PTSD Spirituality: Discipleship and Hindrances to PTSD Healing

Today I was interested to find out that someone considers me to not be a Christian and that the PTSD Spirituality website should be used with “discernment.”  I agree that any website, or any other medium of communication, should be used with “discernment,” including this website.  I, however, was a bit puzzled at being characterized as a non-Christian.  Pondering that judgment on my Christian authenticity brought to mind one of the areas I cover when teaching about healing the PTSD soul wound, it is called the “Axis of Hindrance.”

PTSD as a Christian Discipleship Issue

One of my courses this semester is called “Christian Discipleship” and my other course is “Women in the Bible” (Yes, indeed, there are women in the Bible and without them Judaism and Christianity would probably never have survived). 

In the Christian Discipleship class I have spent the last several weeks examining the PTSD Soul Wound as an issue relevant to anyone who desires to be a Disciple of Jesus.  The Unites States, and other nations, will be swamped with PTSD for the next sixty (yes, 60!) years.  If Peace breaks out tomorrow, and if priests, rabbis, and pastors stop damaging their congregations, and if rapists and sexual predators cease their crimes, we will still have at least 60 years of PTSD to contend with for those who are now age 20 and survive their PTSD-inducing traumas.  Yes, PTSD afflicts other age groups; some survivors are even younger than 20 years old.  But, if you look at the bulk of our women and men in uniform and overseas, most are very young.

Current and future Christian disciples will have an immediate and long enduring challenge to help others survive their PTSD soul wounds.  Some of these disciples will have PTSD themselves.

There are several barriers to effective discipleship and healing.  We may discover we are on one side or another of an axis that only serves to create further obstacles to healing.  These obstacles will frequently suck all the air out of the room, they are so energizing and distracting that would-be disciples subsequently fail to help with healing and they may actually just further the alienation that PTSD desires.

“Axis of Hindrance” vs. Healing Our Soul Wounds

PTSD has a spiritual dimension in addition to its medical components.  If we seek to help other people heal, then we have to be willing to avoid pathways that are actually obstacles and blind alleys and instead we need to keep the focus on healing.  On the surface these paths might feel relevant, but they actually lead us down dead-ends, away from the hope of healing.

The Pro-Military vs. Anti-Military Axis 

I have seen well-meaning individuals get together for the purpose of trying to help heal the soul wound of PTSD and then get distracted from that goal.   Instead of focusing on healing they get into arguments about whether the military is Good or Evil.  This exchange can get a bit heated.  The participants seem to forget they came to facilitate healing from trauma.  Instead, they have only succeeded in causing greater alienation.  Thus, this topic becomes a hindrance to healing.  Debating the worth and nature of the military is not a bad discussion to have, especially in a democracy, but it destroys our opportunity to focus on healing.

Other axes (the plural of axis) of hindrance deal with religion.  It comes in several variants; we’ll look at a few.

Catholic Christian vs Non-Catholic Christian Axis

It is fashionable in some circles to claim that Catholics are not really Christians.  Disregarding that the Protestant denominations of Christianity do not start to form until 1517 and later, if one labels a Catholic as a non-Christian, then nothing is done to promote healing from PTSD.  If two people want to debate which denomination of Christianity is more ancient, more authentic, or truly Christian, then they should save that discussion for a different venue and not allow it to distract us from trying to help heal the PTSD soul wound.

This works both ways.  If a Catholic gets huffy because we are helping non-Catholics, or even non-Christians, then they will only create obstacles to any possible healing.  Examining Christian origins, ecclesiology, and why different denominations practice their Christianity in different ways is always a fascinating topic, but it should not derail us from helping the survivors of trauma to heal from their PTSD.

Christian vs. Non-Christian Axis

Sometimes my Christian friends have been worried that I cooperate in the context of PTSD healing with people who are not even Christians.  Chewing on this worry is a distraction from trying to help people choose to stay alive.

Likewise, some of the non-Christians I have worked with were initially leery of working with a guy like me.  Not only am I a Catholic, but I am a “professional Catholic,” I get paid (peanuts) to learn and teach theology, usually in the teaching environment of an excellent university.  Very little of my PTSD activities are remunerated, but the goal is to save lives, not make a mint.  Yet, some folks who are in non-Christian, “alternative” or “emergent” religions have been put off at having a Catholic Christian as part of the program.

The PTSD Healing vs. Conversions Axis

Some Christians want to become involved in a PTSD Healing Ministry so they can “win souls for Jesus,” “bring people to Jesus,” and all the other variants of those statements.  Over the years – hard to believe how the years are piling up – I politely guide those people to other venues.  My immediate goals are to help people avoid suicide, destroying relationships, and engaging in dangerous, sometimes even evil, PTSD coping behaviors.

When criticized that my primary goal should be conversions! Conversions!! and more CONVERSIONS!!! I allow myself the position that if a person’s PTSD causes them to commit suicide, then they are not exactly available to consider conversion.  Christianity already has an abundance of missionaries, ministries, and bumper stickers to help people convert; we need more people who are interested in preventing suicides, wrecked relationships, and destructive addictions.

