Navy Chaplain Corps Enhances Pastoral Care Capabilities in Suicide Prevention, Intervention, Postvention

Story Number: NNS141016-05Release Date: 10/16/2014 12:52:00 PM
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By Christianne M. Witten, Chief of Chaplains Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Navy chaplains and religious program specialists (RP) met with Chaplain Corps leadership for a professional development training course validation at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Oct. 7-9.

The training focused on enhancing pastoral care skills and the role of spirituality for service members and families facing suicidal ideations or the aftermath of losing a loved one to suicide.

The curriculum was developed to align with the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO)'s Training Competency Framework that will be incorporated into the forthcoming Department of Defense Instruction on Suicide Prevention, and the validation fine-tuned the course before its January roll out across the Chaplain Corps.

Subject matters experts in suicidology and suicide intervention from the 21st Century Sailor office, Behavioral Health, and LivingWorks Education facilitated the training alongside the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center staff.

"As chaplains and RPs, we are called to be where it matters, when it matters, with what matters. Perhaps this is never more poignant than in cases of suicide," said Chief of Navy Chaplains Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben during her opening remarks.

"We are there when it matters-in times of deep despair and hopelessness, speaking into the storm our people are facing and helping them reframe their struggles so that it's not a question of taking their life but taking control of their life," Kibben said.

"We are there with what matters-a completely confidential space for our people to share their fears and concerns; the professional skills to assess the risk of suicide; and the understanding of how to effectively intervene and equip our people with tools to keep themselves safe," she added.

In addition to pastoral care, the three-day training underscored the invaluable advisory role of chaplains to commanders to address command climate issues and operational tempo that can help prevent suicide.

Days one and two focused on effective prevention strategies. These strategies included the importance of purposeful engagement at various transition points in a service member's career, and purposeful listening to connect the dots indicating when someone might be at risk. These risk factors include: a disrupted social network, relationship challenges, occupational or academic setbacks, and fall from glory situations.

The training also emphasized the importance of engaging family members who are often the most attuned to changes in their Sailor, Marine or Coast Guardsmen who, according to Joiner's Interpersonal Theory of Suicide, may be exhibiting signs of isolation, "thwarted belongingness" or "perceived burdensomeness."

"Chaplains can be trusted to provide a confidential space where service members and families can turn without an impact on the service member's career. A safe place to talk through personal struggles, free from judgment and shaming," said Cmdr. Phillip King, deputy chaplain for Navy installations command, who attended the training.

Because chaplains are not mandatory reporters in the DoD or DoN, the unique confidentiality service members and families have with a chaplain can often open the door of opportunity for them to discuss thoughts of suicide and get help, said Lt. Cmdr. Sam Stephens, a Navy psychologist currently working for Headquarters Marine Corps Behavioral Branch and one of the training facilitators.

"Chaplains are often the first of many professionals who interact with service members at risk for suicide, so it's important to equip chaplains with the tools to best care for them," Stephens said.

On day two of the training, Stephens highlighted effective, evidence-based intervention tools such as the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, a screening tool for persons at risk, and the VA safety plan. Both tools are intended to equip chaplains with the right questions to ask to help keep service members and family members safe, without compromising an individual's confidentiality.

Stephens also discussed the value of the chaplains' spiritual approach when partnering with mental health professionals to provide the most effective care possible to those at risk.

The final day of training focused on postvention, supporting a survivor's recovery and reintegration back into the command. Participants learned how to best advise commanders in the aftermath of a suicide to be sensitive to the needs of the crew and ways to foster an environment of healing in the command and for family members as they grieve.

The Chaplain Corps' professional development training course also includes a one-day workshop on leadership and Professional Naval Chaplaincy. The training will run Jan. through Jul. 2015 at the following locations:

12-15 Jan 2015 Naval Base San Diego
26-29 Jan 2015 Naval Air Station Pensacola
09-12 Feb 2015 Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
23-26 Feb 2015 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
09-12 Mar 2015 Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune
23-26 Mar 2015 Naval Station Mayport
13-16 Apr 2015 Marine Corps Base Hawaii
27-30 Apr 2015 Naval Station Norfolk
18-21 May 2015 Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan
01-04 Jun 2015 Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy
15-18 Jun 2015 Naval Base Kitsap
13-16 Jul 2015 Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story

Chaplains and RPs can register to attend the training here:

For more information on the Navy Chaplain Corps and complete confidentiality, visit

Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, Chief of Chaplains, sends her suicide prevention message to the Navy family. She encourages all to seek out help if they need it and reaffirms the Chaplains Corps' dedication to being where it matters, when it matters, with what matters.
September 2, 2014   |   1361 Views
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