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A science- and Scripture-backed guide for navigating trauma in the sacred space of soul care

Combining best practices from neuroscience, theology, social work, and spiritual direction, When Spirituality and Trauma Collide will equip you with a basic understanding of trauma and how it impacts spiritual formation, so you can help others heal the wounds that keep them from connection with God.

No part of us is unaffected by trauma. Our mind, our body, and our spirit – especially our ability to experience God as loving and good – are wounded when we face pain, abuse, and suffering. Yet, as spiritual leaders, we are often unaware of the ways trauma impacts the spiritual life – and how many of our well-intentioned responses can actually be hurtful for someone who has experienced trauma.

Social worker and spiritual director Karen Bartlett has been there many times before. This led her to seminary to study theology and a master’s program to study neuroscience — all to better understand how trauma impacts our view of God.

When Spirituality and Trauma Collide brings together her learnings and breaks them down into a simple field guide that will equip you to respond to trauma in spiritual formation settings without inflicting harm.


  • How trauma works in the brain and body and how it can impact someone’s view of God
  • Attachment style, safety, and the stress response as it relates to the spiritual life
  • How to spot signs of dysregulation and discomfort during a session
  • Best practices for when to slow down, stop, ask permission, or use different language with someone
  • Permission to not always have all the answers and to instead guide someone into an experience with God

Walking alongside others on their spiritual journey is a sacred calling that requires care for the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. This guide will empower you to quickly understand the basics of trauma, so you can help others heal the wounds that keep them from connection with God.

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Karen Bartlett

Karen Bartlett resides in Wichita, Kansas. She is married to Rick Bartlett and has two young adult children, Grace and Tobias. Her passion for learning has resulted in obtaining the following: Licensed Master of Social Work, Masters Certificate in Theology, M.Ed in Neuroscience and Trauma, and a certificate in Spiritual Direction. Karen currently works as a school social worker during the day and as a spiritual director in the evenings. She feels honored to work with spiritual directees who have experienced trauma, and has witnessed healing and wholeness through creating sacred space to explore the intersection of spirituality and trauma. Karen believes the holistic approach of mind, body, and spirit is essential in spiritual formation and trauma healing. 

Continuous learning, being outdoors, running, cycling, working out, and meeting up for coffee bring her life and energy. Having lived in the UK for seven years and traveling through many different countries over the course of her life, she has been privileged to see breath-taking scenes throughout the world - be that a quaint village in England, the old city of Antioch, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the beautiful islands of Greece, the wineries in Spain, the coffee plants in Columbia, the sunsets in Costa Rica, or numerous other places of beauty. However, the people and their stories are what always create the memories for her in any given location. The world is a wonderful, amazing, and holy place that hosts God’s presence in people and nature, and Karen looks forward to continuing her exploration of places yet unknown to her and meeting more inspiring people on her travels.



What people are saying...

As our collective awareness of trauma expands exponentially, timely and well-honed resources like this are in great need. As a practitioner of the art of spiritual direction I find this book to be a beautiful and necessary companion for my work with those carrying the heavy burden of unprocessed trauma. I will return to this guide often to sharpen my practical skills and raise the levels of awareness needed to better serve my directees. The resources and guidance offered here are timely and applicable for all spiritual directors, not just those working with survivors of trauma. And, as the director of a spiritual direction training program this book will be a requirement for all of our new spiritual directors!

Todd Minturn
Todd Minturn
Director at Hole in the Rock Ministries

If you are tasked with the awesome and humbling responsibility of providing pastoral care for others, then this book is an absolute necessity. I read this book with a mixture of conviction and relief. Conviction because it challenged me to strive for better in the way I understand and care for those dealing with deep trauma and pain. Relief because I recognized an author familiar with the difficult terrain often navigated in pastoral care and counselling and who offers practical, insightful and loving ways in which we might help others. This book will help both trauma victims and pastors not only investigate their pain and trauma, but given time, open up pathways of transformation. This should be on every pastor’s bookshelf.

