Episode 102: A gospel-centered approach to administering psychological first aid with therapist Kevin Broderick, featuring Mary Richards as guest host
In this episode, Family Services Emergency Response program manager highlights 5 principles to support individuals during crisis
Episode 102: A gospel-centered approach to administering psychological first aid with therapist Kevin Broderick, featuring Mary Richards as guest host
In this episode, Family Services Emergency Response program manager highlights 5 principles to support individuals during crisis
At some point, most people will experience a traumatic event or critical loss. Experts say that just as some physical traumas need first aid, there are also times when a person may need psychological first aid to validate emotions, reduce stress and foster coping skills.
Therapist Kevin Broderick, Family Services Emergency Response program manager, joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss how evidence-informed, gospel-centered psychological first aid can support individuals in crisis. During his career as a marriage and family therapist, Broderick has responded to local, national and international crises.
Speaking with guest host and Church News reporter Mary Richards, Broderick shares experiences, offers five principles of support and details how to find resources to learn more.
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Kevin Broderick: When we experience a traumatic event, something that’s a significant or critical loss or trauma, sometimes we take a hit that we just don’t know what to do with. It just hurts so deep. So, psychological first aid has been developed to provide that initial support, that initial care. Well, I recognize that we are living in perilous times. There are a lot of mental, emotional, social wounds happening at this stage of our experience. What we’re going to need to do is be sure that we understand how to help and care for each other. As we work to gather Israel, we need to be a refuge from the storm, so that we can comfort those in need of comfort.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Psychological first aid is an evidence-informed approach to help after any traumatic event. Like with medical first aid, it was developed to meet immediate crisis needs by reducing distress and fostering coping skills. Kevin Broderick, who has responded to local, national and international crises, joins this episode of The Church News podcast to talk about this very needed service. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist who earned a bachelor’s degree in family science from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in family and child development from Virginia Tech University. During the past quarter of a century, he has worked for Family Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, currently serving as the program manager for Family Services Emergency Response Emotional Care. He is joined today by Church News reporter Mary Richards, who will serve as the guest host for this podcast. In addition to many other specialties, Mary covers Welfare and Self-Reliance and the Church’s humanitarian efforts for the Church News. Mary and Kevin, let me say thank you, as I turn the microphone over to you for this podcast.
Mary Richards: Thank you, Kevin, for being here today with us to talk about this important topic. I wanted to first let our listeners know a little bit more about Family Services. Tell us about what the emergency response team does and your role in that.
Kevin Broderick: Well, thank you, Mary. It’s really good to be here. I guess I first want to say, and I’ll get to your question, that I recognize that we live in difficult and trying times. There’s a lot of heavy and challenging things going on in the world today. And those who are listening, they have their own wounds. They have their own struggles. Some of them are fresh and some of them are past wounds and struggles. And I just want to express my compassion and care for them, grateful that they’re listening in, and for the concerns that they have for loved ones who are suffering or hurting. I also want to say that, maybe as a confession as a marriage and family therapist, that even though I do this work, and even though I’ve worked with people in crisis for a lot of years, sometimes I just don’t say the right thing or do the right thing. It’s complicated. It can be difficult and we make human mistakes. And so as I share some helpful ideas, and information about ministering to others, I want to recognize that we all, sometimes just mess up in our efforts. It’s complicated. There’s not a one size fits all option to help somebody. Sometimes what helps one person doesn’t help another and so we do our human best to minister the way that we can. So I’m just grateful to be here.
Family Services has had a lot of different social services that we’ve provided over the years. Right now, we’re mostly known for counseling, for missionary services, for addiction recovery services, for Church consultation services, but along the way, we’ve often been asked to help respond to a crisis. And that crisis could be a natural disaster, something large like pandemics, or earthquakes, or mass violence, or other types of large community crisis situations, or it could be a critical incident where we’re responding to a suicide, a sudden loss, an accident, an untimely loss or situation or threatening situation for an individual or family. And so, we work as practitioners in Family Services to be aware of the skills needed to help in a crisis situation. And we teach our practitioners how to do that through psychological first aid and also teaching them skills about ministering or how to minister to others during a crisis.
Mary Richards: So, let’s talk about that definition, then, of psychological first aid, because when I hear ‘first aid,’ I think of medical First Aid, and the things that can be done right away to help something physical, but psychological first aid, is that going to kind of go into more of those emotional and spiritual needs?
