DCoE Blog

  • Chaplain Reflects on Service, Impact of War on Psychological Health
    Photo by Spc. 2nd Class Jorge Saucedo

    As the Army Chaplain Corps celebrated its 240th anniversary yesterday, retired Army Chaplain David Smith reflected on how his personal experience of war and resiliency – particularly his own recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on during his time in Iraq – affected his work.

    As members of the clergy, chaplains possess some advantages that other leaders don’t. They are able to listen and counsel service members without prejudice. They can offer spiritual guidance to all faiths no matter the denomination. Service members know that anything they share with a chaplain is confidential.

    Smith was deployed nine times during his 30 years in the Army. Nothing brought the war closer than his deployment to Al Anbar Province with the 82nd Airborne Division from August 2003 to April 2004.

  • Moral Injury Poses Hidden Risks for Service Members
    A still picture from a video shows a man talking
    Dr. William Nash address the Mental Health Integration for Chaplain Services program. A video of his presentation is available.

    About 30 years ago, two Navy ships were approached by refugees begging for rescue who had escaped Vietnam in underequipped boats. At the time, so-called “boat people” rescues had become so frequent that they were taking Navy ships from their missions. Officers were directed to rescue refugees only when their crafts were not seaworthy.

    Capt. Corwin Bell, in command of the USS Morton, a 415-foot Navy destroyer, decided to pick up the refugees since a storm was approaching. He was later reprimanded.

  • Chaplains Serve on Front Lines to Combat Anxiety, Suicide
    Leaders remind Iron soldiers that tough questions are central to suicide prevention
    Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Palermo

    During 22 years as a Navy chaplain, Jeff Rhodes was often approached by troubled sailors and Marines. They didn’t want to pray; they wanted to talk confidentially about relationship trouble, stress or even suicidal impulses.

    “When they came to see me, they knew they had a safe place where they could pretty much say what they wanted to say,” Rhodes said. “As a military chaplain, I couldn’t talk to their commander unless they gave me permission.”

    Rhodes, who trained in clinical counseling while getting a doctorate in ministry at Boston University, says he could usually tell if someone needed psychological help: “If their affect was not good, if they didn’t have spontaneity, if they talked about things that made them sad on a chronic basis.

  • Chaplains Discuss Roles in Service Member Suicide Prevention
    Fort Hood WTB gatekeepers learning suicide intervention skills with ASIST workshop
    Soldiers look at a suicide-prevention brochure that details suicide warning signs and suicide prevention resources. (U.S. Army photo by Gloria Montgomery)

    Pastoral counseling has long been recognized by service members as a safe harbor for moral questioning. More commonly now, service members seek pastoral care for uncertainties related to psychological health. In this setting, chaplains may counsel individuals having thoughts of ending their lives. For those who want help but resist confiding in their superiors, chaplains provide a confidential and approachable first-step that opens the door to preventative measures in the event the service member is considering suicide.

    The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Chaplain Working Group, consisting of military and Department of Veterans Affairs’ chaplains, is a spiritually-focused forum on deployment-related challenges, psychological health and traumatic brain injury. Laying claim to their unique opportunity to help reduce the incidence of military suicides, the group met during September, Suicide Prevention Month, to emphasize broader awareness, collaboration and counseling among their ranks.

  • Chaplains Discuss Relieving Trauma Through Body Awareness
    Chaplains Essential to Army at War
    Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division pray prior to a foot patrol in Khalis, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

    Chaplains are often the first stop of support for service members wrestling with moral and spiritual uncertainties stemming from the stress of serving in a combat environment, domestic difficulties surrounding deployment, and psychological health concerns such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse. There seems to be less of a stigma associated with seeking the counsel of a chaplain, who also may be viewed as more ap­proachable, than engaging in formal avenues of psychological health care. For some, the only assistance that feels right during stressful times is spiritual support that’s completely confidential between service member and chaplain.

    The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Chaplain Working Group, consisting of military and Department of Veterans Affairs’ chaplains, is a spiritually-focused forum on deployment-related challenges. It’s an opportunity for the participants to collaborate effectively with each other regarding the psychological health issues they experience with service members. The group meets via teleconference every other month.

    During its last meeting, Dr. Peter Levine, director of The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute, presented on “Somatic Experiencing: A Naturalistic Approach to the Healing of Trauma.” “Somatic experiencing,” characterized by Levine as a body awareness approach to trauma, is based on his realization that human beings have a natural ability to overcome the effects of trauma and stress.

  • Chaplain Working Group Tackles Tough Warfighter Issues
    Do not destroy yourself because of the bad days and never judge yourself by your worst day.

    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.