1). It is important to recognize that trauma and the resulting grief can result from war crimes, torture, terrorist activity, kidnapping, family violence, assault, sexual abuse, child deaths and other sudden or violent deaths. Other events and circumstances, while not commonly categorized as trauma-such as the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, or the loss of a body part, can also trigger the same responses generally associated with trauma.

2). It is also necessary to acknowledge that while there are vast differences among individuals who experience trauma, and in the strategies they use for coping, many experience intense physical, mental, emotional and spiritual distress. Interventions generally focus on meeting the physical and mental/emotional needs, and all but neglect the spiritual concerns, which surface in the wake of trauma. Yet long-held spiritual beliefs may be significantly challenged by the reality of the lived experience. A resulting spiritual crisis can raise numerous imponderable questions about the meaning and purpose in life, about love and trust, about hope for the future, and about forgiveness and belonging. Many are plagued by feelings of self incrimination, and associated feelings of worthlessness and shame. The chaotic patterns of thinking and feeling, and the behaviors which surface from the intense intra-personal conflict challenge traumatized persons’ abilities to fulfill expected roles and responsibilities. This can have devastating effects on relationships. Relationships can be further hampered since many traumatized persons continue using the same self-protective means they initially learned (including the use of drugs, alcohol, and violence) to buffer the pain and to shield themselves from the traumatic experience and the dread of future catastrophic events.

3). While recovery from a traumatic experience can be prolonged, and often even viewed as unattainable, mental health professionals are recognizing that when spiritual issues are addressed there is frequently a marked improvement in the quality of life during the healing phases, a shortening of the course, and even complete recovery- including a release from the strong tendency to re-abuse self and others.

4). In responding to soul concerns it is necessary to recognize that while the spiritual struggle may begin almost immediately following an event, the most intense pain of the spiritual conflict is often encountered only after many months, or even years. This has consequences for therapeutic caring, for most often any resources available to assist those who are moving through a difficult life experience are long removed before the soul pain (described by many as “the greatest suffering”) is experienced. What changes can you as a professional make in this regard?

5). The delayed response described above is because spiritual aspects of a crisis tend to manifest in three phases. The first phase is Maintaining Status Quo. In this early phase grieving persons try, at all cost, to hold tightly to their untested beliefs in order to maintain the status quo of their belief system. Phase two is the phase of Spiritual Crisis. By this phase it is becoming too evident that many of the old beliefs no longer provide answers to the numerous imponderable questions that pour form the anguished soul. Many of the once held, but untested, beliefs are being let go of – it seems they are burned away by the intense fires of the lived experiences. This can be a deeply painful and lonely time – a time of searching and of longing – and is often described as the “dark night of the soul.” This is a time of personal anguish and soul challenge – yet, it is also a time of tremendous personal and spiritual growth and change. Phase three is the Phase of Transformation. During this phase the grieving individual becomes consciously aware they no longer hold “beliefs” but have come instead, to a place of personal “knowing.” This person generally tends to see their spiritual and religious realities greatly different from the way they viewed them as they entered the process. While their “knowing” will continue to unfold, persons in the Phase of Transformation are now certain which beliefs they can no longer hold.

6). Listening to someone who is struggling with beliefs can bring us face to face with our own untested beliefs. Our initial response may be one of defense. Our body language can quickly convey discomfort in having one of our own beliefs challenged. We may communicate a strong disagreement with their opinion. We may attempt to convince them of their inaccuracy or try to “fix” them and their situation by emphasizing their need to continue to hold the belief. We might attempt statements of false reassurances such as: “If you place your trust in God things will all work out.” Or we might try advice such as: “You should pray very hard about this” (Simington, 2003).

Consider the following example and determine how you would respond (internally and verbally) if someone you work with should share this story.

As the final weeks of my mother’s life approached I was cognizant that she and I were not “alone” in the room. Even, during her waking times and even though she was fully orientated I was aware she was “seeing” and “communicating” with “others.” While she would be looking in my direction as we chatted or prayed, I was aware it was not me she was really focusing on. Her gaze seemed to look beyond me, past me, through me, behind me, beside me.

On one such occasion, I asked, “Mom is daddy here?” She nodded and smiled. I ask about others. She nodded and smiled. I asked her to give messages. She said she did and smiled and then chided me about my lack of trusting what I already knew to be true.

As the days went by, and her time on this dimension was quickly coming to a close, the “presence” in the room of family members who had passed was unmistakable. The occasional waft of rose fragrance, when no fresh roses were present, was alluding. It was not until my journey from her bedside to my own home that I recalled dreaming that my son would be at my side when I smelled roses. Tears of joy and gratitude flowed with my awareness of his gentle and unassuming presence.

7). The threat of having our beliefs challenged stirs a deep need to maintain the status quo of our own beliefs. Our belief system provides a framework for viewing the world. It can be most unsettling to have this framework challenged, for almost everything we do is suspended in some way from this framework. Yet, it is only through disturbing the status quo that true spiritual growth can happen. In addressing soul pain we must be able to move beyond the boundaries of our religious and cultural beliefs. We must move beyond the limited filtering systems they have formed over our vision and hearing. We must expand our frameworks, our ways of viewing the world. We must expand our knowing, our consciousness (Simington, 2003).

