Counseling Veterans With Suicidal Tendencies: Four Types of Guilt
Chaplains have a unique and valuable role to play in counseling military veterans.
Guilt in patients with suicidal tendencies is a profoundly spiritual issue that can be addressed effectively through collaboration among chaplains, physicians, and mental health providers, authors of a recent commentary say.
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In the article, published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, two Cleveland Clinic spiritual care staff members argue that chaplains have a unique and valuable role to play in counseling military veterans.
The authors are Amy Elise Greene, Dmin, ACPE Supervisor, Director of Spiritual Care, Cleveland Clinic and Robert J. McGeeney, Dmin, ACPE Supervisor, Director of Clinical Pastoral Education, Cleveland Clinic and Chaplin (Major), US Army Reserve (ret.).
Rather than using logic to try to counteract a patient’s stated feelings, a religious authority can help ease guilt feelings by listening carefully and offering words that may include the hope of forgiveness, but also do not minimize the realities being expressed, Drs. Greene and McGeeney write.
“Hearing these words from a chaplain is often more effective than hearing them from a lay person, just as many of us take basic health information more seriously when we hear it from a physician,” the authors write.
In their article, Drs.Greene and McGeeney propose four categories of guilt that can be effectively addressed by chaplains in concert with other members of the healthcare team: real guilt, survivor guilt, mistaken guilt, and complex-compound guilt.
Many veterans suffering from guilt may need intensive pharmacologic or cognitive therapies, Dr. Greene says. A chaplain is not a substitute for psychological evaluation or treatment, especially if there is a risk for suicide.
“But we can help with the deep work of spiritual healing that is part of veteran’s overall recovery,” she says. “We are not only trained to do this, but we have a unique spiritual language that speaks to the condition.”
Dr. Greene believes that chaplains may sometimes be a less-threatening entry point for professional team care.
They are a less formal alternative, unconcerned about billable hours and skilled at building trust, she says.
“Many chaplains are quite gifted at creating an atmosphere of reverence and safety in the most unlikely situations,” Dr. Greene says. “Chaplains should be considered as part of any multidisciplinary team addressing the problem of veteran guilt in the healthcare setting.”