Humanitarian Disaster Institute Provides Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care Training in Houston Following Hurricane Harvey

October 2, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a team from the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College traveled to Houston to engage with local church leaders involved in recovery efforts and lead a Spiritual First Aid training for responders.

HDI partnered with Access Church in Houston to hold the training just three weeks after the storm swept through the city. During the event, HDI founder and executive director Dr. Jamie Aten and the the rest of his team trained more than 75 pastors, church members, psychologists, and other helpers to provide spiritual and emotional care in the wake of Harvey’s physical destruction.

“Our church leadership really wanted to find a way to train people to meet the emotional needs of those whose homes were just devastated by Harvey. And then we got connected to HDI—the timing of how it all worked out was truly an answer to prayer," said pastor John Lin, whose church hosted HDI's Spiritual First Aid workshop.

While physical needs are the primary focus of most immediate relief efforts, disasters tend to raise big questions about God and faith that have a huge impact on long-term recovery. This Spiritual First Aid training was created to equip leaders to address these issues in their churches and communities over the long haul of recovery efforts.

Spiritual First Aid is an evidence-informed intervention and training which developed out of a current HDI research grant on the connection between faith and resilience. The goal of the project is to not only better understand survivors' disaster experience but also to develop new tools and resources that can help as well.

"This isn't just debris on the side of the road, these are people's lives and memories we're seeing," Dr. Aten reminded the team as they surveyed the impacted areas. Many residents now face the reality of rebuilding their lives from the ground up in a situation, but thanks to the outreach of area churches, the situation is not without hope for many.

“For as devastating as Hurricane Harvey has been to the city, it has been one of the most heartening displays of human will and compassion,” said Marianne Millen, a fourth-year Psy.D. and HDI lab student currently completing her pre-doctoral internship in Houston. “During our trip, we talked with a church group that had lost their church and many of their congregants homes in the flood. Despite their losses, they mobilized efforts to meet the needs of their community. They desired to ‘own their mile’ of the street and tangibly help their neighbors in any way they could. This included providing over 800 meals, mucking out houses, and offering supplies and clothing. They were ready to provide hugs, prayers, and silent support to each other in a time of need. They spoke of their desire to love their neighbors not just in word, but in deed.”

HDI, the first faith-based academic disaster research center in the country, recently launched a new M.A. in Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College Graduate School to help prepare the next generation of humanitarian and disaster professionals to lead with faith and humility, utilize evidence-based practice, and serve the most vulnerable and the Church globally. Learn more at or email