Spirituality

Research has linked spirituality to physical and psychological health.[ Reference 1 ] Religious community and spiritual beliefs can be important sources of support for service members in coping with difficult situations and making sense of stressful events.

Spirituality is a personal matter that means different things to different people, but often includes one or more of the following:

  • Life’s meaning and importance
  • Values, beliefs, and ethics
  • Awareness of life beyond oneself
  • Connections with others and a higher power
  • Reflection on life and a sense of “deep self” or soul

These components of spirituality are based on tradition rather than science. Therefore, they overlap, interact, and have somewhat different meanings in different traditions. 

Moral injury, which refers to spiritual harm caused by witnessing or committing acts that violate one’s religious, moral, or ethical beliefs or expectations, is a spiritual concept that is particularly relevant to military service members.[ Reference 2 ] In the context of military operations, moral injury might be caused by killing or harming others during combat or witnessing death, dying, or suffering.

Moral injury is distinct from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); individuals with PTSD experience the world as unsafe and unpredictable as the result of experiencing a traumatic event, whereas moral injury is characterized by guilt and shame stemming from perpetrating or being complicit in violence done to others. It is possible, however, for a person to experience both PTSD and moral injury.

Military chaplains are often at the forefront of addressing service members’ spiritual concerns. It is also helpful for mental health providers to be mindful of possible moral injury and to make appropriate referrals for service members who draw upon spirituality for support.

Resources

The following resources can support service members, leaders, and providers.

  • Professionals Working Together This article from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD offers suggestions for collaboration between mental health and pastoral care professionals, as well as background information on spirituality.
  • FICA Spiritual Assessment Tool   This tool offered by the George Washington University’s Institute for Spirituality and Health provides a framework for health care providers to explore patients’ spiritual beliefs and incorporate spirituality into care in clinical settings.
  • Stress Management This web page on the Mayo Clinic website discusses the benefits of spirituality for stress relief, and provides tips for self-reflection to clarify values and enhance coping through spirituality.
  • Spiritual Fitness Inventory This tool from the U.S. Army Public Health Command can assist screeners in assessing a service member’s spiritual fitness as a component of their resilience and readiness and provides feedback to support spiritual fitness.