Ernie Wouters on the far right in Kiev with Ukraine chaplains and NGO leaders outside the building converted from a Russian propaganda studio into a church SUBMITTED PHOTO

The European Union, governments and NGOs are currently working together with professionals to provide immediate support for soldiers in Ukraine. Ernie Wouters, a clinical traumatologist, was recently on a weeklong trip as a trauma subject matter expert adviser to the group. The government has come to the church and asked for help and now pastors need further training so they can help those in their congregation and beyond.

Wouters began his week by spending three days in Romania where an NGO is working in partnership with the Ukraine government to build a live-in treatment centre in the County of Sibiu. Once complete, the centre will house 450 Ukraine soldiers and their families to help them begin their recovery process from the trauma of war.

The centre is a long-term goal and there is an immediate need in Ukraine due to a high rate of suicide among soldiers. Additionally, many soldiers have PTSD and the general population is traumatized from living in a state of war. Wouters drove from Romania to Kyiv to meet with Mykola Kuleba, CEO of Save Ukraine, Vasily Khimich, senior chaplain in Ukraine, and other NGO leaders and chaplains.

At a new church, which serves 600 chaplains and is housed in what used to be a Russian propaganda studio, Wouters will return in early September to present a general introduction to trauma. This will be a three-day conference for about 400 chaplains. Following the conference, a group of 24 trauma team members will receive five days further training in Seven Edge Program for Trauma Recovery and Empowerment (SEPTRE). This will be the first step in an ongoing process.

“The chaplains are traumatized, the soldiers are traumatized, so you have traumatized people trying to help traumatized people, which is no different than what I’m doing in the U.S.” In the U.S., Wouters has been working with Project Transition to create a culture where people with trauma can survive.

“We have to realize that we all have trauma. I think lots of times people think that it has to be the military, emergency services or some kind of catastrophic disaster, but it is all kinds of things. When we define trauma, it’s anything physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or worldview/spiritual wise that remains unresolved and you feel overwhelmed,” explained Wouters.

There are seven psychological essentials to SEPTRE: safety/stability, progress, autonomy, authentic connection, stimulation/amusement, self-worth/value and significance/purpose. The goal in Ukraine is to work with chaplains to release their own trauma so they can effectively work with the soldiers.

“All these people are doing an amazing job in their local centres,” said Wouters. “The primary issue they have is what to do with the traumatized people. Regardless of what church I met with, each of them has 30 to 50 soldiers in their congregation.”

The soldiers are either on leave, some are wounded, or unable to serve.

People are doing their best to survive, but without training the flight, fight, freeze response can become automatic, he says. That response is a warning sign, but without knowing the tools to deactivate it, life can go from bad to worse and people can lose hope. Wouters says SEPTRE helps them to deactivate, allowing the autonomic nervous system to act as a protector.

“You know the reason why it is activating, you know how to validate your emotion so you can release it at the time of the experience and you no longer lose hope. By deactivating, they are self-regulating and that puts them in a position of control, instead of feeling out of control,” said Wouters.

It was a busy week for Wouters, and another element that came out of it was realizing a centralized training centre in Kyiv that can offer trauma training to anyone is what is needed. Wouters is already in discussions on setting this centre up when he returns in September.

For more information contact Wouters at

To support trauma training efforts in the Ukraine you can donate to the Friends of Seven Foundation by going to following link: and make a note in the comments section the donation is for Trauma Training Ukraine.

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 04, 2023 at 09:37

This item reprinted with permission from   Medicine Hat News   Medicine Hat, Alberta
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