Kevin Broderick: Yeah, definitely. Maybe I can use an example from my youth. When I was in seventh grade, I went on a ski trip with my brother, his wife and her family. On the last run of the day, I skied into another skier and broke my kneecap and it was one of the most painful experiences I’d ever had in my life. So, the ski patrol people came. They stabilized my leg. They put me on one of those toboggans and they took me to the first aid station and gave me some first aid medical care, which was vital at the time. I’m just grateful, my older brother didn’t say, “Stay strong, you can do this,” you know. “Don’t worry about what’s going on.” I’m glad there wasn’t a physical therapist saying, “Hey, I know what to do. Let’s get your knee moving,” because really, I had to be taken in an ambulance down to a hospital and I had to be in a full cast for six months before I was in a place or a position where I could actually start the physical therapy. I needed first aid, originally, at the beginning of that experience, and that was exactly what I needed. Now, it’s similar with emotional needs, and emotional and mental distress. When we experience a traumatic event, something that’s a significant or critical loss or trauma, sometimes we take a hit that we just don’t know what to do with. It just hurts so deep. So, psychological first aid has been developed to provide that initial support — that initial care. And there’s been wonderful people, nationally, who have studied emergency response and crisis response, who have researched it, who have participated in it, who have put together a curriculum to help us learn how we can respond to a crisis and use psychological first aid. Now, if you take that training, they have a training online for free at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network that people can view, but that’s a five-hour training. And so what we’re doing with Church Family Services, is providing some tips, similar to psychological first aid, that will help people minister to others during a crisis.
Mary Richards: Let’s talk about that, because these are resources we will link to, obviously, in the show notes and then on thechurchnews.com where people can easily find these, because you are correct, the Church has put together a lot of resources that are very helpful, as you say, on all these different levels, right? For ministering brothers and sisters, for family members, bishops, stake presidents, Relief Society presidents, those who are helping right in the moment after something traumatic has happened.
Kevin Broderick: Yeah, we recognize that most of us aren’t accustomed to that. These things don’t happen frequently enough in our lives, thank goodness, right, that we’re familiar with ways to respond. You know, it was really interesting that in October 2011 Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was then a member of the First Presidency, said the following, quote, “While there is nothing wrong with experts, let’s face it, there will never be enough of them to solve all the problems. Instead, the Lord has placed His priesthood and its organization at the doorsteps of every nation where the Church is established. And right by its side, He has placed the Relief Society.” And we recognize that more than ever at this time, in our experience.
I’ve worked for Family Services for a long time and we do not have enough experts to take care of the challenges that are being faced by Church members around the world. And we are so grateful for priesthood brethren, and Relief Society sisters, and leaders and ministering members who provide that support and care when a crisis occurs and when that type of support is needed. And so, one thing we are trying to do is help leaders and ministering members, both priesthood brethren and Relief Society sisters, to learn ways that they can minister to people who’re experiencing really hard and difficult challenges. And so, what we have created is a ministering guide, discussion guide, how to minister to others during a crisis, where we highlight five principles that can really be of support. Those principles are, be compassionate, allow others to express their feelings, empathize and normalize their responses, suggest ideas for ways to cope and also, offer hope. And each of those has a specific role in helping somebody who’s feeling distressed or in that acute crisis stage, like I was after I had that ski accident. And so when we’re compassionate, we can say things like, “We love and care about you,” or “I’m here for you” and I can listen. We can allow others to express their feelings.
Oftentimes, we feel uncomfortable when others are emotional around us or hurting around us and we don’t know what to say and we want to try and make it better. And what we’re suggesting is that we’re not trying to make it better, we’re just trying to be there with them and listen. We may even ask questions that will help them express more of what they’re feeling, questions such as, “What worries you right now?” And “What concerns do you have about the future?” So, we’re inviting, in a very compassionate way, for people to share how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. We don’t want to say, don’t feel guilty about that or this wasn’t your fault. We just want to say, “Tell us how you feel” and listen with our hearts.
Mary Richards: Yeah, let’s make this distinction, too, that this isn’t something like long-term counseling or therapy. This is in-the-moment ministering, really, with this pattern, these principles of this First Aid after a crisis or a traumatic event.
Kevin Broderick: Exactly. It is, it’s ministering in the moment and being there in such a compassionate and heartfelt way that they know that you’re there, that they know that you care and that you can provide support as they navigate some of the challenges that they’re going to face. I do want to say that we don’t expect or anticipate that most people will have long term problems or difficulties when administering, you know, emotional or psychological first aid, or ministering to others during a crisis. We do know that most people are resilient, that they have the capability to recover on their own. I was able to recover from the broken leg experience, you know, about 10 months later, but I needed time before that. And so, this ministering is in the moment, trying to help people who have experienced really heavy and difficult challenges.
