Good Works

Getting Past the Pain

Duo’s program helps people recover from trauma

It didn’t start out with a plan or a strategy, only with a desire to serve and the ability, training and experience to follow through on what seemed to be the right thing to do. And it has already made a difference to thousands of people.

That’s the story behind Trauma Recovery Associates, a counseling training program co-founded by the Rev. Ken Schmidt, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Student Parish, and his colleague Sharon Froom.

TRA grew out of a counseling program the two began in 2002 as a response to revelations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the U.S. James Murray, who was then bishop of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, had been appointed by the National Council of Catholic Bishops to address the issue, so he was very supportive of Schmidt and Froom when they stepped forward to offer this counseling program for Catholics in the diocese.

After consultation with Colin Ross, an internationally renowned clinician, researcher, author and lecturer in the field of dissociation and trauma-related disorder, the two developed the Trauma Recovery Program, based on the core concepts of Ross’s Trauma Model.

Schmidt and Froom teach participant victims how to regulate their feelings in healthy ways to enable them to live healthier lives, grieve their past and forgive their perpetrators and those who failed to rescue them. Participants also learn to distinguish between the past and the present in order to inform their thinking, feelings and behavior with the “truth of the now,” Froom says.

“We don’t rehash the past,” she says. “We focus on skills to live effectively now.”

Schmidt and Froom soon recognized that childhood trauma is much broader than sexual abuse, and they made the program available to adult survivors of any childhood trauma — severe neglect, domestic abuse, Satanic ritual abuse, substance abuse or a multitude of other traumas.

More than 400 people have participated in the 10-week program, which is offered to area Catholics free of charge four times a year for English speakers and twice a year for Spanish speakers.

“Healing is one of Jesus Christ’s primary ministries,” Schmidt says. “Healing is a sign that the reign of God is present. This is a charism (gift) God has given to me as a priest and a counselor.”

Both Schmidt and Froom have a master’s degree in counseling and psychology from Western Michigan University. He is a licensed professional counselor, and she is a limited license psychologist.

While Schmidt and Froom’s work with trauma survivors has been done primarily on a local level, they began to receive phone calls from people across the U.S. who were interested in the work. As a result, they formed Trauma Recovery Associates in 2003, an organization focused on training mental health professionals, pastoral care personnel and other helping professionals to offer the Trauma Recovery Program. Many other U.S. dioceses have replicated TRP, including those in Orange County, Calif.; Los Angeles; Atlanta; Manchester, N.H.; New Orleans and Phoenix. CLIMB Wyoming, a nonprofit organization based in Casper, Wyo., that trains and places low-income single mothers in careers, implemented a statewide trauma treatment program.

“People were asking to be taught,” Schmidt says. “We didn’t decide to train them.”

So far, Schmidt and Froom have provided training workshops to more than 500 professionals in Kalamazoo and more than 4,000 people all over the country.

They have also provided training workshops in Kenya, Palestine, Israel, Wales, England and Norway. The Catholic Church in Ireland adopted the Trauma Model. One day in 2010, they received a call from a priest in Rwanda, one of the most traumatized places in the world, where a million people were hacked to death in 100 days during the 1994 genocide. Froom had met Ubald Rugirangoga of Rwanda at the annual conference of the Association of Christian Therapists in California. After she gave a presentation about the Trauma Model, Rugirangoga approached her because he recognized that this information would be useful to priests, teachers, social workers and health care workers in his Diocese of Cyangugu, in western Rwanda. He asked if she and Schmidt could come to Rwanda, and they agreed.

While in Rwanda, they did not focus exclusively on the participants’ experiences during the genocide. Instead, they helped the participants understand the relevance of the Trauma Model no matter the trauma.

“Therapy and mental health issues have a cultural context,” Froom says. “Yet there are some things that are true for all human beings.”

One of them is the impact of trauma on people who are hurt and suffering. The trauma in Rwanda was a result not just of genocide but also of poverty, drug and alcohol addictions and a variety of childhood traumas, Schmidt says.

“They think it’s the genocide, but it’s more,” he says. “And if one generation doesn’t recover, the same symptoms of trauma will be passed on to the next generation. The kids think, feel and act like trauma survivors, although they were not even born at the time of the genocide.”

Schmidt and Froom say they have been able to work across cultures because there is a universality of pain that people experience from trauma. No matter the culture, trauma can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, stress, depression, dissociative identity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“There is a universal human nature,” Schmidt says. “Trauma damages mind, body and spirit.”

In 2011, the duo felt a calling to bring the program to an even wider audience. They began offering it to inmates at the Kalamazoo County Jail.

“Our work is important because we address the pain of people who’ve suffered,” Froom says. “It’s exciting to discover that this training effectively translates across cultures.”

For more information about Trauma Recovery Associates, call Sharon Froom at (269) 381-8917 ext. 222.

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“Our work is important because we address the pain of people who’ve suffered. It’s exciting to discover that this training effectively translates across cultures.”
--Sharon Froom