The Fort Belvoir Chaplaincy, in cooperation with the Fort Belvoir Chapel Community, hosted a conference of the Spiritual Fitness Initiative May 7-9 at Thurman Lecture Hall.
The conference focused on explaining that post-traumatic stress disorder isn't a behavior flaw or problem. PTSD is actually a biomedical condition which can affect the brain's ability to make logical decisions.
"People are conditioned in our society to believe that PTSD is a behavioral flaw, or problem," said Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker, Spiritual Fitness Initiative, director. "That translates into stigma and condemnation. For a Soldier, that is particularly damaging because it means their conduct is unbecoming."
Presenters gave steps people with PTSD can take to help alleviate their symptoms.
Spiritual Fitness focuses on the biological routes of the illness, but also shows how relationships and theology can help people understand who they are, and how that understanding will help them get through the disease.
"Every Soldier needs to understand the biological routes of the illness so they can drop the mantle of shame because there's no shame in having a physical illness," said Parker. "We want them to pick up the mantle of empowerment and responsibility and say, 'What can I? May I? And should I do to manage this illness for the benefit of myself and everyone else that is impacted by it?'"
To explain how relational patterns can help with PTSD symptoms, Parker guided attendees in the examination of their lives as if they were a tree with roots, a trunk, branches and flowers. As a tree, people explored the relational patterns in their lives and how those relationships evolved. Participants looked at whether or not their relational "branches" were affected by trauma so they could understand what relationships are supportive to them and which ones are not.
It is important for people with PTSD to recognize the positive relationships they have in their lives because PTSD can leave victims feeling helpless and out of control. This can be exacerbated by a circumstance or event that is intensely threatening to life or limb, according to Parker.
"When you place people in a situation that reconnects them to supportive people, they are no longer alone," said Parker. "That helps minimize the effects of trauma because it helps them restore a sense of control and order because they understand who they can turn to for help and support."
Parker discussed theology with attendees to help them understand their belief system because belief systems engage people's relationships not only to our fellow human beings, but to God, creation, the universe and the world.
"Those belief systems determine how we treat ourselves," said Parker.
The final stage of the training is to get people to express their emotions. Parker accomplished this by making the attendees think about their spiritual stakeholders. She suggested people think of who has been influential and motivational to them in their lives.
The spiritual stakeholder's names were written on tent stakes handed out to the participants.
"We ask they carry the stakes with them so they will always have those people in the forefront of their minds," said Parker. "When people are traumatized and get retriggered, their cognitive process goes off-line."
When a person suffering from PTSD is retriggered by these events, they don't do the logical thing because their cognitive process is off-line, Carter explained. The stakes serve to remind people to come back to their spiritual center before doing something rash or making illogical decisions.
The training was beneficial to former servicemembers who attended, and civilians like Lenore Banks. Banks' husband served in the Air Force for 23 years, and passed away in October. But, Banks is glad she attended the conference because she feels she can better help her friends who are dealing with stressful situations brought on by medical conditions.
"The main thing is understanding what happened to you has physical ramifications," said Banks. "Your body responds to whatever the stimulus is, so there are physiological changes that happen to you which are why you don't eat or sleep the way you did before. I feel like I can help my friends who are stressed from medical diagnosis better than I could have before."

Page last updated Wed May 22nd, 2013 at 14:26