I guess, what I want to go to is an example of our Savior Jesus Christ in ministering. There was a time during His ministry when one of his closest friends, Lazarus, died. Four days later, He was able to get to the family. First one he spoke to was Martha. Martha was responding to the death of her brother in a different way than Mary and she was curious and she was asking questions. And Jesus talked to her and taught her truth and doctrine. Now, Mary was in a different position. She was really grieving and mourning and so were other Jews around her. And so when Mary and Jesus met up, Jesus didn’t teach her doctrine. Jesus mourned with her and as Mary and the Jews around her wept, so did He. And He just spent time with her. And so He knew, and we know, that everybody has a little bit different response and a little bit different need when critical or traumatic loss occurs in our lives. And we know that we can look to our Savior, Jesus Christ for help.
Mary Richards: We make a covenant of baptism, don’t we, to mourn with those who mourn, to be with those who need comfort. And the Savior is our example in that, but we can emphasize to people who are listening that you don’t have to know how to do this right away. The Church has these resources and the training to point you this pattern of what to do, so that you’re not feeling lost in this moment of, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to help.” We can do that. Like you said, let’s run through those again, allow others to express their feelings, empathize and normalize responses, suggest ideas for ways to cope and offer that hope.
Kevin Broderick: Right, and we want to begin that with expressions of compassion.
Mary Richards: And tell me more about how to follow this pattern of empathizing and normalizing responses, and then suggesting ways to cope and offering hope. Let’s walk through those different principles.
Kevin Broderick: Right, so what we want to do is we want to let people understand that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling and to experience what they’re experiencing. We don’t have expectations of how they should respond in an acute crisis situation, in a significant loss or tragedy. We can just be there with them and offer our care and support. You can say something like, “It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling,” or, “I don’t fully understand what you’re going through, but I care, and I’m here and I’m available.” Now another thing about ideas for coping, sometimes we have a tendency to jump to that one. Notice, that’s principle four, out of five, not principle one. We want to help people solve their problems and we want to tell them what helped us to cope when we were going through a hard time. And it was actually attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but there’s a quote that says, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” So, what we want to do is, before we talk about ways to cope or solutions to what they’re experiencing, we want them to know that we care and we want them to feel cared for and understood as much as possible. That may be in one conversation, or that may be over days, or weeks or months, depending on the depth of the wound and the needs that they have. But eventually, we can get to a point where we can brainstorm with them and talk with them about, you know, asking them questions like, “What coping strategies have helped you in the past?” and “Who has helped you the most through these challenges?” And giving some personal relief, or way, to alleviate some of that emotional, and mental, and physical and spiritual distress that comes when we face really trying times.
Mary Richards: And your team, you’ve seen people all over the world in many of these trying times. The emergency response team has responded to, like you talked about, those natural disasters, the flooding, the earthquakes. Those can be so traumatic, but so can also things close to home, as well in our individual lives. Is that why, then, these resources from the Church really ought to be something that everybody can benefit from and look at and learn from and then put into practice?
Kevin Broderick: For sure. This applies to many aspects of life. Let me give you an example of a situation that we had. A group of us from Family Services, under the direction of the Red Cross, went to help after Hurricane Harvey in Houston. The Red Cross assigned me to the Convention Center in Houston where there were thousands of people who had evacuated from their homes or lost their homes, staying on cots in large event center, you know, rooms. We had the opportunity to walk around and connect with people and just check in with them. There was one particular family that had two women and an adult son with Down syndrome and I checked in with them two or three or four times. And one time I just sat down with them. I was trying to express compassion, empathize with them, let them tell me whatever they wanted to tell me and eventually, they told me their story. Their home was being flooded. Their only way of survival was to get to the roof of their home and hope for rescue. What happened though, is that the two women could get to the roof, but the adult son with Down syndrome could not. The mother at that point decided that she was going to stay with her son, hold on to him and drown and, and die together. Blessedly, that’s when a boat came by, was able to rescue them from the waters and take them to a place where they could have some shelter and food. They had medical care and lots of support, but one thing that happened during that difficult tragedy and traumatic event, was the adult with Down syndrome did not walk after that event. He would only go in a wheelchair. He would not stand up and he would not walk. Now, the family had told me that they’d been to several medical appointments and they couldn’t find a medical reason as to why he wasn’t walking, but someone with a kind heart gave him a stuffed animal that was really meaningful to him. And boy, he held on to that stuffed animal. And just being there, listening to him, expressing compassion, trying to understand, we got to a point where we thought, “OK, what can we do to help him get on his feet?” So we decided that we would put his stuffed animal in his wheelchair and ask him to stand up and push his stuffed animal for a walk and you know what, it worked. And he stood up and he pushed his stuffed animal around only a few feet and then he wanted to turn around and go back, but it was just one step at a time. And you don’t have to be a therapist or clinical professional to help in these kinds of ways. If we’re there, expressing compassion, if we’re there listening, and empathizing, and trying to understand what they’re doing, and listening to their feelings, and experiences, then eventually, we may get to a point where we can offer some strategies to help. And then we want to leave whoever we’re working with with a sense of hope, as well. Sometimes deep expressions of hope, or spiritual truths, the timing doesn’t work out too well, when someone’s in an acute crisis. And so you may say something like “I’m here with you,” or “I know people who can help” and give them hope in that way.
