The Intersection of Biblical Lament and Psychotherapy in the Healing of Trauma Memories


A study of biblical lament psalms can help present-day sufferers express their own pain to God, and this can result in personal, social, and biological healing. In this empirical study, Zulu “pain-bearers” first studied Psalms 3 and 13 and then wrote and performed their own laments, using the biblical laments as a model. The use of poetic form is shown to have advantages over narrative therapy approaches.

The empirical compositions and performances fit with the insights gained from cognitive psychotherapy approaches as well as the therapeutic steps proposed by Judith Herman. Moreover, apart from facilitating healing of the soul and interpersonal relations, the research insights of Cozolino and others suggest that lament can stimulate the biological healing of the brain, allowing for the healthy processing of the trauma memories.



Allen, Jon G. Coping with Trauma. Hope through understanding. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2005.

Azari, Nina P. and Rudiger J. Seitz. “Brain plasticity and recovery from stroke.” American Scientist, 88 (2000).

Becker, Eve-Marie. “‘Trauma Studies’ and Exegesis. Challenges, Limits and Prospects.” Pages 15-29 in Trauma and Traumatization in Individual and Collective Dimensions. Insights from Biblical studies and Beyond. Edited by Eve-Marie Becker, Jan Dochhorn, and Else K. Holt, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2014.

Brett, E.A. and R. Ostroff. “Imagery and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: An Overview.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 142 (1985): 417-424.

Brewin, Chris R. “A cognitive neuroscience account of posttraumatic stress disorder and its treatment.” Behaviour Research and Therapy, 39 (2001): 373-393.

Brewin, Chris R. and Emily A. Holmes. “Psychological theories of posttraumatic stress disorder.” Clinical Psychology Review, 23 (2003): 339-376.

Broyles, Craig C. The Conflict of Faith and Experience in the Psalms. A Form-Critical and Theological Study. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989.

Caird, G. The Language and Imagery of the Bible. London: Duckworth, 1980.

Calvin, W. H. The Cerebral Symphony. New York: Bantam, 1990.

Caruth, Cathy. Trauma. Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: John Hopkins University

Press, 2016.

Claasen, L. Juliana. “Trauma and Recovery: A New Hermeneutical Framework for the Rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13).” Pages 177-192 in Bible through the lens of Trauma. Edited by Christopher Frechette and Elizabeth Boas, Atlanta: SBL, 2016.

Cozolino, Louis L. The neuroscience of psychotherapy. New York: WW Norton, 2002.

Doidge, N. The brain that changes itself. Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Ehlers, Anke and David M. Clark. “A Cognitive Model of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38 (2000): 319-345.

Ehlers, Anke and R. Steil. “Maintenance of intrusive memories in posttraumatic stress

disorder: a cognitive approach.” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23 (1995): 217-249.

Ezhov, S.N. and S.G. Krivoschekov. “Features of Psychomotor responses and Inter-hemispheric relationships at various stages of adaptation to a new time zone.” Human Physiology, 30 (2004): 172-175.

Ferris, Paul Wayne Jr. The Genre of Communal Lament in the Bible and the ANE.

Atlanta: Scholars’ Press, 1992.

Foa, E. B. and B.O. Rothbaum. Treating the trauma of rape: cognitive behavioural therapy for PTSD. New York: Guildford Press, 1998.

Foa, E.B. and D.S. Riggs. “Post-traumatic stress disorder in rape victims.” Pages 273-303 in American Psychiatric Press Review of Psychiatry 12. Edited by J. Oldham, M. B. Riba and A. Tasman, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1993.

Frechette, Christopher G. and Elizabeth Boase. “Defining ‘Trauma’ as a Useful Lens for Biblical Interpretation.” Pages 1-23 in Bible through the lens of trauma. Edited by Elizabeth Boase and Christopher G. Frechette, Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

Gilbertson, M.W., M.E. Shenton, A. Ciszewski, K. Kasai, N.B. Lasko, S.P. Orr, and R.K. Pitnam. “Smaller hippocampal volume predicts pathologic vulnerability to psychological trauma.” Nature Neuroscience, 5 (2002): 1242-1247.

Granofsky, Ronald. The Trauma Novel: Contemporary Symbolic Depictions of Collective Disaster. New York: Lang, 1995.

Hawkes, Terence. Metaphor. London: Metheun, 1972.

Hellawell, S. J. and Chris R. Brewin. “A comparison of flashbacks and ordinary auto-biographical memories of trauma: Narrative and linguistic changes.” Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40/10 (2000): 1143-1156.

Herman, Judith L. Trauma and Recovery. The Aftermath of Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

Holmes, Emily A., Chris R. Brewin, and R.D. Hennessy. “Trauma films, information processing, and intrusive memory development.” J of Experimental Psychology, 133/1 (2004): 3-22.

Hug, Edward. “A Neuroscience perspective on psychodrama.” Pages 227-238 in Psychodrama. Advances in Theory and Practice. Edited by Clark Baim, Jorge Burmeister and Manuela Maciel, London: Routledge, 2007.

Janet, Pierre. Les médications psychologiques. 3 vols. Paris: Société, 1919-1925, revised 1984.

Janet, Pierre. Révolution de la mémoire et la notion du temps. Paris: Cahine, 1928.

Johnson, David R. “Creative Therapies.” Pages 112-144 in Effective Treatments for PTSD. Edited by E.B. Foa, New York: Guildford, 2000.

Jones, Serene. “Soul Anatomy: Calvin’s Commentary on the Psalms.” Pages 265-284 in Psalms in Community. Jewish and Christian Textual, Liturgical, and Artistic Traditions. Edited by H.W. Attridge and M.E. Fassler, Atlanta: SBL, 2003.

