This is from the Veteran’s Administration. To see the full article click here.

Spirituality and Trauma: Professionals Working Together

What Is Spirituality?

Spirituality is a personal experience with many definitions. Spirituality might be defined as “an inner belief system providing an individual with meaning and purpose in life, a sense of the sacredness of life, and a vision for the betterment of the world.” Other definitions emphasize “a connection to that which transcends the self.” The connection might be to God, a higher power, a universal energy, the sacred, or to nature. Researchers in the field of spirituality have suggested three useful dimensions for thinking about one’s spirituality:

  • Beliefs
  • Spiritual practices
  • Spiritual experiences

Currently in the US, opinion surveys consistently find that most people endorse a belief in God or higher power. In a 2007 Gallup Poll 86% of respondents indicated a belief in God, while only 6% stated they did not believe in God (4). Many of these individuals would describe religion or spirituality as the most important source of strength and direction for their lives. Because spirituality plays such a significant and central role in the lives of many people, it is likely to be affected by trauma, and in turn to affect the survivor’s reaction to the trauma.


Historically, there have been differences between the beliefs of scientists and healthcare practitioners and those of the general population. For example, one study (2) indicated that only 66% of psychologists report a “belief in God.” These differences in viewpoint may contribute to the lack of research on spirituality. The beliefs and training experiences of practitioners may also influence whether and how spirituality is incorporated into therapy.

Relationship of Trauma to Spirituality

Evidence suggests that trauma can produce both positive and negative effects on the spiritual experiences and perceptions of individuals (1). For example, depression and loneliness can lead to feelings of abandonment and loss of faith in God. These effects may change as time passes and a person moves further away from the acute phase of trauma recovery. On the positive side, some individuals experience increased appreciation of life, greater perceived closeness to God, increased sense of purpose in life, and enhanced spiritual well-being even following devastating events such as disasters and rape. For others, trauma can be associated with loss of faith, diminished participation in religious or spiritual activities, changes in belief, feelings of being abandoned or punished by God, and loss of meaning and purpose for living.

Aspects of spirituality are associated with positive outcomes, even when trauma survivors develop psychiatric difficulties such as PTSD or depression. Research also indicates that healthy spirituality is often associated with lower levels of symptoms and clinical problems in some trauma populations. For example, anger, rage, and a desire for revenge following trauma may be tempered by forgiveness, spiritual beliefs, or spiritual practices (5).

Suggestions have been made about the pathways by which spirituality might affect the recovery trajectory for survivors of traumatic events. Spirituality may improve post-trauma outcomes through: (1) reduction of behavioral risks through healthy religious lifestyles (e.g., less drinking or smoking), (2) expanded social support through involvement in spiritual communities, (3) enhancement of coping skills and helpful ways of understanding trauma that result in meaning-making, and (4) physiological mechanisms such as activation of the “relaxation response” through prayer or meditation (6). Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression related to grief and loss may be lessened by the social support of a spiritual community. Being part of a spiritual community places survivors among caring individuals who may provide encouragement and emotional support, as well as possible instrumental support in the form of physical or even financial assistance in times of trouble.