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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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Pastoral Impact


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Measuring Spiritual Impact

There are many aspects to spirituality that can be measured and may be associated with important mental and physical health outcomes. Several dimensions of spirituality have research support showing relevance for individuals with PTSD39. One very important dimension is negative religious coping: negative attributions about God, or beliefs that certain life events are punishment for one's sins or lack of spirituality. Negative religious coping (e.g., feeling abandoned by God or Higher Power, appraisal of one's problems as divine punishment) and lack of forgiveness have been associated with increased PTSD and depression severity among clinical samples of Veterans39,40. Finally, Veterans' war zone experiences of killing others and failing to prevent death have been linked to loss of faith, which is associated with higher utilization of VA mental health services23.

In 1997, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Fetzer Institute convened a working group of noted researchers in the area of spirituality and health, and tasked them with identifying measures for multiple dimensions of spirituality. This working group produced a brief multidimensional measure of religion and spirituality41. Some of the spiritual dimensions identified by this group included: Daily Spiritual Experiences, Private Religious Practices, Meaning, Values and Beliefs, and Religious Support.

One advantage to using reliable and valid measures, such the Fetzer Institute's Brief Multidimensional Measure of Religiousness/Spirituality, is that they allow for the accurate evaluation of an individual compared to other groups of people. In some contexts, clergy members are required to perform spiritual assessments. Performing such assessments in a standardized way makes the results of assessments easier to interpret.

Open-Ended Questions to Examine Spirituality and Trauma

In addition to using questionnaires such as the one developed by the Fetzer Institute, it may be helpful to ask open-ended questions about a person's spirituality and how it has been affected by traumatic events. A brief assessment interview of the impact of traumatic events on spirituality and the role that spirituality might play in recovery has been utilized in a number of adverse and traumatic situations42-44. These questions are likely a useful starting place for Service members and Veterans who have faced traumatic events as well.

  1. Are you affiliated with a religious or spiritual community?
  2. Do you see yourself as a religious or spiritual person? If so, in what way?
  3. Has the traumatic event affected your religion or spirituality and if so, in what ways?
  4. Has your religion or spirituality been involved in the way you have coped with this traumatic event? If so, in what way?

PTSD Information Voice Mail: (802) 296-6300
Also see: VA Mental Health