Building the Whole Soldier: The Role of Spirituality in Mental Health and Resilience

By Nina Borgeson, TRADOC Communication DirectorateDecember 8, 2020

Graphic for Dr. Lisa Miller's LPD scheduled for Dec. 15, 2020. (Graphic by Jim Hoeft)
Graphic for Dr. Lisa Miller's LPD scheduled for Dec. 15, 2020. (Graphic by Jim Hoeft) (Photo Credit: James Hoeft) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LANGLEY - EUSTIS, Va. – “When it comes to resilience, the deepest source of renewal, revival and persistence is the spiritual core,” stated Dr. Lisa Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, when asked why it is so important for Soldiers to maintain a strong spiritual core.

Miller will be participating in a discussion on the science of spirituality in mental health, thriving and fitness as part of the Leader Professional Development series hosted by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The live webinar will be held Dec. 15th at 11 a.m. EST and will give viewers the opportunity to ask questions directly to the discussion board.

Paving the Spiritual Path

Miller has dedicated much of her life to the study of spirituality and its effects on a person’s psychology, personal growth, and resilience. In 1996, Miller began working at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center with young adults and adolescents who were having difficulties coping with a great loss. She found that if a child or teen had a connection to their spirituality, their entire course of recovery was much different.

This sparked something in Miller, and it became clear to her that making significant, long lasting progress in one’s mental health without a spiritual core was a nearly impossible task. She, along with other scholars, began building the academic discourse on the effects of spirituality on adolescents’ psychology from the bottom up.

“At the time, there were no scholarly articles on spirituality for recovery of young adults and adolescents,” Miller explained. “We now have a great amount of scholarly sources that support the claim that a strong personal spirituality is the greatest source of recovery and resilience.”

When asked what the benefit was of studying spirituality through a scientific lens, Miller explained that science is a great lens of witness that can be used to look at the impact of spiritual life on all other threads of human life. “Science can never define spirituality,” she stated, “but it can look at the positive impact of spirituality on a person’s life.”

Revitalizing the Spirituality of Soldiers

When it comes to the Army, its Soldiers, and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced body, mind and spirit in the face of adversity, Miller stressed the importance a strong sense of spirituality has on building the whole Soldier and their team.

“If you want someone that persists and has grit and determination, build the spiritual core,” she stated. “That allows us to perform past our normal capacities allows us to combat when we are feeling tired and defeated and shattered.”

Miller also mentioned that when a Soldier’s spiritual core is strengthened, it allows the entire team to strengthen as well. “Our country is built on spiritual values…In the deep DNA of the Army is the preservation of spiritual freedom — that is what gives purpose and persistence and teamwork their feat.”

The idea that spirituality is an essential aspect of a Soldier’s overall health has been highly discussed in recent years. The Army’s new Holistic Health and Fitness initiative recognizes the importance of spirituality in a Soldier’s mental health and wellness and has begun implementing ways to provide its Soldiers with the resources they may need to cultivate that spiritual growth. These include, but are not limited to, providing Soldiers access to chaplains and religious affairs specialists, providing insightful advice on spiritual readiness practices on the Army Fit website, having commanders and leaders who encourage spiritual growth and readiness and respect spiritual and religious diversity, and providing soldiers with adequate time to care for their mental and spiritual health.

Diversity in Spirituality

What if a person is not religious? Can they still build their spiritual core? According to Miller, one can be spiritual without being religious, just the same as one can be spiritual while being religious.

“Spirituality and religion can go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing,” she stated. “We have an innate capacity for spirituality. Religion is a guide and can help form us, but because we are naturally spiritual beings, we can be formed and guided without religion, too.”

With a diverse set of beliefs and religions to live by comes an opportunity for organizations to ensure they are creating an inclusive work environment and learn to value the diverse beliefs of its people.

“To really take interest in each other is a matter of inclusivity and embracing diversity,” Miller stated. “To do that, we need to learn to listen and speak in a way that is spiritually multilingual.”

Spiritual multilingualism, according to Miller, is the ability to use your own spiritual path and values to openly discuss and understand others’, finding commonality between life experiences. Miller continued to explain that in an effort to be a more inclusive, society have driven religion out of the public discourse, and as a result, has created a spiritually distant society that has lost its ability to talk about spiritual life and, in turn, doesn’t know how to support the natural spiritual core of young people. She believes that becoming more vocal about the importance of spirituality from the very beginning can produce a long-standing positive effect on current and future Soldiers’ lives.

When asked what she was most looking forward to about the Leader Professional Development webinar, Miller stated, “The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command is already known for its innovative leadership in holistic training and building resilient Soldiers, so it is an honor and thrill to hand over the science that will allow them to continue their innovative work right down to the spiritual core.”

To tune in to the live LPD webinar discussion Dec. 15th from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. EST, visit the U.S. Army TRADOC Facebook page, or visit the following link: