Since December 2017, our team has been speaking with clergy members from across the Greater Houston area to identify and assess their needs regarding how to support both church and community members in the wake of the September disaster. During this time, the RMF team of psychological trauma experts also provided consultations to ministers across the affected area and began planning to provide several trainings for ministers and religious leaders from around the impacted area over the coming months.
For our February training sessions, the RMF trauma team was on the ground in Houston and Corpus Christi from February 19, 2018 to February 21, 2018. This second trip to the Houston area was once again coordinated with the Christian Church in the Southwest (Disciples of Christ). Regional Minister Andy Mangum, DMin, brought together ministers and lay leaders from across Houston and Corpus Christi for support and training on issues of psychological trauma and building resilience.
Our team of psychological trauma experts—Kevin Becker, PsyD; Annie Farnsworth, PhD; and Lisa Tieszen, MA, LICSW—held 4 consultation and training sessions at 3 locations:
First Christian Church in Houston (February 19th and 20th)
Kashmere Garden Community Center (February 20th)
First Christian Church in Corpus Christi (February 21st)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints assisted the team as well, by taking the lead on coordinating the Kashmere Garden meeting.
Each community was uniquely impacted by the storm this past August. Participants related stories of extreme inundation of water or massive wind damage and destruction. One pastor described the damage to her church, which resulted from 4 feet of water in the church, including fish from the nearby bayou. Another told the story of parishioners who were tossed about in their mobile home as it tumbled in the high winds. In Houston, the rain lasted 8 days and brought devastation to a wide range of neighborhoods, while the Corpus Christi area experienced 12 hours of hurricane-force winds which destroyed homes, crushed buildings, and forced many to flee and not return. The caregivers we met with continue to work hard to support their communities as the prolonged recovery and rebuilding process continues.
The consultation and trainings provided by RMF’s trauma team focused on the key principles of safety, predictability, and control:
Lectures, discussions, and handouts helped attendees identify ways to enhance each of these for members of their traumatized communities. While each group will recover at a different pace, the team emphasized the overall lifecycle of a disaster and helped participants understand the psychological ups and downs they can expect during the recovery process:
The trainings we provided on the psychological impacts of disaster and the important strategies and principles for recovery were extremely well received. There were many repetitions of “thank you” and “bless you” for the team at each session. Approximately 50 clergy members and lay leaders attended the trainings. They will now pass their learning on to their congregations and communities through sermons, individual pastoral counseling, and ministry, thereby broadening the program’s overall impact to thousands of people.
Part of the recovery process is acknowledging the stress created by an abnormal event.
During each training, chairs are arranged in a circle to facilitate conversation, questions, discussion, and activities, ensuring that sessions are interactive, as well as informative.
Lisa Tieszen explains key principles in disaster and recovery: safety, predictability, and control.
At Kashmere Garden Community Center, the RMF trauma team met several community organizers who pulled together to provide resources and supplies in this extremely underserved area of Houston. Above, Dr. Kevin Becker is describing the lifecycle of a disaster.
The last day of training was held at the First Christian Church of Corpus Christi.
Dr. Kevin Becker, leader of the RMF trauma team, begins the training at Corpus Christi.
Through providing important knowledge on disaster recovery, the trainings seek to offer hope to caregivers as they continue to serve traumatized communities.
Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas on Friday, August 25, 2017. By Wednesday, some areas had received over 47 inches of rain and flooding, and by Thursday, August 31, 2017, the storm had killed at least 44 people and damaged or destroyed 48,700 homes. 350,000 people, many uninsured, have registered for disaster assistance.
For many, the fear, trauma, and loss experienced during Hurricane Harvey will result in emotional scars that may last for years to come. Long after the water has receded and homes have been rebuilt, the stress and anxiety that accompany disasters of this size and scope will remain. Research indicates that suicide rates, substance abuse, and violence frequently increase in the aftermath of community-wide disasters. Putting life back together in the form of a “new normal” is an emotionally overwhelming process. Our project will focus on communities in the affected area to help minimize the “disaster after the disaster” and get community members back on their feet.