Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Hosts Symposium

Story Number: NNS130403-11Release Date: 4/3/2013 2:58:00 PM
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By Capt. George Adams, Command Chaplain for Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Navy Medicine East

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth hosted a Bureau of Medicine symposium March 5-7 in Portsmouth, Va., highlighting the role of spirituality in counseling and the importance of spiritual resources for coping with Post-traumatic stress.

Forty participants attended the course, including chaplains from Navy Medicine East and the Hampton Veterans Administration Medical Center, as well as mental health providers from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

The symposium featured subject matter experts: Psychologists Carrie Doehring, Ph.D., and Kenneth Pargament, Ph.D., and Board Certified Chaplain, Rev. George F. Handzo. All are published experts on the subject of spirituality and health.

Doehring's presentations focused on an intercultural approach to spiritual care, which she explained is respecting the spiritual beliefs, values and practices of other people. By doing this, one develops a relationship of trust with the other person.

Doehring went on to say that people who have well-integrated religious beliefs and practices are better able to deal with the challenges of life, including Post-traumatic stress.

She also referenced a study she conducted in which she interviewed Vietnam veterans who used Buddhist meditation to cope with their Post-traumatic stress. She pointed out that a chaplain's role in counseling should be to assist people in integrating their spiritual beliefs and practices and utilizing them as spiritual resources, as they face problems or suffering.

During the second day of the symposium, Pargament stated that religious beliefs and spiritual values are a reality for many people.

He cited research conducted by E.P. Shafranske in 2000 that shows 90 percent of people indicate that religion is important to them, 96 percent believe in God, and 71 percent express a belief that there is life after death. Only 18 percent communicated a desire not to discuss spiritual or religious matters in counseling. Addressing religious beliefs and spiritual resources is an important dimension in counseling that should not be ignored, he added.

Pargament discussed various ways of including spirituality in assessments and interventions with counselees and presented a framework for dealing with spiritual resources and challenges in counseling.

He maintained that for some individuals the primary issue is psychological, for others it is spiritual, and still for others there are spiritual and psychological injuries that run parallel. The challenge is to understand which issue applies to an individual.

Lt. Cmdr. Duane Lawrence, a Navy psychiatrist and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Operational Forces' Mental Health Liaison, participated in the symposium and emphasized the value of being sensitive to the spiritual needs and resources of individuals.

Lawrence noted that establishing good collaboration between mental health providers and chaplains is crucial in providing effective care for military personnel and their family members.

The event concluded with Handzo, who discussed future developments in healthcare chaplaincy and Capt. Shelia C. O'Mara, chaplain of Navy Medicine, who provided a practical application of the lesson learned during the symposium.

"Based on the scientific research and empirical data provided by the symposium it is clear Navy chaplains have a key role to play in integrating a patient's spirituality into their life wellness. The material from this symposium affirms the key role Navy chaplain's play in ensuring force readiness, " said Lt. Cmdr. Mike Tomlinson, a pastoral care resident who attended the training.

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