Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Effects of Trauma)

January 13th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

We have been having a conversation for several weeks about the effects of trauma on the whole person. Last week we discussed the impact of trauma on the warrior’s behavior. This week, we will discuss the spiritual impacts of trauma.

Because warriors often experience intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror during war, how can one return from war feeling anything but changed? Warriors can experience physical and psychological wounds that can incapacitate them and that can affect their behavior. Additionally, the combat veteran also can exhibit spiritual symptoms.


Each of us hold basic assumptions that give order to our world and can make stress bearable.  After one experiences trauma, these assumptions are shattered.   Trauma disrupts one’s view of the world, even their spiritual understanding, as suggested by Dr. Schiraldi in his book, The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook.

War’s violence press questions of faith into the lives of those who fight them.  When a warrior steps onto the battlefield he or she immediately is confronted by the kinds of horror and hardships that have moved humanity through the centuries to reach for the Holy.

A spiritual person can be characterized having;

  • assurance
  • confidence
  • anticipation
  • hope
  • joy

Following trauma that same person experiences a loss of these qualities.  But the wounding of the soul goes much deeper. Soul wounded persons often exhibit;

  • discouragement
  • hopelessness
  • despair

For some, the circumstances of the trauma may lead to the questioning of important and previously sustained beliefs. This can lead to a deep spiritual struggle. A key component in considering soul wounds is understanding how spirituality has been affected by trauma, and then, what role spirituality can now provide within the healing journey. For the warrior, these are difficult questions to answer.


The effects of trauma on the person’s spirituality;

  • can lead to confusion about God
  • a shattered faith in God, others, and self

Spiritual symptoms can include;

  • shattered self esteem
  • finding it difficult to pray
  • no spirit of thankfulness
  • seeing no value in the Scripture


Soul wound symptoms reflect something deeper. Soul wounds can result in a diminishment of everything meaningful to the warrior. What may a wounded soul feel like? Countless warriors describe the dark side of their war experience with the word – hell.  “War is hell.”  “I lived through hell.”  Soul wounds feel like hell at the very core of the warrior’s being.

Even people of great faith are changed by trauma.  There are numerous stories of chaplains who were so wounded by trauma of war that they lost their faith or adopted destructive behaviors as an escape of war.  Many have lingering fear and guilt from their experiences.

Many warriors struggle with ethical and moral challenges that they faced.  Transgressions can be from individual acts of perpetrating violence on another or by witnessing the behavior of others committing violence. The moral injuries exhibit similar symptoms as to soul wounds.

I did not understand soul wounds until I read the book, War and the Soul, by Dr. Edward Tick.  Dr. Tick revealed to me the importance of healing the wounded soul after combat.  This all became real to me when in Afghanistan during my first visit to the Marines, the Command Chaplain for Region South West told me about the Concussion Restoration Care Center (CRCC), where wounded warriors had an opportunity to begin their healing following a trauma event.  At the CRCC the psychologist, psychiatrist, and behavioral health specialist realized after months of counseling that there were three spiritual issues they were not able to help the wounded warrior; why, guilt, and fear.  They decided to bring a chaplain on-board as part of the team.  The whole person concept in treating trauma included the spiritual component.


But why has spirituality not been institutionalized as a part of the whole person concept in healing? Possibly because spirituality is a complex subject.  Spirituality challenges researchers when they attempt to frame it in scientific terms. One reason is that there’s no widely accepted definition of spirituality.

Definitions include;

  • religious beliefs – a connection to that which transcends self
  • nature, art, and meditation
  • inner peace or harmony
  • sense of the sacredness of life
  • that which provides meaning and purpose

Yet, some researchers think that measuring spirituality with questions about peacefulness, harmony and well-being is meaningless since it results in spirituality being simply defined as good mental health, so they instead prefer to define spirituality in terms of religious practices and beliefs.

The spiritual domain is not a common field for the medical and mental health models for treating the symptoms of combat trauma.  The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration have made progress in combat veteran care under the rubrics of the physical, emotional, behavioral, psychological, and mental.  The area that has been underserved is the spiritual.  All too often the spiritual and the soul are relegated to the purview of the religious counselors and religious leaders.  Combat trauma has not been treated traditionally as a spiritual or moral injury.


What do spiritual injuries look like? They may include;

  • anger
  • doubt
  • grief
  • fear
  • hopelessness
  • depression
  • loneliness

These symptoms may change as time passes and a person moves further away from the trauma event. Trauma can be associated with loss of faith, diminished participation in religious or spiritual activities, changes in belief, feelings of being abandoned or punished by God, and loss of meaning and purpose for living. Suicide becomes a risk.

Next week we will discuss in more depth moral injury and the effects of wounding the soul. Until then, thanks for the conversation….

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