Trauma-Informed Theology

Trauma theology is a relatively new area of research within pastoral and practical theology. Christian theology and pastoral practice within the church have a vital need to speak into the lived experiences of those within the congregations and communities. Traditionally the Christian church has not always understood or taken into account the complex and often lifelong needs of those who have experienced trauma. Trauma theology seeks to rectify this by providing theological and biblical understandings and practices which do justice to the experience of the Christian trauma survivor and are able to offer healing.

Why Trauma Theology?

My own journey into the realm of theological study began back in 2009 when 20-year-old me, who at the time was an extremely broken and hurting person, decided to give up everything and move across the sea to study theology. With no real academic background, and no real understanding of what studying theology actually meant (or indeed how to study) I found myself at Bible College in September 2009. I was at the time far more confused and far more hurting and mentally unstable than even I realised, or at least wanted to admit. So after 9 months of stumbling my way through a very messy, painful and disastrous time at Bible College I left and returned home and was at that point the most broken shell of a young person riddled with guilt, shame and pain I could not put into words. I was at the end of myself and knew then I had to change and I had to fight hard to be the person I wanted to be inside.

I am not going to go into all the messy details of my own trauma-related mental health issues here, but I went on a healing journey that was difficult, challenging, costly (and not only to me) and despair that could not be processed in my own mind. Yet, in all of that, I clung on to one hope and one dream – theological study. I truly believed that theological study was my calling and had somehow become my passion. At Bible College in the middle of the worst year of my life, when all my mental processing and belief in my own self was utterly shattered I had encountered theologians whose love and passion for theological study was real, raw and profound in a way I had never encountered before. Some of the tutors and lecturers had carried such a passion and drive for practical and contextual theology that my eyes were opened to how the pursuit of theological knowledge could have real contextual significance for the world today – and I wanted some of that.

In 2015 just five years after leaving Bible College I moved away from home again in the pursuit of theological study. This time it worked out and I graduated from The University of Chester in 2018 with a BA (Hons) in Theology 2.1 at the age of 30. In that moment I felt like all that had been shattered and lost nearly a decade before was redeemed somehow, I had my theology degree and I could carry on with my life. Yet, something had stirred in me while studying that BA when in my second year I stumbled across some articles in the contextual area of “trauma theology” I had never heard of such a study before but in reading the works of Shelly Rambo and Karen O’Donnell I found my passion and my place. Here was an area of study that talked directly into the broken soul of the journey I had been on in my own mental health breakdown and in my own healing and recovery journey. Here I found a contextual and practical theology that could speak to my lived experience and faith and healing journey. Through this theology was the first time I dared to call myself a trauma survivor and the first time I found the hope of healing yet to come.

I couldn’t walk away from theological study at this point, and so I went on to gain a Master of Arts degree in Practical and Pastoral Theology researching all areas of trauma theology at a different Theological College in 2018. In September 2022 I took a huge leap of faith and began the pursuit of a PhD researching areas of trauma theology, a pursuit I am still on.