Our Ministries

The Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry (UUTRM) provides culturally sensitive spiritual care to survivors of mass disasters and other significant trauma.

Rosemary Bray McNatt, founding member, on UUTRM’s mission.

Providing care where needed

UU Trauma Response Ministry

UUTRM was formed in 2002 to provide timely, multilevel, culturally sensitive spiritual care to survivors of mass disasters and other critical incidents that may lead to significant trauma.

We work to educate individuals, congregations and other groups on culturally and spiritually sensitive responses to critical incidents and mass disaster.

We provide resources including the deployment of critical incident stress management (CISM) teams to assist congregations and the communities they work within in the wake of mass disaster and other significant critical incidents.

Where we go, what we do

For over a decade now, the UU Trauma Response Ministry has provided support to UU communities and congregations for a myriad of critical incidents. From national spotlight events to smaller, yet no less significant, incidents that are known only to the local community involved, if UUTRM is called we are there.

One key protocol for UUTRM is that the team does not self deploy, which means UUTRM will not just show up but must be invited in order to respond to an event. This ensures that we are not a drain on local resources, and are seen as people who are part of the larger team. 

Why we aren’t called “chaplains”

In the beginning the team was comprised mostly of clergy, but not entirely. Mental health professionals who were UU lay people were recruited for much needed clinical oversight and later the board added a UU lay person retired from the military. UUTRM was never intended to be a chaplain team; it has always encompassed lay as well as ordained members. 

There are several reasons for having a mix of personnel on the team. The UUTRM uses a peer-driven model of crisis intervention. Since we provide support for more than just clergy, we need team members who can “peer up” with folks in many categories (religious educators, administrators, congregants). We are often called upon to provide a variety of care during a response. To do that well, we need a variety of team members with a variety of skill sets. To use clergy exclusively would limit our ability to responsibly and robustly respond to the needs of those who call for assistance. 

We call our members “responders” not “chaplains,” even the ordained clergy. But what about the folks who are clergy? Clergy are called “responders,” mental health professionals are called “responders,” religious educators are called “responders.” We don’t privilege the status of clergy on our team, we value the gifts every responder brings. To use different titles would bring a hierarchy that is unproductive for the purposes of this ministry.

The care the team provides can involve both on site and off site components. Each event brings different questions and needs. UUTRM’s model is one that can expand and contract depending on the demands of the situation. 

All of our direct care is crisis intervention-driven, rather than counseling or crisis counseling. UUTRM is designed for the acute phase of a critical incident or disaster. Our training and resources focus on early and short-term interventions with referrals for longer term needs. For communities and individuals in crisis, crisis intervention goals are to stabilize, assess needs, reduce any immediate symptoms, support in returning to adaptive functioning and/or referrals to continued care.

Even those of our members who are licensed counselors understand (as do all our responders) that the skills required in these settings are those of crisis intervention. UUTRM is not set up to be the long-term solution for issues stemming from critical incidents. 

Specialized Ministry

Ours is a specialized ministry for an acute need. To take an analogy from the medical world: the (simplified) job of an EMT is to rush to the site of an incident, assess the immediate needs, stop any bleeding, stabilize the person and get the person to the hospital. UUTRM, like the EMT, goes to the incident as soon as called (via phone, email and sometimes in person), assesses the immediate needs, provides crisis intervention for individuals and groups (stabilizing), and gets the individuals and/or groups referred for continued care as needed.

Continued care could be anything such as connecting a congregation to their Regional Congregational Life Consultants, getting an individual to a local licensed mental health provider, being a bridge with a local disaster assistance service center, and more. Continued care and referrals are always determined by the assessment of need and the particularities of the incident.

Requests for offsite direct care have increased over the past few years. Word is getting around that UUTRM is available for “smaller” events, not just the big spotlight ones that get regional or national attention. More than once while I’ve been on-call someone has called our hotline with the question I don’t know if this is a big enough deal for me to call you… Even in the seemingly “little” situations, we can provide deep listening and feedback to people to help them gain clarity on the situation.

We have many resources and sometimes what folks need is to talk through a situation to gain clarity. If we aren’t the right place, we’ll help you with next steps in finding what is. We treat every call, whether it be for an onsite or offsite as a response. One is not more important than another, we provide support based on an assessment of need. We encourage people to call, regardless of the situation—we respond as appropriate, and refer out where that is the better answer.

Responding to Crises

The types of events the UUTRM team has responded to, both on site and off site, is extensive and includes (but is not limited to:

  • shootings
  • wildfires
  • hurricanes
  • flooding
  • church fires
  • suicides
  • homicides
  • unexpected violent deaths
  • assaults
  • public arrests of members
  • sexual assaults
  • tornadoes
  • threats of violence to ministers and congregation
  • embezzlement
  • mass shootings