If the idea of chaplains getting together to discuss their interests makes you think of genteel spiritual conversations, consider the topic discussed at the August bimonthly teleconference of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Chaplain Working Group — combat and killing in relation to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and spiritual distress.
The Chaplain Working Group routinely delves into spiritual and behavioral conflicts arising from deployment. It’s the nature of their calling that chaplains grapple with difficult issues, and the nature of war that military chaplains must address constructs that deeply challenge common beliefs. One such example is that spiritual health, behavioral health and the use of deadly force are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Invited presenter, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, retired Army Ranger and former professor of psychology and military tactics at the United States Military Academy, West Point, shared his views on the psychology of posttraumatic stress, and support for the idea of posttraumatic growth, which suggests that bad things in life can make you stronger. He offered chaplains a message that held meaning for both chaplains themselves, some of whom have experienced PTSD after deployment, and the service members they counsel: “We are all going to have bad days as we walk our warrior path,” said Grossman. “Do not destroy yourself because of the bad days and never judge yourself by your worst day.”
Grossman offered other insights:
■There’s a wide range of individual responses to trauma and no wrong way to respond to taking a life. But, you can choose how you respond to it.
■Behavioral health care providers and spiritual counselors must communicate to their patients that recovery from PTSD is possible and in some cases may make you stronger. This expectation must be present if there is to be hope for anything other than a lifetime of therapy.
■Rely on your faith in times of stress and seek spiritual help to process acts that may require the lawful use of deadly force.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Rhodes, DCoE spiritual fitness program manager, Grossman’s remarks generated great interest from the participants.
“Lt. Col. Grossman is one of the top authorities on combat stress and violence and has spoken extensively to military groups about the effect of trauma and killing,” said Rhodes. “Chaplains often provide counsel and support to those who have been exposed to violence and trauma, either as victims or perpetrators, so this is an area of great concern and where there's a need and expectation for chaplains to have some level of knowledge and expertise.”
Issues discussed in past working group sessions demonstrate the variety of challenging subjects relevant to military chaplains:
■Care for the care provider
■PTSD and spirituality
■Military sexual assault
■Moral injury as a psycho-spiritual construct
At the next working group teleconference, scheduled 1:30-3 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 3, Dr. Carrie Doehring, a licensed psychologist and associate professor of pastoral care and counseling at Iliff School of Theology, will discuss research on religious and spiritual coping and how it informs spiritual care of service members and veterans. All are welcome. Contact the group for details.