Sadly, some Christians act as if they are “counting coup” or “taking theological scalps” by converting people to their particular denomination or religion.  If that is their attitude, then they do it to glorify themselves and not God.  If we are involved in someone’s conversion then we take on a grave responsibility.  Our actions, including any missionary work, should be done “for the greater glory of God,” or “A. M. D. G.”

I am a Roman Catholic and my personal spirituality greatly benefits from the scriptures, traditions, liturgy, and sacraments that the Church constantly explores and mediates.  As Jesus reveals much about God the Father to us (as any reading of John’s Gospel will confirm), the Church enables me to better appreciate Jesus, and thus God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  Your mileage may vary.

I also understand that for many people Catholicism is not how they can best express their Christianity or experience God.  While I would certainly not oppose a non-Catholic exploring the Catholic faith, converting people to my preferred brand of Christianity is neither my goal nor desire.  Rather, I seek to help someone heal from their PTSD soul wounds. 

If we are successful in facilitating some degree of healing then we have managed to avert another PTSD-inspired suicide, we may have also healed damaged relationships and we may have helped people to think seriously about their relationship to God for the first time or to commit to a fresh journey with God.

The PTSD Spirituality website is not interested in taking “theological scalps,” rather it hopes to facilitate healing of the PTSD soul wound.  Beyond that, I hope PTSD survivors can start, or begin anew, their own sanctification journey with God.

Regardless of where we fall in the spectrum of religious beliefs (or lack of beliefs) we can help others (and even ourselves) heal from the PTSD soul wound.  If we burn up time and opportunities debating who is or who is not in the right religion or denomination, then all we do is encourage people who are already immensely hurting from their PTSD soul wound to just go off somewhere and die alone. 

Argument encourages alienation.

We are not called to be judges of one another’s religious purity, we are called to heal.

A New Generation of Healers

I told my students this morning that they have such wonderful opportunities to help people afflicted with PTSD.  Most of those kids in my Christian Discipleship class are about 20 years old.  I’ll be long gone, but they have decades and decades of life left where they can help others heal.  Some of them will also be traumatized and in need of healing themselves.  The potential for this young generation to be a healing generation is simply awesome.  In so many ways they can help people choose life and not choose suicide.

Granted, I am not dead yet and I hope to have more time to live and help people embrace life.  Writing this reminds me to seize the vitality of life myself as the precious God-given gift it is.  Regardless of our age we all have so much to offer.  Each of us can be Pro-Life in helping others choose to save their own lives.  Each of us has the opportunity to help nurture hope, not only in others but in our own lives as well.  Hope and love enhance life, they protect life because they illuminate for us that life is sacred.  Your life is sacred.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. I love this website. It has been a great source of encouragement and healing to me. The experiences leading to my PTSD actually brought me to a place of JOINing the Catholic Church. Jesus worked though the Catholic Church to bring me the amount of sanity and healing I have today! I thank God for this website and especially for the section on healing as it can be found in one’s understanding of the hypostatic union. Keep up the good work Dr. Z!

    • Hello Stacey, I am grateful for the healing and sanity you have been blessed with, especially given how hard PTSD works to deny us those very items. I share your appreciation of the hypostatic union. While ultimately a divine mystery, we know enough that Jesus’ full humanity and full divinity enables Him to both appreciate our PTSD experience, but to also overcome it and bring us to everlasting life. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. What a great post! Wow…the many ways people find to separate themselves from one another rather than focusing on what’s important. You’ve certainly managed to keep your focus. Thanks for sharing.

    • And, thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a comment! It is encouraging to know these essays have value for others (and are not just useful in my own PTSD recovery). Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. Dr. Z , thank you for the clarity and spiritual centeredness you offer on these topics. My “Born Again” friends have usually left me wondering if they earn extra point for “saving” a catholic. You’ve been in my thoughts & prayers – much gratitude!
    Thank you.

    • Greetings, Russ! Your prayers have helped sustain me through a physically tougher semester than I anticipated. Few more weeks and then a little down time to hopefully rest and write. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  4. Thank you so much for this! In my view Jesus came to guide people to abundant life and love…. not to get them to sign on the dotted line of some creed. Jesus didn’t discriminate in his healing love and, in my opinion, neither should we. As a Christian, I have received healing inspiration from non-Christians. And I hope that I can share my own healing inspiration with all people ~ Christians and non-Christians alike. Peace to you!

    • Thank you, Pastor Beth. I agree with your kind thoughts. Jesus’ mministry demonstrates he did not discriminate between Jew or Gentile, man or woman, adult or child, sick or healthy. Perhaps the major challenge for many of us, myself at least, is to learn to love as he did. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. Lots of flack…
    Must be over the target!

    Refreshing clarity!

    Always remember the source of your strength.

    In Him…

    • Thank you for what you said, the metaphor and the message are both apt and excellent. As I reflect on my own life and what people have derisively called me from time to time, I experience more pain when called a “non-Christian” than I do when remembering how a person called me “Baby Killer” in an airport (I was in uniform at the time). It is a reminder that I need to pray for them. Your comment is also a clear reminder that I benefit from the support of other people and so my prayer willi include gratitude for you. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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