By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
When troops return from war and are faced with dealing with combat stress, religious leaders are among the first some go to for guidance, Lt. Col. Peter E. Bauer said recently.
Interestingly, nobody was talking about this issue with future clergy, he added.
Bauer led a discussion Aug. 18 at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Killeen on the spiritual effects of combat on soldiers and their families, communities and commands.
He gave a talk the following night at Fort Hood's Spiritual Fitness Center at a "Spiritual Healing Service with Holy Communion."
Bauer is a U.S. Army Reservist and chief of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Marriage and Family Therapy Program. The former Navy chaplain also serves as a clergyman in the United Church of Christ.
Before mobilizing in May 2006, Bauer was a clinical social worker for the South Texas Veterans Health Care System San Antonio. He is a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist in Texas.
Primary care providers, not theologians or clergy, are the ones who have done the most research linking spirituality and mental health, Bauer said. Physicians and nurses started research on the topic in the late 1980s, and showed that providers should encourage patients to talk about spirituality.
Research shows that spirituality is good for people, Bauer said. For those who experienced trauma exposure and applied their spirituality, their faith became stronger, they became more competent as people and they grew closer to God.
However, there were those who said their relationships with God fizzled or they became angry at God after experiencing trauma.
Bauer also discussed the different effects of war, saying conflicts and different time periods within those conflicts were factors to which those in uniform were exposed.
Vietnam War veterans who served in the early 1960s had different experiences than those in the late 1960s and on, Bauer said. Despite when a veteran served, "war changes you no matter what," he added.
War changes soldiers, friends, families, therapists - "it changes everyone," Bauer said. Those people have to accept that the whole system has changed because life simply can't go back to the way it was before soldiers went to war.
A variety of people in the social work and therapy fields attended the seminar at St. Christopher's. Several said they were looking for another tool to help their patients.
Bauer said he was seeing more work being done correlating social work and spirituality, citing a program between the University of Texas' School of Social Work and the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
The schools created a dual-degree program that allows a student to work on a Master of Divinity and Master of Science in Social Work at the same time, according to information from the university.
The program benefits students with interests in "non-traditional ministries," which include agency-based social service, advocacy, policy-oriented work and clinical counseling, according to the university.
"This dual-degree program is also a response to the growing demand for social workers to be sensitive toward and proficient in their understandings of their client's religious and spiritual lives, and also to work with faith-based communities to foster both individual and community well being as they strive to alleviate critical social problems," according to information from the university.
It is important that soldiers and their families are provided with the very best resources, Bauer said.
"At times it left us a little breathless at the breadth of the impact and the extent of the scholarship behind the comments made," the Rev. Paul Moore, rector at St. Christopher's, said of the talk.
Bauer ended the presentation with a note of hope, talking about research and therapy in the area of the spiritual effects of combat stress.
"For communities of faith like St. Christopher's, it was reassuring to see that faith communities can make such significant contributions to the health of our soldiers, and by that means, to their survival in battle," Moore said.