In graduate school I was interested in the role of child abuse and spirituality/religiousness on psychological health. I examined the impact of child abuse on positive and negative religious coping among combat veterans with PTSD. Through my clinical experience working with Veterans, I came to discover the unique role chaplains have in quality of life, especially psychological well-being. For some Veterans, it was less stigmatizing to speak with a chaplain than a mental health provider. For others, they found comfort in the confidentiality that clergy provided. Although, this was not a surprise, it highlighted the importance of mental health providers learning more about chaplaincy and possible collaboration between the disciplines.
In the article Chaplaincy and Mental Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense by Jason et al. (2013), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) closely looked at how to best include chaplains in the care of Veterans and Service Members. Through the VA/DoD Integrated Mental Health Strategic Action (SA) #23, they looked at how chaplains engage in mental health issues and provided recommendations for integrating chaplaincy with mental health care. The project was conducted from January 2011 to December 2012. All full-time active duty and VA chaplains were invited to participate in an anonymous web-based survey that examined their practices related to spiritual and mental health care, collaboration with mental health, and their knowledge and attitudes regarding mental health concerns. In total, there were 2,163 chaplains that participated in the study (75% response rate for VA chaplains and 60% for DoD). Site visits were conducted to determine opportunities for integration of services between mental health and chaplain care, barriers to integration, existing practices that possibly hindered integration, and gaps in knowledge.
The article is a nice overview of the project through SA #23. It highlights the need for us as mental health providers to better understand the roles of chaplains that work with our Veterans and service members. It is through the collaboration between the two disciplines, that we can better serve our military members.
Dr. Diana Sermanian is the Assistant Director of Civilian Programs at the Center for Deployment Psychology. In this role, she oversees many of the training programs the CDP presents for behavioral health providers.
Chaplaincy and Mental Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense
Jason A. Nieuwsma , Jeffrey E. Rhodes , George L. Jackson , William C. Cantrell, Marian E. Lane, Mark J. Bates , Mark B. Dekraai , Denise J. Bulling , Keith Ethridge , Kent D. Drescher , George Fitchett , Wendy N. Tenhula , Glen Milstein , Robert M. Bray & Keith G. Meador (2013): Chaplaincy and Mental Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, 19:1, 3-21.