social worker. Our hope with her aboard is to find new ways to provide help. As I mentioned in my response to Andy, in the church, the primary communicator (pastor) will set the tone for people’s willingness to be honest about themselves and what they carry with them. This book caused me to think about what I have modeled for our congregation. Nothing happens within a vacuum, so simply the desire for more help will not result in more help. Leaders need to “go first.”

  3. Roy, such a truly thoughtful and thought provoking post. I’m sitting with a similar string of questions as the one you raise at the end of your post. Yesterday, on Good Friday, I had two spiritual direction sessions. In both cases, religious trauma was at the core of the work they were actively doing. Van Der Kolk offers that one of the key factors to the effects of trauma depends on one’s agency/ability to escape/get out of the traumatic situation. In light of your question, I’m curious how much leaving the church is a healthy act of resilience for many. Like Herb, being in a church triggers the traumatic event.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Michael, thank for you thoughts. I agree that, for some, being out of a church might be the most helpful thing they can do. If we focus on behavior and not on underlying issues that cause behavior, nothing will change. Long ago, I heard of C.S. Lewis’ metaphor of the church as a “hospital for the hurting.” I wonder how often we have fallen far short of that image. As I mentioned in other responses, I also believe a pastor will set the pace for what other are willing to share about themselves. An underestimated role for a Sr. leader in the church is to create a church culture – “this is who we are, this is how we engage.”

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post. To answer your question at the end, in my opinion, I think it is Van der Kolk’s point that the a supportive network of relationships really matter. What is the best way to help a traumatized person? Ensure a proper network of support.

    “Traumatized human beings recover in the context of relationships: with families, loved ones, AA meetings, veterans’ organizations, religious communities, or professional therapists.” (p. 212)

    I think the Church has a VERY important role to play!

    Thoughts on that quote on 212?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, I do agree with the quote, but with one condition. None of the groups mentioned automatically result in help to the hurting. Speaking just about the church, they do not engage in the same ways across the board. Some folks want their leaders on a pedestal and some leaders want to on that pedestal. Conversely, if leaders set the pace and the example of willingness to be open and honest about their own struggles, it helps the kind of culture in which people are helped. I wonder if the church has been too often focused on the surface level of behavior rather than hearing the stories that cause behaviors. Relationships are key to most everything, especially good ones!

  5. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Great post Roy and you ask an insightful question at the end. The church is here to help and the church universal does more to alleviate trauma and suffering than any other institution in the world. But this book points out there is so much to human trauma and Kolk does such a terrific job of explaining the depths and dynamics of it. I loved this book; it made me wonder, “Do I have any unresolved trauma that is buried deep within myself?” Ugh, it’s not easy being a human being living on planet earth…

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy I believe the church is going to need to be intentional in attending to the PTSD of Covid within the structure of being church. What if we did a yoga pose or two during each worship service? Do you see any value in having congregation members enter into the process of listening. “Your body has things to say.” (page 325)? Not just as individuals but perhaps more importantly as a community?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, I like the idea of yoga, or any other activity that connects the physical with the emotional to the benefit of any and all who need it. Personally, I would stay away from corporate versions of that mainly because we have so many people with us on a Sunday morning who are searching for a relationship with God. We are also big on small groups and I would see applications helpful there. People in a group have formed a connection already and I believe there would be less fear about taking a step toward healing. Honestly, I’m processing a lot from this book and what it means in a church context. I believe I will reread the book this summer in a slower manner than I did two weeks ago!

  7. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Roy, Great post! Reading your post stir a couple of questions for me. There is a push in the US society to normalize child molesters by referring to them as people who prefer younger aged partners. How might that impact the overall trauma currently experienced in our society? As spiritual leaders what we might we do to bring hope and healing into these situations?

  8. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, wow, tough subject. I do believe there is a growing movement toward normalizing adult/child relationships. Based on my experience with people (mostly women) who were sexually abused as minors, the potential for increased trauma is great in my opinion. One of the ways to help (certainly not the only way) is to set the tone for honesty and openness about what’s happened to us. A phrase we use often here is, “God loves you no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you.” Any time we talk about sexual abuse we make sure to let people know it’s NEVER the child’s fault. Just like a family in microcosm, the church on a macro level takes on a culture of what we will talk about and what we will not. Some families never talk about certain things and do some churches. I believe we lead toward healing by talking about the hard things. The challenge is also to provide support that actually facilitates healing. I’m still processing a lot from van der Kolk about what that looks like in the local church. This was such a thought provoking book.

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