The Paradox of Trauma and Growth in Pastoral and Spiritual Care: Night Blooming introduces and bridges the gap between the psychological and spiritual perspectives and responses in trauma work, illuminating the complexity of the human phenomenon of growth though suffering that is too easily misunderstood in the context of pastoral and spiritual care. Through the hopeful metaphor of night bloomers, rare plants that grow because of light, but bloom in the darkness, it is suggested that while psychological trauma is inherently negative, and suffering creates a spiritual inner night, moving through it may reveal a new, complex reality of the human experience not previously understood. We may see ourselves, others, or the world in a way that is stronger, wiser, deeper, or more brilliant than we had known before. The book presents the goal of pastoral and spiritual work is not to extinguish darkness. Nor is it to solely focus on the light. The work is to learn how to stay awake through the night, without glorifying it. Such a task is far easier when we believe there might be a rare and uniquely beautiful bloom to stay awake for, and that witnessing such a bloom could have great consequences for living a meaningful life.
Mary Beth Werdel is associate professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling at Fordham University.
Chapter 1: The ‘T’ in PTG
Chapter 2: The Paradox of Trauma and Growth
Chapter 3: Night Blooming: A Metaphor of Posttraumatic Growth
Chapter 4: Religion, Spirituality, and Night Blooming: Engaging, Coping, and Virtue in the Paradox
Chapter 5: Witnessing the Night Bloom: Working in the Paradox
About the Author
Mary Beth Werdel’s book is a truly stunning work for at least 3 reasons. First, she has included and presented an amazing breadth of material in a way that is essential for the helping professional yet accessible to a general readership. Secondly, she brings to the surface material from both contemporary psychological research and the spiritual literature so, no matter what your background, there is still important new material from which to learn. Finally, there is a sense of humility in how she approaches trauma through the metaphor of “night blooming”. This is most important because when you take knowledge and add humility, you open the door to honoring new wisdom. And, when you take this very wisdom and add it to compassion toward yourself and others, you get love…and such a love is at the heart of a full life—especially when walking through the nights of life by yourself or with others. Such wisdom is also a key element in developing a healthy perspective toward life. This is also important because, in the end, it is not so much the darkness in the world around us or even ourselves that matters. It is how we psychologically and spiritually stand in that darkness that ultimately determines how we are able to help make meaning of it for ourselves and others who have experienced trauma or serious stress.
Mary Beth Werdel has provided a vital resource toward the paradoxic complexity of trauma, yet directs the reader toward the potential growth hidden in the trauma itself. In exploring these vital paradoxes of trauma, the reader is provided a subtle but distinct guiding light(s) to comfort, sustain, and consolidate the path of renewal
Mary Beth Werdel builds upon her Primer on Posttraumatic Growth (2012) to develop a cogent theoretical and practical argument for embracing the paradox of trauma and growth in practices of professional spiritual care and counseling. In an era when everything stressful is erroneously deemed traumatic, Werdel uses precise language to posit an understanding of trauma that stays true to the psychological construct and yet attends to the co-occurrence of meaning-making that is life-giving and growth-enhancing. Written in a fluent style accessible to both professional and lay audiences, Werdel weaves together interdisciplinary research to demonstrate the factors, both internal and external, innate and developed, that facilitate growth in response to suffering and trauma. As Werdel aptly argues, all spiritual professionals must be trauma-informed, and this book is an essential read for all students and professionals in spiritual practices at hospitals, universities, congregations, and community mental health centers.