PTSD sufferers address spirituality to rebuild lives   © Glowimages
PTSD sufferers address spirituality to rebuild lives © Glowimages

Full recovery from PTSD is possible

Last week's ANZAC Day commemorations highlighted the best of human conduct - servicemen's and servicewomen's courage, mateship, decency and willingness to lay down their lives for country and comrades in battle.

At the same time though, and in a quieter way, there was mention of those suffering from trauma as a result of seeing the devastation and brutality that go hand-in-hand with war. During the panel discussion on ABC Big Ideas ANZAC Day Special: Boys Don't Cry, it was stated that 8% of serving Australian defence force personnel experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But it was also pointed that that figure indicates only those who have been diagnosed and there could be upwards of 30% of all who have served.

Not only Australian Defence Force personnel but also other first responders like ambulance personnel, fire fighters, police officers and hospital staff and are all too often confronted with devastating accidents, natural disasters or and the basest of human behaviours, leaving them with recurring images of the carnage and devastation. It also often leaves them numb and detached, and sometimes suicidal.

We personally may have experienced a graphic hospital emergency or a dear one killed in an accident or suicide. Many people struggle to 'get past' such events and are often influenced by them day-by-day and well into the future.

Understandably, trauma sometimes shatters one's basic assumptions about our invulnerability and the safety of the world or reinforces pre-existing negative beliefs. Some of these faulty beliefs involve self-blame and guilt.

However, there is good news that many are finding relief from the predicted long-term effects and traditional drug-based therapy of those diagnosed with PTSD.

In 2013 the US Navy Chaplain Corps published the Handbook on Best Practices for the Provision of Spiritual Care to Persons with PTSD. Some military PTSD sufferers have found success by turning away from what has been lost and the difficulties of the struggle to focus on what there is to be thankful for, even acknowledging the positive aspects of the stressful situation. This in turn facilitates a change of thought about the stress-related growth that they are experiencing.

Explaining more about this rebirth, leading researcher and psychotherapist Kenneth Pargament in Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy, describes many ways that a stunted and stagnant spirituality needs to be addressed in PTSD as it contributes to a client's psychological despair. He suggests that "spirituality cannot truly be separated from psychotherapy", and that "to practice without considering this vital dimension of human nature is to risk missing, misunderstanding and mishandling fundamental struggles of the inner life." He sees the research as "a wake-up call to the mental health profession."

If psychologists and psychotherapists are now talking about addressing spirituality in treatment, it's time to consider the implications for us all. For instance, its application and inclusion in treatment could have profound impact on the statistics of suicide in Australia: in a week 33 men and 11 women kill themselves and it is the leading cause of death for 15-49 year olds.

Just as the exclusion of spirituality from psychological treatment could be seen as negligent, attributing the stressful event to punishment from God or the work of evil forces needs to be corrected.

Addressing spirituality and fostering forgiveness, consideration, and a growing love for ourselves and for our fellowman are the thinking that truly, peacefully begin to settle inner conflicts. That experienced healer, Christ Jesus, recognised the transformational effect of love when he said, "Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15: 12,13)

How vital today for us all to cultivate thoughts devoid of combustible elements such as guilt, anger, revenge, pain. This realisation is integral to stress-related growth or spiritual rebirth.

The memory or constant replay of a traumatic event need no longer be part of our experience.

Kay Stroud is a health writer focussing on the leading edge of thought, consciousness, spirituality and health, also speaking to media about Christian Science in this region