Mary Richards: Thank you for that example and for that service that you gave that day. Now, how does this look like in the day-to-day living for those who are listening who are the bishops and Relief Society presidents, family members, ministering brothers and sisters every day?
Kevin Broderick: What I would say to that is that each day, we have interactions with people that we care about and people who care about us, whether it’s in our family, or our neighbors, or friends, or those that we minister to. And anything can be a heavy burden for somebody, a parent who’s struggling with a child and their choices. It could be a child who’s struggling with parents who aren’t appropriate or helpful. It can be that we’re just having a hard day and there’s hard challenges around us that are difficult to navigate. And what we want to be able to do is connect with each of those people in a way that’s meaningful, where we can get to the heart of what they’re experiencing and where we can be a consistent guide and support to them. So compassion, again, sharing compassion, allowing them to express their feelings, providing information about how to cope, nurturing, normalizing and providing hope. Those kinds of things can give us purpose, it can give us a connection and a feeling that will help us through the hardest times. There is something that is important, I think, to remember about those deep, meaningful relationships and connections, is that the research is really clear. How do we strengthen resilience? We have those connected relationships. How do we improve recovery from loss and difficulties? We engage, or connect, or have those important relationships. And so, certainly these skills can be applied at the time of a crisis, but if we’re practicing these skills, and thinking about them and not always trying to be a fixer, then that’s when we can make a difference in people’s lives.
Mary Richards: And is there a way then to give ourselves and others that permission to ask for help?
Kevin Broderick: Yeah, that’s a tough situation, because some people respond to traumatic events by wanting to work through it on their own. Sometimes they’ll isolate or withdraw and just need that space. And we need to allow them to have that space, but if it’s at all possible, we don’t want to be alone. In fact, one thing that we could talk about is the Savior. When He was going through His deepest pain and sorrow, “sorrow of the soul unto death,” is the way He explained it to His disciples, He brought his disciples with Him. He asked them to wait with Him. He expressed the depth of sorrow that He was feeling and the more agony He felt, the harder He prayed. He gives us a good example of understanding His role and His mission, but also understanding, “I need some support through this experience. I need some help and my disciples, I’m asking them to be there with me.”
Mary Richards: You’ve seen so much and you’ve experienced so much of this grief and trauma as you help others. How can we and how do we respond to trauma, minister to others in a crisis, without them feeling traumatized and overwhelmed, ourselves?
Kevin Broderick: Great question. I’m not sure that we can do it without feeling some hurt, or trauma, or feeling overwhelmed, ourselves. If we can do it that way, we’re probably not connecting on the level that we need to connect with. This is a good question and a good point to bring up, because there’s a lot of hard things going on. And even in the past, you know, five days, I’ve been aware of the death of two children, the death of three adults, another returned missionary in a coma, three different suicides and we’ve had our good family services staff responding. We had two responses this past Sunday in different states and we had a response yesterday and a response tonight, for people who have experienced traumatic loss. It is important for us to stay grounded in our faith, grounded in our relationships, to have some opportunities to take a break from the challenges and difficulties of this life. I tend to do that by watching sports or playing sports. A lot of people will hike or swim or draw or play music and there’s so many things, but I have to keep that a part of my life. I know that when I do go to a large-scale disaster situation, that I often am writing in my journal and I’m listening to music at night, staying connected with the things that we know, that give us some strength and encouragement to press on, but as we do that, we need to recognize that the health of those we’re trying to serve is vital, but so is our health and the better help that we have the better help we can provide.
Mary Richards: Where can people learn more about everything we’ve talked about – ministering during a crisis, psychological first aid and the other resources that the Church has?