8). In my book Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul, as well as in my video Listening to Soul Pain, I describe how the soul more readily responds to right than left brain techniques. Symbol and sound and light and energy vibrations in the forms of energy work, music, drumming, dance, song, laughter, art, beauty, imagery, the elements – water, wind, rock, fire, and in the many forms nature takes, are much more readily interpreted by the right brain than is verbal language. This is why these methods have been traditionally used and incorporated as spiritual practices.

9). In the above named resources I describe how in my work as a consultant, educator and therapist I use music and art, visualization and guided imagery. I tell how I gently introduce energy work and ask those I work with to pay attention to their dream life. These techniques each have research support as therapeutic tools.

10). In my book Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul, as well as in my video Listening to Soul Pain, I relate stories and examples of how I ask those I work with to dance, to sing, to draw, to paint, and/or to sculpt the pain deep within. Creative expressions release soul pain, thus allowing for soul healing and soul growth. “I believe that creativity is the expression of the soul. When I see creativity flowering, even the desire to repaint a wall, or hang a picture, I see a measure of soul healing” (quote from the video Listening to Soul Pain).

11). When we attempt to listen to soul pain we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to risk on our own behalf. When we feel threatened it is usually because we lack the knowledge to relate to the experience the person is attempting to share. Our moral and professional obligation, therefore, is to keep on growing spiritually, and to acquiring further knowledge of the spiritual aspects of professional care giving, just as we continue to acquire knowledge of other aspects of our patient/clients’ care ( Simington, 2003).

12). When I offer consultation and education related to the spiritual aspects of care giving I emphasize that:

· As professionals, we must not fear the spiritual struggles, but encourage those we are working with to face these challenges – acknowledging for them that these struggles often herald advanced spiritual awareness and personal knowing. When we listen and respond in ways that emphasize that the spiritual struggle is to be more honored than feared, we can learn much from the deep insights shared with us by those we are privileged to walk beside.

13). When teaching professionals to listen for soul concerns I encourage the use of assessment questions which flow from the spiritual needs presented by Stoll and Hunglemann (Simington, 1996); and as described and clearly outlined in my booklet Responding Soul to Soul: During times of Spiritual Uprooting which supplements the video Listening to Soul Pain. Responding Soul to Soul: During Times of Spiritual Uprooting describes strategies which help you increase your ability to validate feelings of anger, fear, hurt and a lack of trust in the Creator and in the Universal Order.

14). Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul and Listening to Soul Pain are valuable resources. These will assist in advancing your skills to listen for a lack of hope and for a longing for self-forgiveness and for forgiveness from others. They will increase your ability to recognize a struggle with shattered beliefs. They will help attune your ability to listen for the questions that surface as those you work with attempt to find answers to the “why” questions about the meaning of their experiences. These resources will help you teach those you are working with to welcome misgivings about what it is they are to become. You will learn from these valuable resources to encourage calculated risk taking, for you will recognize at a new level that it takes great courage to tiptoe over the threshold of the door of a new beginning. You will learn from these resources the value of conducting a life review and you will gain the skill of assisting in bringing integrity to a life filled with despair.

15). Being able to touch the spirit of another during their difficult experience requires that we increase our knowledge about spirituality and how spiritual concerns might manifest. This helps us listen for and respond more effectively to spiritual issues. You will find the resources on this website (including those for sale on this site which are) the book Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul, the video Listening to Soul Pain, and the CD’s, Journey to Healing & Releasing Ties That Bind extremely valuable in helping to advance your knowledge of the spiritual manifestations of grief and trauma and how to assist another as they seek soul healing and spiritual transformation. You will find the spiritual messages contained in the note cards also available on this site, empowering and spiritually encouraging.

16). In my role as a consult and educator I offer further knowledge and allow participants to practice the skills introduced in the above mentioned resources. I would feel privileged to work with your group and your agency in this regard.


Simington, J. (2004). Ethics for an evolving spirituality. In J. L., Storch, P. Rodney & R. Starzomski (Eds.). Toward a moral horizon: Nursing ethics for leadership and practice. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada.

Simington, J. (1996). Response of the human spirit to loss, Living Our Losses, 1(1), 9-11.

Copyright Dr. Jane A. Simington Ph. D.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Jane A. Simington, Ph. D., is the owner of Taking Flight International Corporation and the developer of both the Trauma Recovery Certification Program and the Grief Support Certification Program. She is the president of the Canadian Association of Trauma Recovery Providers. Dr. Simington compliments her academic background in both Nursing and Psychology, with an extensive knowledge of alternative and complimentary methods of healing, including the uses of energy-transfer-healing, dream interpretation, art and guided imagery.
Dr. Simington is adjunct faculty at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati Ohio, and St. Stephen’s College at the University of Alberta. She regularly facilitates programs and training sessions for a variety of other colleges and institutes, including Nechi Institute for Training and Health Promotion for Aboriginal Peoples in St. Albert, AB. and Grant Mac Ewan College, in Edmonton, AB. Dr. Simington is a frequent conference presenter, and workshop facilitator. Her numerous professional publications focus on her research and clinical interests in wholistic health, personal empowerment, spiritual well-being, dying, grief and trauma. Her work is featured in her books Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul, and Setting the Captive Free, the booklet, Responding Soul to Soul, the award winning films, Listening to Soul Pain and Healing Soul Pain and on CD’s Journey to Healing, Releasing Ties That Bind, and Retrieving Lost Soul Parts.
Biographical Statement for Dr. Jane A. Simington Ph. D.