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

Trauma Impacts Both Individuals and Society

Written by: on April 15, 2022

It happened over dinner. My friend’s demeanor changed in an instant. A family member of my friend had made a comment, and that was all it took. My friend got up and left the table. I followed. Over the next few hours, I entered the sacred space of hearing the memories triggered by the family member’s comment. All the pain and shame had come rushing back and left my friend shaking with both anger and despair. So much of what I read in Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” was visible in my friend’s bodily responses to remembered trauma.[1] Van Der Kolk notes, “…traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scale (on our histories and cultures) or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations. They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even on our biology and immune systems.”[2] YES!


Van Der Kolk’s book can be classified under a hybrid umbrella of social science and neurobiology. He writes his book in a five-part structure, with the goal of encouraging more and more people to face “…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.”[3] Amen! May it be so!


The first chapter of his first section, where explores his own learning journey through spending time with war veterans, most deeply caught my attention. His moving insights resonate with so much of what I have heard and seen as I interact with both US Iraq War veterans and Iraqis—both deeply traumatized by the US-led invasion of Iraq and its chaotic aftermath. It resonates with what I am seeing in Lebanese society as the psychological aftershocks of the August 2020 Beirut Port Blast continue to reverberate in the wider community and in the lives of individuals. It resonates with what I hear from Syrians who have lived with the awful impacts of violence in their communities over the past eleven years and counting. He writes, “Trauma, whether it is the result of something done to you or something you yourself have done, almost always makes it difficult to engage in intimate relationships.”[4] This comes in a section titled “Trauma and the Loss of Self.”


I wonder, connected to the above quote from his prologue, how loss of self is experienced or identified at both a communal and individual level? The individual level may be easier to notice and address through the techniques and methods Van Der Kolk describes in part five (Paths to Recovery). But these paths are predominantly individual or small group in their focus. How does one participate in restoring the soul of a nation ravaged by trauma?


The best work I’ve been exposed to in this area comes out of Rwanda as the country recovers from the inter-tribal genocides in 1994. A reconciliation/restoration journey called Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations (HHTN) has emerged from Rwandan society, and they are now sharing this with members of other nations living with trauma—including the United States. I’m learning more about this process due to its relevance to my NPO journey and the practice of reconciliation I’m exploring. The Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa is another society-wide process that addresses trauma. For both processes, I am curious to learn to what degree they attend to the neurobiological impacts of society-wide trauma. This is something I will now further explore.


Van Der Kolk includes a helpful appendix where he and his colleagues propose criteria of recognizing and treating developmental trauma disorder. This will be a very helpful addition to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), used by mental health workers in the USA and many other places around the world to better understand and address the mental health challenges of their clients. He also includes a thorough resources section and recommendations for further reading. I’ve already ordered one book: “Collaborative Treatment of Traumatized Children and Teens: The Trauma Systems Therapy Approach.”[5] As I’m receiving input on one of my prototypes that I’m testing this term (potential mental health challenges that might be a barrier to young adults participating in the practical work of engendering deeper justice, equity, reconciliation, and perseverance in their local community), it’s becoming clear that attending to mental health challenges will be an important part of my NPO initiative.  This resource, along with Van Der Kolk’s book, may help me further identify how to develop a holistic initiative and who else I need to collaborate with as this initiative takes shape.


[1] Van der Kolk, Bessel A. 2015. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.


[2] Ibid., 1.


[3] Ibid., 4.


[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Saxe, Glenn N., B. Heidi Ellis, and Julie B. Kaplow. 2007. Collaborative Treatment of Traumatized Children and Teens: The Trauma Systems Therapy Approach. New York: Guilford.


About the Author

Elmarie Parker

14 responses to “Trauma Impacts Both Individuals and Society”

  1. I love this Elmarie. Your focus on the collective and trauma is significant. I feel it’s really impossible to understand individual trauma if we don’t understand how that trauma has been impacted by the collective. Are you still aiming your NPO at the Middle East with you vocational shift?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Michael. Thank you for your comment on my post, and for your question. My NPO works with young adults from both the Middle East (Lebanon as a starting point) and US (Oregon as a starting point). So, if the way opens for me to serve once again as a pastor with a local congregation in the States, I’m changing the location of my residence, but my NPO commitment remains the same.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Elmarie, such an informed post about the the relevance of treating trauma from your international experience. Thanks especially for the “heads-up” about Healing Hearts/Transforming Nations. Having visited Rwanda a few years ago, if something is working in the aftermath of that event, we should pay attention to that. I’m also looking forward to your NPO and what the final projects becomes. It sounds like a big and important work. As you anticipate stepping into a pastoral role in Oregon, what do you see as your role in helping people overcome trauma? I ask because I’ve struggled with how much of my time should be dedicated to that kind of help versus outsourcing that to professionals. Happy Easter to you and yours!

