NEWS: Can spirituality treat PTSD symptoms in veterans? [ #mentalhealth #news ]

Symbol of cross against a sky withg rays of light symbolising hope - for article on ptsd symptoms in veterans

Can God and spirituality treat PTSD symptoms in veterans?

That’s the question posed by researchers working with traumatised veterans at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta.

A doctor is setting out to survey more than one hundred veterans, asking if they would like spirituality to be incorporated into their treatment.

Currently, patients at the VA are treated with a mixture of drugs and psychotherapy – but neither of those things addresses a spiritual element which Dr Nagy Youssef thinks could be very relevant. Youssef, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Augusta University, said:

“None of this addresses moral injury and inner conflict. Somebody goes to combat, seeing friends being killed and killing others. Spirituality can be affected. It might go against their moral beliefs. That’s hard to reconcile when they come back.”

This is not the first time that Dr Youssef has approached the notion of spirituality and the treatment of PTSD symptoms in veterans. In the past he has helped put together manuals for incorporating different religions into therapy.

The survey will take place in March.

His hope is to start working with veterans soon, using religion as an additional cornerstone of psychological therapy.  He hopes this will address the drop rate in the number of veterans who have turned up for treatment, as well as the existential despair caused by war.

A spiritual hope for treating PTSD symptoms in veterans

This is not the first time this subject has been approached. There are a wealth of papers and academic articles approaching the subject of spirituality and PTSD symptoms in veterans – as well as other trauma sufferers.

One of these papers “Spirituality and Resilience in Trauma Victims” does an excellent job of summing up the relationship between religion and PTSD. It pulls together a lot of research which went before it and suggests that this is an important avenue to explore.

In many ways, the paper suggests that dealing with trauma is all about how we re-connect with the world. In short, we need to have a sense of comprehensibility, meaningfulness and manageability. We have to grasp the world both physically and emotionally, as well as feel we have the tools to cope.

Religion, of course, is a way of looking at each of these three things: the world around us, how we should relate to it and how we should deal with the seemingly impossible.

It’s also a source of hope, and this is crucial. Why? Because research has shown there is a correlation between pessimism and ill health.

Religion and negativity

Of course, religion is not all sweetness and light.

The problem, this research suggests, is that there are negative connotations as well. Think about veterans who come back from war and think they are destined for hell. They have a real spiritual and psychological obstacle to defeat.

This is something Dr Youssef has taken into account. Perhaps the key to spiritual PTSD treatment will be reconciling religious negativity with a more positive outlook.

My thoughts

Clearly, it seems that religious and spiritual approaches to PTSD symptoms in veterans have their benefits. There’s a positivity that comes with religion that is often hard to experience if you consider life from an atheistic point of view. I should know: I’ve done both.

What I particularly like about Dr Youssef’s approach is that he is taking his time. He’s not rushing it. And none of it is forced on people.

That seems the right option. In fact, I think that if they did push this onto people the results could be catastrophic. Religion is both good and bad, depending on the people and circumstances. Ask anyone who is ‘lapsed’ what baggage they think they have, for instance.

It has to be up to the person seeking treatment to decide whether this is something that is relevant to them. As experts have shown, people who suffer PTSD often re-evaluate how they relate to society. That includes the networks we have set up to help them.

A new and important question this raises

I think this all brings up another question. In my research I stumbled across an article by a firefighter about constant negative thinking and PTSD. Because of the job they did, they had to always anticipate the most negative outcome. That’s an obligation many of us don’t have to meet.

Is the amount of time we subject people to such a mindset worsening the way they deal with trauma? In other words, are they having to think about the most negative possibilities for too long and then, when faced with trauma, their mindset struggles to consider positive outlooks? Are tours of duty too long? Should firefighters and medics get more holiday time or rotate to administrative support roles?

I’m way out of my depth at this point. I’d be grateful if anyone had any thoughts – if so leave them in the comments or on Twitter and Facebook.