Spiritually engaged people have substantially higher chances of experiencing positive results during complex PTSD treatment, according to findings from a group of American researchers. Evidence indicates that people with well-developed spiritual practices tend to have an increased ability to handle stressful situations and maintain a sense of well-being. The researchers conclude that several aspects of spirituality help increase the coping ability of people with PTSD and thereby increase the likelihood of positive treatment.
Spirituality is a term commonly used to describe any set of beliefs that gives a person’s life a purpose, meaning or context beyond the mere facts of day-to-day existence. For some people, spiritual expression is inextricably intertwined with the practice of a specific religion or membership in a religious community like a church congregation.
However, other highly spiritual people have no religious affiliation or create their own affiliations by combining aspects of different religious practices. In either case, the distinguishing characteristics of spirituality include the development of some sort of guiding belief system and the experience of a sense of inner- or outer-directed connectedness.
Inside or outside of a specific religious context, spirituality can potentially provide a number of mental and physical health benefits, including increased general resistance to the damaging effects of the everyday and major stresses that inevitably come with life in modern society. Specific stress-related benefits of spiritual practice can include an improved ability to see deeper patterns of meaning that reduce the negative impact of short-term “down” or negative mental states, an increased sense of mission or purpose, an improved ability to cope with illness, an improved sense of social connection and the development of stronger social support networks.
PTSD treatment programs commonly rely on a form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help people affected by the lingering trauma reactions that form of the core of PTSD. Generally speaking, CBT helps patients replace their damaging reactions to stress with new stress reactions that support health and well-being.
Specific forms of the therapy used in PTSD treatment include approaches called prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. Other treatments sometimes used in PTSD-oriented programs include a non-medication-based therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and medications such as antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and sedative-hypnotics called benzodiazepines.
In a study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers used data collected from 532 military veterans to assess the impact that spirituality has on the treatment results of PTSD-affected people. All of these veterans were receiving help for PTSD symptoms associated with exposure to combat environments. For each individual, the researchers looked at aspects of a spiritual life that included participation in organized religion, daily expression of spirituality, the ability to use religion as a positive coping mechanism, the development of a spiritually oriented daily routine and the ability to forgive self or others.
The researchers examined the spiritual lives of the participants at the beginning of the study and indexed each individual’s spirituality to his or her treatment outcomes as measured by the severity of ongoing PTSD symptoms. They concluded that those participants with relatively well-developed, spirituality-based coping skills at the start of the program typically had better treatment outcomes than their counterparts who lacked such spirituality-based skills. Based on their findings, it is evident that a spiritual orientation may contribute significantly to the benefits of PTSD treatment.