Research on PTSD
REPORT TO SOLDIER’S HEART COMMUNITY ON 2012 CHAPLAIN ANNUAL SUSTAINMENT TRAINING ON PTSD
Dear Soldier’s Heart Friends,
As you may know, I had the honor of being chosen as the Expert Trainer on PTSD for U.S. Army Chaplain Annual Sustainment Training 2012. From April through September, I attended 7 different military training gatherings across the country and overseas. I met with and trained over 2,000 chaplains, chaplain assistants, and others on the spiritual wounding and healing from war.
At every event, I immersed in the chaplains’ and military cultures. In addition to my own lectures, I had many meetings with individuals and small groups over relevant subjects from dealing with the killing of innocents to complex theological questions. Sometimes I was able to show our documentary film “Forgiveness and Healing in Viet Nam,” about the annual healing and reconciliation journeys we lead. I also participated in various strategy, planning, supervisory and consultation meetings with chaplains about spiritual ministry to traumatized warriors and chaplain care.
It was my universal experience at all seven trainings that our chaplains were receptive to and excited by my presentations. At some trainings we shared great concern about the elevating suicide rates among our troops and the need for effective preventative programming. (The Army suicide rate has reached a new all-time high of 1.25/day.) At other trainings, leadership and chaplains put greater emphasis on addressing the degree of chaplain exhaustion and strain that so many experience. These topics were always consistent with our main purpose of seeking effective ways to address the healing needs of wounded warriors who come directly from Afghanistan, and of improving quality of chaplain and care-giver collaboration in a time of diminished resources.
At all my trainings, I presented the worldwide warrior archetype and traditions, the holistic, historical, cross-cultural and archetypal interpretations of PTSD, the “necessities for warrior return” for all returnees, and how to guide our wounded warriors down a lifelong elder warrior’s journey so that PTSD reduces and we can achieve post-traumatic growth. While I presented material from world traditions, I also introduced much material from Biblical and Judeo-Christian sources as the home religious tradition of most of our chaplains. I declared one teaching component “Bible Study” and reviewed guidance from Mosaic Law found in the Old Testament on the care and tending of warriors.
Chaplains felt moved as they heard and learned ways to guide soldiers in spiritual care that are consistent with universal warrior practices and with their religions. They were motivated and hopeful that the material presented can be of significant use if applied in individual counseling, programmatically, during clinical consultations, or in rituals for spiritual care. Chaplains expressed that though they feel well-prepared for ordination by their religions and for chaplain service by our military education, they did not receive much education in warrior spirituality, are in urgent need of it and request more regarding the spiritual, holistic, historical and cross-cultural interpretation and healing of PTSD. Some chaplains were especially grateful for Biblical references, stating that they could immediately build on them in ways consistent with their faith practices.
Highlights from some of my meetings with chaplains included:
*Showings of the documentary “Forgiveness and Healing in Vietnam,” made about the annual Soldier’s Heart journeys back to Viet Nam, followed by discussion on reconciliation after conflict.
*One discovery is that 3 chaplains are leading weekend pilgrimages to Rome for our wounded warriors or exhausted chaplains. I met with these three chaplains to consider pilgrimage as a viable healing practice for wounded warriors and for chaplain renewal.
*Meeting with NATO representatives from Canada France, Belgium, Germany and US, discussing comparison of our cultures regarding veteran healing and support practices; NATO reps confirmed that more international dialogue of these issues, especially warrior return and healing, is needed. They also expressed envy for the degree to which American veterans are in the public eye compared to the visibility and concern for veterans in their home countries.
*Meetings with wounded warrior battalion chaplains and others to consider bringing Soldier’s Heart retreats and other holistic healing to European-based wounded warriors;
*Meetings with chaplains to consider their own more effective implementation of warrior retreats and practices before, during and after deployments;
*Private discussions in which chaplains revealed their own psycho-spiritual distress;
*Conferences with chaplains working on masters and doctoral theses on topics related to military ethics and trauma healing.
*Discussions with chaplains on their own perceived needs and wishes for opportunities during trainings and retreats, with many chaplains expressing their need to “just talk,” to “vent,” or to be in deep exploratory and theological discussions with their colleagues.
*Constant affirmation that military-civilian partnerships are critical since, as one general said, with present budget cuts “the military is just trying to keep the lights turned on” (30% overall military budget cuts coming.) Military leadership affirms that since our country cannot give our returnees all they need, service people should not expect it and many more partnerships like ours are necessary.
Here are some of my conclusions that can apply equally to our chaplains and anyone working seriously to help heal our collective wounds of war.
Both the general public and specialists know very little about the world history and cultural practices of tending warriors. While fully devoted to American and Army ideals, chaplains have limited awareness of the archetypal tradition they practice and carry beyond its American embodiment since George Washington founded the chaplaincy during the Revolutionary War. More teaching in these traditions, from both the Judeo-Christian and world roots, would contribute to the sacred tools our chaplains and all of us carry.
There is much in the Bible regarding war, trauma, violence, its proper and improper use, and healing. There is much about warriorhood history, practice and ethics that specialists and the public either do not know or apply. The Bible could be studied as a textbook on these issues. We can all do better with further education on these topics.
Chaplains have ongoing concerns about their perceived expertise in representing our soldiers during clinical meetings or crises. They see soul wounds and spiritual suffering that too many clinicians cast solely in psychological or neurological terms. This indicates not only issues within military culture, but within our society. Further education and training on negotiating the interface between the religious and clinical worlds could help empower all of us to better represent our soldiers and demonstrate that their spiritual and emotional pain is a real spiritual wound.
Some chaplains express their own moral dilemmas – they are men and women of peace and God serving in war zones. They go largely unrecognized by our larger society and often unrecognized or sometimes even misunderstood or dishonored by co-religionists or people of different politics. We must all find ways to give more support to chaplains and to explore and gain guidance for the spiritual and moral dilemmas they can uniquely bring home to us.
Since I received this assignment, many civilians have said, “Congratulations. You are working in the belly of the beast.” I want to be clear that this is not so. Our chaplains are not the bellies of the beast even though most of them serve or have served in war zones. Rather, our chaplains are committed to the spiritual fitness of our soldiers. They are the only ones in the unique position of providing care of the soul in the military. And they are the ones many soldiers turn to for help first because they are the only ones who retain confidentiality in the military.
I have met literally hundreds of chaplains whose hearts and souls are huge, who experienced a direct call to this difficult service, who utterly love our soldiers though they hate war. I was with the chaplains in the heart and soul of the beast, and in the heart and soul of those whose service is to soothe the beast and heal the wounds it inevitably causes. I also felt like I was in the heart and soul of America in that the Army is still a melting pot and I met U.S. Army chaplains from Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, Navajo land, African countries and many other places. I have been drenched in extremes of love and devotion that we rarely encounter in everyday life. Our chaplains deserve our utmost respect, gratitude and honor, far beyond what they ever receive from the public. They would never claim it, but they are indeed unsung heroes.
At all seven events chaplains found that our Soldier’s Heart spiritual and holistic approach to PTSD offers help toward finding true healing and transformation through which our wounded become spiritual elder warriors and continue to serve with honor. I am grateful for the honor and responsibility afforded me to be this year’s CAST PTSD trainer. I am honored to share this with you. I look forward to continuing together in healing service.
With gratitude and blessings to all,
Edward Tick, Ph.D.