Sudden Loss and Crisis: Spiritual Support for Families

Surviving family members of unexpected deaths (accidents, murders, suicide) are often ill equipped to process pain, cope with daily functions, fulfill social roles and maintain health. Finding one's own spiritual resources in such crises can be immensely helpful. This pilot program integrates spiritual support responses into Israel’s Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs’ Sudden Loss and Bereavement Centers and targets parents in order to build and enhance family resilience and well-being.

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Sudden crisis and loss, especially in traumatic situations, complicates and exacerbates the grieving process. Individual family members may experience a diminished sense of existential security and feel shame or guilt. If coping mechanisms break down or are not strong at the outset, people can be left struggling to function in their daily routines at home and at work and to fulfill their family roles and social relationships.
When this happens to parents or significant adult caregivers of children, the results can be catastrophic. Young people who are coping with sudden loss and bereavement already face increased risk of falling prey to psychological, emotional, and social distress, but when support from their caregivers is absent as well, this risk increases dramatically.
This is even more extreme for young people whose families were in conditions of risk prior to the traumatic event. The compounded effects may cause damage that can last a lifetime. Thus, it is crucial to provide broad, flexible, and effective sets of therapeutic responses to help individuals and families cope with such crises in ways that suit their characters and needs. Spiritual support is an effective care option for some and should be an alternative response for families suffering from sudden loss or bereavement.
JDC-Israel together with the Israel Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs & Social Services launched a three-year pilot program integrating spiritual care into the basket of services provided to families in the Ministry’s national network of Sudden Loss and Bereavement Centers. The program targeted, in particular, widowed/bereaved parents and other significant adult caregivers, with the aim of building family resilience and enhancing the wellbeing of children.
The death of a loved one frequently arouses complex feelings not only of sadness but also of fear, anger, a sense of impermanence, and an inability to believe that goodness still exists in the world. Spiritual care is designed to help family members connect to other parts of their life: to themselves, to their families and communities, and to their belief system about what lies beyond this world, whether that relates to inner spirituality, tradition, or religion. These connections draw out the personal resources necessary to cope, accept, and construct renewed meaning and hope after traumatic loss.
The methods used in spiritual support mostly have a different focus from those used in other types of therapy. The spiritual care counselor uses intention and presence to build with the client a supportive space for grieving, identifies sources of inspiration that allow the client to move forward, and facilitates the client’s self-expression and emotional release. Techniques commonly utilized include guided imagery, music, literature, art, personalized prayer, ceremonies and memorials, textual study, and breathing and relaxation exercises.
Individuals that turn to or are referred to one of the 8 Sudden Loss and Bereavement Centers in the country are offered a variety of options. These include: psychotherapy, group therapy, and sometimes art therapy or horseback riding therapy. As a result of this innovation, clients are now offered spiritual care and support by spiritual care professionals trained in the pilot program.
The pilot program has focused on three objectives:
· Fostering a national cohort of trained spiritual care providers who work at Sudden Loss and Bereavement Centers across Israel
· Creating a training curriculum for these professionals
· Integrating modules on spiritual support into professional development workshops for other members of the Sudden Loss and Bereavement Center counseling staff
Following the Sudden Loss and Crisis: Spiritual Support for Families pilot, the program is now in the final stages of being fully adopted and integrated into the 8 Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs & Social Services’ Sudden Loss and Bereavement Centers.
There has been a yearly increase in referrals to individual spiritual support and spiritual support groups, a better understanding by the social workers when to refer, and very good feedback from both professionals and family members, all of which is expressed in the evaluation which accompanied the pilot project.

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Year: 2016
Level of government: National/Federal government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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