Faith Leaders to Provide Post-Trauma Counseling to Address Effects of Violence
Northwestern Memorial Hospital September 18, 2014
“When it comes to violence, the question becomes, ‘Who is there to counsel the perpetrators, victims, their families and friends once the damage is done?’” said the Rev. Chris Harris, founder of Bright Star Community Outreach (BSCO) and senior pastor of Bright Star Church. “It is tremendously important to offer resources to deal with complex emotions and anxieties in the aftermath of violence. Our communities need emotional restoration to break the cycles that caused the violence in the first place.”
Harris was inspired by NATAL’s mission to provide emotional and psychological treatment and support for those experiencing post-traumatic stress as a result of conflict. After visiting Israel in 2012, he was determined to bring NATAL’s model back home and shape it for Chicago, starting with his own Bronzeville community. Harris mentioned the idea to Mayor Emanuel when the Mayor visited his church last summer. The Mayor liked the plan, and connected him with Dean M. Harrison, President and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare.
“The best ideas don’t always come from City Hall but from Chicagoans in every corner of our city and this is a great example of that,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Everyone has a role to play in the safety of our city. This effort is a great example of what’s possible when community organizations, businesses and City government come together as partners to support families and their communities.”
Many Americans turn to faith leaders during times of emotional distress, and Harris believes the program will enhance the work the religious community already performs. He hopes the new methods will be pivotal to breaking the cycle of violence in many Chicago communities.
“I saw the healing tactics of NATAL’s mental health counselors,” he said. “If we can use similar strategies and partner with faith leaders, we can better penetrate communities that attach a negative stigma to mental health professionals and get those affected by conflict the help they need.”
Under the partnership, and through the Mayor’s work, the University of Chicago Medicine and Northwestern Medicine committed $250,000 each for the first two years of data gathering, implementation, oversight and evaluation. United Way of Metropolitan Chicago will offer scaling expertise, funding administration and access to its network of partners. In addition to NATAL, Dream Center organizers will be working with Social Development Research Group’s Communities That Care, an approach that seeks to strengthen the community and prevent youth delinquency, substance use and violence.
The pilot’s initial phase is set to begin in the fall. It will involve engaging community partners to form a Communities That Care coalition, an assessment to determine the scope of the project, and deciding how components of NATAL’s model can be applied in Bronzeville. Organizers will conduct a survey for Bronzeville residents to identify risks leading to health and behavioral issues that may escalate to violence. Once the specific challenges are identified, the Dream Center will assemble resources for addressing them. Already, about two-dozen Chicago faith leaders have come together to learn about and support the effort.
“We're tired of doing funerals for young people facing violence. We're tired of facing pain among community members,” Harris said. “Although the Dream Center will sit and start in Bronzeville, our goal is that it will service Chicago, because this problem is a Chicago problem.”
As two leading Chicago-based academic medical centers, Northwestern Medicine and the University of Chicago Medicine will provide program evaluation, access to psychiatric expertise, and financial support. The two will also bring their research experience and medical resources to Harris’ program, along with access to other critical programming needs as identified.
“This approach is a breakthrough among discussions to reduce violence,” said Northwestern’s Harrison, who is also cabinet chair of United Way of Metro Chicago. “Faith leaders already possess trust in their communities. We want to leverage those connections to reach people who need post-trauma counseling by using proven data-driven methods.”
Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago, said the Dream Center will be a tangible resource for those families struggling through the after-effects of conflict. “The factors behind the prevalence of urban violence are multifaceted, and addressing them requires a personalized and adaptive approach,” Polonsky said. “This model is drawing from the cultural and spiritual strengths of communities plagued by violence and finding solutions that are tailored to work for them.”
Dream Center organizers are taking a phased approach to the project, first focusing on training and surveying the Bronzeville community. Work is under way with CTC to develop the survey that will go out by early next year. Counseling and other services are expected to be implemented starting in late summer or early fall 2015. The hope is that the Dream Center’s unique model can be replicated in other Chicago neighborhoods.
“This is a remarkable coalition of collaborators coming together to support our communities,” said Wendy DuBoe, president and CEO, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. “While violence gets much attention, making services available to counsel the kids, families and community members traumatized by conflict can make a lasting positive impact that promotes healing and positive change.”