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Roy. Thanks so much for your comment on my post and for your question. Indeed, as a pastor (or in my current role) it is so important to pay attention to my skill limits when working with any mental health issue, trauma included. I’ve always made it a practice to network with local mental health professionals in every location I’ve served. In a pastoral role, I’ve experienced myself as being often a person’s or family’s first contact. With my MFT background, I feel comfortable and equipped to have an initial assessment type conversation so that I can make an appropriate next step referral and continue to accompany an individual or family in the capacity of pastor–especially when the issue may be chronic in nature, but in a different way for more acute situations. What I’ve been able to offer into the conversation is space to reflect on the spiritual and theological dimensions of the journey and the implications these may have for the person or family’s journey with a particular mental health/psychological/relational issue. What practices have you developed over the years to navigate this challenge?

  3. mm Andy Hale says:

    There are aspects of things you pulled out from this book that I wanted to get to, but we are limited to 750 words!

    I love your insight into recognizing the mental health challenges that all leaders face within an organization. People are dealing with more than we know. Unfortunately, people are dealing with more than they know themselves.

    The role of the leader is to make sure there are healthy spaces for people to process that trauma without fear of reprisal.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Andy. Thank you for your comment on my post. How did you see me addressing the mental health challenges that all leaders face within an organization? You also wrote: “The role of the leader is to make sure there are healthy spaces for people to process that trauma without fear of reprisal.” Amen and amen to that!

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Elmarie: What an insightful post and reflection on this weeks’ reading. I appreciate you distinguishing between the individual and collective trauma. It makes me think of my own organization and the events that have take place over the years that have allowed for those present during the seasons to be ‘trauma-bonded.’

    I feel that each week you state you need to include that weeks’ topic in your NPO — are you feeling like it is getting too large or it still is moving in the direction you have been hoping for?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Kayli. Thanks so much for your comment on my post, and for your question! Great question! It has been the readings that connect with identity and self-awareness that have resonated with my NPO…filling in some helpful background and deepening my foundation. What I’m learning from testing my prototypes is that I need to rethink my starting/entry point for my NPO. The issue of identity (and the role mental health issues play in identity formation) and the journey of increasing self-awareness I think is going to need to be more of a leading edge in order to build capacity and relationship towards the practical work I have in mind. So, the prototype process is doing what it is suppose to do :).

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post. Boy, I would I just download all your experiences so as to more fully engage the text from your perspective. I imagine you can find more examples of trauma from your work that you would like to admit.

    In light of the gospel, and our call to seek His kingdom (a kingdom of restoration ultimately), in what ways do you envision (or have you seen) gospel implications to foster healing from trauma?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Eric. Thanks so much for your comment on my post and for your thought-provoking question. You ask, in light of the gospel, and our call to seek His kingdom (a kingdom of restoration ultimately), in what ways do I envision (or have I seen) gospel implications to foster healing from trauma? I think central to what I have experienced (and to what I envision) is the significant role played by relationship and community to foster healing from trauma. This is deeply rooted in the reality of who we know God to be through Jesus Christ–the eternal Triune being of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and thus the reality of relationship at the very center of all of life and being. Healthy, vital, rigorous, enduring relationship is foundational to the Kingdom and it is key to healing from trauma. I’d value your thoughts on the question you posed!

  6. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Elmarie: I gave a quick once-over to the appendix, too. It was such a perfect and practical way to end this great book. He bridges the gap between the practice of healing human trauma and the academic side of studying it. With his 30 years of clinical practice, his expertise is apparent. Can you imaging the degree of trauma that exists in Rwanda, still today? I wouldn’t know where to start if I was a minister doing outreach in that part of the world — although I’m sure God directs the people involved in the healing of those people.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Troy. Thanks so much for your comment on my post. Indeed, the trauma work in Rwanda is huge. I’ve learned so much from Rwandan colleagues who have developed and implemented the program I mentioned in my post. Reconciliation is truly a miracle cultivated by the Holy Spirit through humans willing to be part of the journey.

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Elmarie I am no longer surprised at how much in awe I am of you and your life experience! The depth and breadth is just profound!

    I resonate with your question, “I wonder, connected to the above quote from his prologue, how loss of self is experienced or identified at both a communal and individual level?” What are aspects of Friedman and Lieberman/Long that you can combine with Kolk to begin to answer the question?

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Elmaire, thank you for your post. You have definitely seen the effects of trauma in your world. Your comment about how it affects the society intrigues me. Especially, as I look at how quickly and dramatically the face of Poland has changed. I am curious about your thoughts about how something like this impacts the collective identity.

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