Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 241–259 | Cite as

Searching for Wholeness Amidst Traumatic Grief: The Role of Spiritual Practices that Reveal Compassion in Embodied, Relational, and Transcendent Ways

  • Carrie DoehringEmail author


How can body-centered spiritual practices help those experiencing traumatic grief? Research on trauma recovery using Porges’s polyvagal theory demonstrates the central role of body-centered practices in helping survivors experience safety before they can search for meanings. Research on religious coping and trauma emphasizes the search for meanings but does not pay as much attention to the role of spiritual practices. This article argues that spiritual practices revealing compassion and benevolence in embodied, relational, and transcendent ways help people in their search for meanings that are flexible, integrated, and complex enough to bear the weight of traumatic grief. The author illustrates this by describing the role of a spiritual practice in her grieving the death by suicide of her 27-year-old son. Listening to sacred choral music evoked grief and an embodied sense of being held within a relational web of love, which became a safe space to experience lament and religious struggles arising from her religiously multiple identity. The conclusion describes how intercultural, spiritually oriented care can help people find intrinsically meaningful body-aware spiritual practices that compassionately energize a collaborative search for meanings amidst traumatic grief.


Spiritual practices Spiritual orienting systems Traumatic grief Ambiguous grief Suicide Religious coping Religious and spiritual struggles Music Religious multiplicity 



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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iliff School of TheologyDenverUSA

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