Langer, L. L. Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory. New Haven: Yale University, 1991.

LeDoux, Joseph. “Emotions: How I’ve looked for them in the brain.” Pages 41-44 in Neuroscience and the person. Edited by R.J. Russell, N. Murphy, T. C. Meyering and M. A. Arbib, Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 2002.

Lupien, Sonia J, M. de Leon, S. de Santi, A. Convit, C. Tarshish, N.P.V. Nair, M. Thakur, B.S. McEwen, R.L. Hauger, and M.J. Meaney. “Cortisol levels during human aging

predict hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits.” Nature Neuroscience, 1 (1998): 69-73.

Lyon, Emily. “The Spiritual Implications of Interpersonal Abuse: Speaking of the Soul.” Pastoral Psychology, 59 (2010): 233-247.

Markowitsch, H.J., A. Reinkemeier, J. Kessler, A. Koyuncu and W.-D. Heiss. “Right

amygdalar and temperofrontal activation during autobiographical but not fictitious

memory retrieval.” Behavioral Neurology, 12 (2000): 181-190.

McNally, Richard J. Remembering Trauma. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.

Newcomer, John W., G. Selke, A.K. Melson, T. Hershey, S. Craft, K. Richards, and A.L.

Alderson. “Decreased memory performance in healthy humans induced by stress level cortisol treatment.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 56 (1999): 527-533.

Panksepp, Jaak. “Brain Emotional Systems and Qualities of Mental Life.” Pages 1-26 in The Healing Power of Emotion. Edited by Diana Fosha, Daniel J. Siegel, and Marion F. Solomon, New York: Norton, 2009.

Podell, K., M. Lovell, and E. Goldberg. “Lateralization of frontal lobe functions.” Pages 83-89 in The frontal lobes and neuropsychiatric illness. Edited by S.P. Salloway, P.F. Malloy, and J.D. Duffy, Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2001.

Poser, Ruth. “No Words: The Book of Ezekiel as Trauma Literature and a Response to

Exile.” Pages 27-48 in Bible through the lens of Trauma. Edited by Christopher Frechette and Elizabeth Boas, Atlanta: SBL, 2016.

Rahim, Jennifer A. “Reflections on Contemporary Christian Theologies of Suffering and the Value of Trauma Literature”, MA thesis, Toronto School of Theology, 2016.

Rausch, S., Bessel A. van der Kolk, R. Fisler, S. Orr, N.M. Alpert, and C.R. Savage. “A symptom provocation study of posttraumatic stress disorder using positron emission tomography and script driven imagery.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 53 (1996): 380–387.

Ricoeur, Paul. The Rule of Metaphor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975-1979.

Sacks, Sheldon. On Metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979.

Sapolsky, Robert M. Why zebras don’t get ulcers: An updated guide to stress, stress-related disease, and coping. New York: Freeman, 1998.

Schacter, D. “Implicit Memory: History and Current Status.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory, and Cognition, 13 (1987): 501-518.

Schore, Allan N. “A neuro-psychoanalytic viewpoint. Commentary on paper by Stephen H. Knoblauch.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 15 (2005): 829-854.

Schore, Allan N. “Right-Brain Affect Regulation.” Pages 112-144 in The Healing Power of Emotion. Edited by Diana Fosha, Daniel J. Siegel, and Marion F. Solomon, New York: Norton, 2009.

Schutz, L. E. “Broad perspective perceptual disorder of the right hemisphere.” Neuropsychology Review, 15 (2005): 11-27.

Strawn, Brent A. “Trauma, Psalmic Disclosure, and Authentic Happiness.” Pages 143-160 in Bible through the lens of Trauma. Edited by Christopher Frechette and Elizabeth Boas, Atlanta: SBL, 2016.

Stulman, Louis. “Reflections on the Prose Sermons in the Book of Jeremiah: Duhm’s and Mowinckel’s Contributions to Contemporary Trauma Readings.” Pages 125-142 in Bible through the lens of Trauma. Edited by Christopher Frechette and Elizabeth Boas, Atlanta: SBL, 2016.

Symonds, Martin. “Victim Responses to Terror: Understanding and Treatment.” Pages 95-103 in Victims of Terrorism. Edited by F. Ochberg and D. Soskis, Boulder, CO: Westview, 1982.

Tripp, T. “A short term therapy approach to processing trauma: Art therapy and

bilateral stimulation.” Art Therapy Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 24/4 (2007):176–183.

Tromp, S., M.P. Koss, A.J. Figueredo, and M. Tharan. “Are rape memories different? A comparison of rape, other unpleasant, and pleasant memories among employed women.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3 (1995): 607–627.

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. Psychological Trauma. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1987.

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. “The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1 (1994): 253-265.

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. and R. Fisler. “Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of

traumatic memories: overview and exploratory study.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8 (1995):


Van der Kolk, Bessel A. and Onno van der Hart. “The Intrusive Past: The Flexibility of

Memory and the Engraving of Trauma.” Pages 158-182 in Trauma. Explorations in Memory. Edited by Cathy Caruth, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Villanueva, Federico G. The ‘Uncertainty of a Hearing’. A study of the sudden change of mood in the psalms of lament. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

West, Gerald O. “Between Text and Trauma: Reading Job with people living with HIV.” Pages 209-230 in Bible through the lens of Trauma. Edited by Christopher Frechette and Elizabeth Boas, Atlanta: SBL, 2016.

Wittling, W. “The right hemisphere and the human stress response.” Acta hysiologica Scandinavica 161, Suppl.640 (1995).

Yates, W. “Intersections of Art and Religion.” Arts: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies 10/1 (1998): 17-24.

Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:

  1. Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
  2. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
  3. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).