A focus on spirituality is commonly left out of the treatment of trauma for a variety of reasons, including that therapists often are much less religious than their patients. A presenter at last week's Summit for Clinical Excellence in Orange County, Calif., urged professionals to pay closer attention to the inextricable link between the themes around spirituality and trauma.
“Trauma treatment is inherently spiritual—it must include attention to the client's belief system,” said Christine Courtois, PhD, an expert in complex trauma who recently retired from a 35-year career in clinical practice. At the same time, Courtois said, clinicians also would be wise to explore their own belief systems and how this might influence how they deliver care.
In a summit talk that often touched on uncomfortable topics, Courtois presented several examples of why clinicians need to be prepared to address subjects around spirituality and religion. She asked audience members what they would do, for example, if a client asked them to pray with him/her, or asked if it was OK to bring his/her spiritual adviser to a therapy session.
On the other end of the spectrum, what would the clinicians do if a patient experiencing trauma suddenly exclaimed, “Don't talk to me about God the Father! You know what fathers do!”
Spirituality clearly can serve as everything from a salve to bad experiences in life to a destructive force when it is used to exploit, and Courtois suggested that clinicians need to be aware of the variety of ways in which it can manifest for the individual patient.
In her first of two March 2 talks at the Institute for the Advancement of Behavioral Healthcare conference on Multiple Perspectives on Trauma and Addiction, Courtois emphasized the importance of including spirituality in client assessment and treatment planning. This can fill an important vacuum in addressing trauma, she said.
“Spiritual leaders don't usually have training in working with the traumatized,” said Courtois, author of the consumer book It's Not You, It's What Happened to You.