Posted on : Monday March 12, 2012

Dear Counselor:

Our church is located near a military base and recently we have had a lot of soldiers returning from deployment in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Increasingly with the soldiers attending our church, I have notice marital problems, problems with children, and even some substance abuse issues.  At times I feel over my head in addressing these problems and am wondering how I might truly help these soldiers.

Dear “Over my head” (Part III):

In our last two articles we looked first at the military’s own help for returning soldiers and were reminded of the “extratherapeutic” value of the relationship with a pastor and congregation. Secondly, we suggested that pastoral assistance could come in the form of being on the look-out for the signs of more persistent and acute forms of distress in the lives of returning soldiers. In this final article, three other ways of helping suggested by Scheider and Waynick are presented.

While pastors are not trained to do long-term therapy such as that required in the treatment of PTSD, they can use a crisis intervention model such as the one proposed by Donna Aguilera in her book, Crisis Intervention: Theory and Methodology. She suggests evaluating the “balancing factors” in a person’s life that keep them from falling into a deeper crisis: (1) Does the person have a reasonably accurate perception of what is going on? (2) Does the family have emotional support available to them in this crisis? (3) Does the person have sufficient coping mechanisms that allow them to step back from the problem or take a break through recreation, friends, exercise, worship, prayer, etc. Helping the person evaluate their situation in these ways can be effectively done by a pastor or lay counselor.

Another great help provided by churches is being aware of and sensitive to the children of returning combat veterans. Children of combat veterans with more severe trauma reactions often lose their childhood with great consequences for their future. Even if the soldier refuses treatment, sometimes there is an openness for the children to receive help. Also, sometimes the soldier who has refused help will reconsider their decision once it is pointed out how the children are suffering.

Finally, the use of Scripture in appropriate ways at appropriate times can be of tremendous help to the combat veteran. Putting suffering in a wider context (Romans 8:18); looking to God for ultimate security (Psalm 62:5-8; 4:8); seeing the importance of having and naming one’s emotions (John 11:35; Mark 14:32-42; Psalms 88, 13, 22); learning to forgive one’s self (Psalm 51:1-12; 139:23-24; I John 1:9; James 5:16); and validating appropriate anger (Ephesians 4:26) can be appropriate uses of Scripture.

Tom Rodgerson