Kevin Broderick: Yeah, so what you’re asking is really important, because President Russell M. Nelson, talked to us in October general conference of 2020 and he expressed concern about our preparedness for the future. In that conference, he said, quote, “I urge you to take steps to be temporally prepared, but I am even more concerned about your spiritual and emotional preparation.” So with that, we did create a site on the Church website called “Tips for Emotional Preparedness” that has some basic ideas on how to prepare ourselves for a crisis or an emergency or even a disaster in our lives. Along with that website, there’s a link to our Facing Challenges self-help guide that helps people to identify what responses they’re experiencing, both distressing and resilient, and helps them to identify some coping strategies that can help alleviate some of that distress. We also have the discussion guide linked there on how to minister to others during a crisis that teaches the principles that we’ve been talking about today and gives some good advice. Through Family Services, people can also receive a document called Facing Challenges or Helping Children Face Challenges and Helping Youth Face Challenges Self-help Guides. The Europe version contains all four of those documents, the Ministering Guide, the Facing Challenges, Helping Youth and Helping Children Face Challenges and they’ve been using that with great success in Europe. And there’s other resources on that website that can be linked to help. Also, people can go to Life Help and find a lot of good information and resources on their Gospel Library app. But while we’ve brought that up, let’s talk a little bit about Europe, if you don’t mind.
Obviously, they’re going through a lot of distress with the war and refugees who are flooding into the different countries and areas around Europe. And this has been distressing for members of the Church in Europe, as well. What they had done, is they took these resources and combined them into one booklet and they had published that booklet and they had even started training leaders and members on how to minister to others during a crisis. Now, because of the current circumstances and distress in Europe, there’s been a lot of requests. And so, in several countries, throughout Europe, there have been thousands of members and leaders who have taken this training and learned how to minister and support one another. They’ve done a beautiful job. Now, if people in the United States or Canada or other areas of the world want this kind of support, they can contact their local Family Service office and ask for ministering support or ministering training and we’ll be glad to consult with them regarding difficult challenges that they’re working with or we’ll be happy, also, to provide a training and self-help guides, things that can be of support to them and perhaps even tailored to their specific needs.
Mary Richards: Yeah, helping others and helping ourselves too. I love that all of that is available to build our own emotional resilience and foundation, strengthening it for these days. Yeah, that’s perfect.
Kevin Broderick: Yeah, you did mention that — the importance of how we can strengthen ourselves, as well. You know, if our well is empty, we can’t give water to those who thirst, right? So, we do have to be able to take care of ourselves through these experiences and find ways to allow people to help us as we help others.
Mary Richards: That’s beautiful. Every Church News podcast, we always end with the same question. I’ve learned so much speaking with you during this time and now, I’d love to hear what you know now, in all your years of serving with emergency response and in Family Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in helping and ministering to others, what do you know now?
Kevin Broderick: Thank you. Well, I recognize that we are living in perilous times. I recognize that there’s lots of confusion and commotion going on. And I understand and I have seen in my work, men’s, women’s, youth, children’s hearts failing for fear and other difficult challenges that we face. There are a lot of mental, emotional, social wounds happening snd we anticipate that that will continue at this stage of our experience, life experience and at this stage of life. What we’re going to need to do is be sure that we understand how to help and care for each other. As we work to gather Israel, we need to be a refuge from the storm, so that we can comfort those in need of comfort.
As Elder Dale G. Renlund [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] said in [October] general conference of 2021, he invited us to join the Savior in His mission to heal the brokenhearted and that’s where we’re at. That’s what we have to do. And remember that as we do that, it is the Savior’s mission to heal the brokenhearted. He did raise with healing in His wings and that’s available to us now, and will be available to us in the future, as well. He understands our pains and our challenges. He understands our sorrows and He cares. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin once taught that we all experienced dark Fridays and the Lord Himself, He is acquainted with grief. He knows our pains and sorrows to a depth that we can’t comprehend or even understand. And as He did, sometimes we have to endure our own pains and sorrows and difficulties, but the difference is, is that the Savior accomplished His mission on His own and we don’t have to go through our pain on our own. He will not forsake us. He is there for us. He will come to us and support us and give us that strain. He will send angels there some unseen in some scene around us, helping us the future we look forward to has also been prophesied. And written in Revelations 21:4 says, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain for the former things or passed away.”
I’m so grateful for God and His tender mercies. I know He’s there for us. I know He loves us. I know He has healing and I know He’ll give that healing to us. Sometimes we have to be patient and sometimes we have to wait and endure, but it will come. He will wipe away our tears and there will be no more pain and I’m so grateful for His atoning and healing power that saves us all. And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Mary Richards: Amen, thank you.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.