On the show today we are talking about Spiritual First Aid with co-founder Jamie Aten.
When I was 11, I desperately wanted to make money. CDs were just becoming popular and the wish list was long, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Carmen, DC talk, and Michael W Smith were among my first purchases.
But for me to get the babysitting jobs I was told I needed to take first aid. Sitting in a stinky community room with strangers was not my pre-teen idea of a good way to spend a Saturday, but there I was learning about the ABCs (Airways breathing and circulation), how to tend to strokes, and various injuries, and CPR.
Little did I know at 11 years old that I would end up working in community health care I have taken this course and re-certification many more times. So many that I feel like if I came upon a victim the steps of CPR like tilting the head, checking for obstructions, listening for breath and pumping the heart, and blowing oxygen would be instinct.
And that’s the point, recertification requires us to keep these life-saving first aid skills top of mind. That anyone of us could potentially save a life using these basic skills. We don’t have to sit back and wait for paramedics but we as neighbors and bystanders can actively participate in aiding a victim.
This is a principle behind Spiritual First Aid.
When I first heard about this program I was intrigued. I’m a champion of peer support and equipping everyone with basic skills to support so I was eager to look into this more.
How Spiritual First Aid Began
Jamie Aten co-founded this program with Kent Annan out of their work with the Humanitarian and disaster Institute at Wheaton college.
Spiritual First Aid is a peer-to-peer spiritual and emotional care intervention. It teaches you the basic skills for emotional care from both biblical wisdom and 15 years of psychological research.
Jamie grew up in a small rural community in Illinois. As an outgoing kid, he loved sports and music, but never considered a career outside of farming. It was assumed, as it is in many farming communities that the children take over the family farm.
But, as a first-generation college student Jaime pursued education and after meeting an English professor in his first year of college he began to consider what going to graduate school would look like. As a young man surrounded by Christians Jamie describes how his faith deepened from conversations with his agnostic professor.
Growing up surrounded by Christians, Jamie did not know anyone who was a Christian however while at college studying Psychology, his agnostic professor challenged him by questioning why he believed in his Christian Faith.
This promoted him to ask his youth minister who directed him to a stack of books from C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity and he shared these readings with his professor who also did the same from his point of view till they lost touch with each other.
Jamie then went out to strive in his education emerging with a post-graduate in Counselling and Psychology however as this was a big win for him, Jamie was worried about what such lengths meant for taking over the family farm considering he had been offered a position in his hometown of Illinois.
Scratching his head on how to deliver the message to his Dad, Jamie finally gathered the courage to do so and his Dad was okay with his decision. Making a joke about if the farm was in Jamie’s hand, they would have all starved.
His background in psychology helped him identify that there were a lot of mental health needs in his community and he found himself niching down in Disaster Mental Health and Mass Traumas after Hurricane Katrina stroke his community
LESSONS LEARNED FROM HURRICANE KATRINA
Jamie notes just like others he was unprepared for the hurricane as it was expected to go in another direction however with time he, later on, found out that it was headed their way.
From this, he learned that it is very important to have a plan and the right people around it to support it.
This experience with the hurricane was what led to Jamie’s extensive research in mental health as it relates to disasters. Throughout this research, Jamie was searching for the connection between faith and resilience.
He found out that religion did have a connection to how people were resilient in the face of Katrina. Some individuals attributed their loss at that time to God still working amidst the storm while others saw it as a punishment from God.
HOW TO HELP PEOPLE DEVELOP RESILIENCE
Jamie noted that through the research on Katrina and other disasters, he learned that when people receive positive spiritual support, it is of value to them and can help improve their resilience levels.
This support can be done by being present for those who are facing a hard time. Practical presence shows how much you care about someone by being there in their point of need.
Positive spiritual support is very much applicable especially when people in the church feel overwhelmed by how they can support them because their resources are limited or unaware of how to support them.
THE SPIRITUAL FIRST AID PROGRAM
This is an 8 session peer to peer program that teaches people to use the skills and knowledge that they have to offer a spiritual step-by-step approach to dealing with trauma.
These steps are known as Blessed CPR and are broken down into:
- Blessed Triage
- Care with Practical Presence
- Provide Coping Practices
- Refer and Resource
Each step is coupled with tools and a trauma-informed principle which help them recognize trauma
This program was designed for anyone who is a natural helper from volunteers, pastors, non-profit organizations, mental health professionals as well as schools.
Jamie noted that a recent research study carried out by him and his team which is yet to be released by the American Psychological Association showed that the program improved the helper’s ability to identify the problem, common helping pitfalls like helping very soon, and suicide prevention.
His hope with this program will be used in a broad way for churches and communities to provide spiritual and emotional support.
It is available both online and in person and also can be offered via a facilitator-led in-person group.
CONNECT WITH JAMIE ATEN
CONNECT WITH HOPE MADE STRONG
Join the Church Mental Health Facebook Group! In the Facebook group, we chat about how to care for others, what are your challenges as well as share tons of resources. This is a great community of pastors, clinicians, and those with lived experience and we want to get to know you.