Rev. Jon Tattersall
Rev. Jon Tattersall
St John’s Anglican Church, Harborne, UK

Karen Bartlett masterfully “threads the needle” in this handbook for spiritual directors on the impact of trauma on spirituality! As an experienced spiritual director, Karen knows what I also know: it is only a matter of time when a spiritual director will encounter a directee who has been deeply wounded by abuse. Though our role is not to counsel, spiritual directors can, as Karen points out, provide a way of being with directees that will assist them in their journey of healing. This handbook provides thoughtful and practical insight for any spiritual director who desires to become a better healer!

Beth A. Booram
Beth A. Booram
co-founder and director of Fall Creek Abbey and author of several books, including Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-given Dream and When Faith Becomes Sight.

There’s hope for not only the traumatized, but for those of us who want to help our wounded friends as well. Karen Bartlett - who is trained and experienced in neuroscience, counseling, and spiritual direction - offers us here a practical guide to all these things. I highly recommend this valuable resource to all those who have experienced trauma in their personal lives (isn’t that all of us?) and those who desire to come alongside our friends who are hoping to find healing and hope for the future.

Marty Boller
Marty Boller
trainer, Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction

A gem of a book which I recommend to spiritual directors but also to chaplains, clergy, ministers and all who have the privilege of listening to people sharing something of their stories with them. Trauma informed work is a growing field and I welcome this contribution to the spiritual direction literature. As someone who has spent their working life training those who minister to children, young people and families, this is a must-read book too, particularly the exploration of attachment. If we can offer appropriate interventions earlier, that may help people flourish as God intended. This book reflects Karen's passion and commitment to being a trauma sensitive and ethical spiritual director who wants to see people growing into all that God has for them. This is a short, accessible book from which I learnt new insights which I can implement in my practice, a great resource. 

Rev. Dr. Sally Nash
Rev. Dr. Sally Nash
Senior Research Fellow St. Padarn's Institute Research and Training Lead Centre for Paediatric Spiritual Care, Associate Minister, Hodge Hill Church

In my work as an advocate for those who have experienced childhood trauma, including Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), stories of unintentional harm that results from seeking spiritual help are all too common—most often due to a lack of understanding of the impact of trauma. In When Spirituality and Trauma Collide, Karen Bartlett weaves neuroscience, attachment theory, and best practices for spiritual direction into an accessible guide that needs to be in the hands of everyone who desires to provide
spiritual guidance and support to those impacted by childhood trauma. I highly recommend this resource! 

Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
author of Trauma in the Pews: The Impact on Faith and Spiritual Practices

I have sought to be an effective agent of God's healing for four decades. It has always been challenging, but today human brokenness seems especially stubborn, complex, and nuanced. My experience makes me grateful for the insights of Karen Bartlett's new book, When Spirituality and Trauma Collide. Caregivers of all kinds will be equipped, made wiser, and encouraged by her work.

Bishop Todd Hunter
Bishop Todd Hunter
author of What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion

As spiritual directors, pastors, chaplains, and counselors, people often open up to us about deep trauma and wounding in their lives.

This can be a sacred moment. But very few of us are trained to respond well to this type of vulnerability.

We feel uncomfortable, inadequate, frozen, and afraid of getting it “wrong.” We reach for quick spiritual “fixes” and theological claims that feel foreign to someone’s lived experience.

This can lead to responses that accidentally retraumatize instead of heal.

When Spirituality and Trauma Collide brings a trauma-informed perspective to soul care, helping those who shepherd others be more mindful of how they walk with people on their spiritual journey.

A science- and Scripture-backed guide for navigating trauma in the sacred space of soul care

Increase your awareness of trauma

Understand how trauma manifests in the body; how it impacts our relationship with God; and how a healthy faith can assist in healing trauma.

A science- and Scripture-backed guide for navigating trauma in the sacred space of soul care

Get tools to navigate sessions

Learn how to notice signs of traumatic stress in people you’re working with and best practices to create safety in your sessions.

A science- and Scripture-backed guide for navigating trauma in the sacred space of soul care

Give yourself permission to be honest

So often our glib answers are rooted in a fear of being wrong. Learn how to embrace mystery, say, “I don’t know,” without compromising theology, and help others experience God, not just “think” God.

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Your guide to navigating trauma in the sacred space of soul care

Learn how to gently and sensitively walk with those who have experienced trauma and guide them into a healing relationship with God.

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