By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “Soul wounds” are wounds that pierce a person’s identity, sense of morality, and relationship with society when that person has experienced a trauma. Soul wounds were the focus of the annual Catholic Parish Nurse/Health Ministry Gathering at diocesan headquarters last month.
Presenter Chris McCormick Pries has professional and personal experience dealing with soul wounds and shared her insights at the April 27 gathering. She is the clinical director of Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport, and is active in health ministry at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf.
Her presentation followed a thank-you to Bishop Martin Amos for his support of parish nurse/health ministry. “It truly is a ministry,” Bishop Amos said. He told the gathering that their healing ministry can assist Catholics in understanding redemptive suffering, the role of palliative care, and society’s focus on assisted suicide, among other issues.
McCormick Pries titled her talk “Beyond PTSD: Healing the Moral Injuries Suffered in Trauma.” She noted that one of her sons was deployed twice in military service while her husband was deployed once. She sees a general lack of understanding in the public sphere of the internal conflicts faced by men and women who have served in the military.
She told of one solider, a 20-year-old who endured a year as a prisoner of war and then struggled to fit into society once he returned home. He suffered a spiritual breakdown that ultimately led to his conversion and a commitment to serve the disadvantaged and the poor. He became a penitent who founded a religious community and embraced care for all of God’s creation. This one-time soldier, St. Francis of Assisi, lived 800 years ago. Soul wound is not a new phenomenon.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be a soul wound. While PTSD is commonly associated with veterans, anyone who has suffered a serious, life-threatening trauma can suffer from PTSD. It can result from a mugging, domestic or sexual violence, traffic or industrial accident or an environmental disaster, for example.
Symptoms include reliving the traumatic event, avoidance of situations that remind the person of the event, hyper-arousal and psychic numbness. Behaviors include rage, flashbacks, substance abuse, nightmares and sleep disorders. Sufferers may have domestic, employment and legal troubles, intimacy and relationship difficulties.
Suicide is also a possibility. Every day, 22 veterans lose their lives to suicide. “More than 30,000 veterans have died by suicide since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” McCormick Pries said. “It’s important for vets to talk with other vets, even if they were in different conflicts. There are bonds that soldiers form with each other that can never be replicated in any other relationships.”
Because of the experiences they shared, fellow soldiers rely on each other in a deeper way than a husband and wife typically rely on one another, McCormick Pries said. “That’s something families need to be aware of.… ‘The Band of Brothers’ goes all the way back to Shakespeare.”
PTSD is fear-based while moral injury is the result of an internal conflict, a violation or betrayal of what an individual believes to be “right.” It is the internal suffering that results from engaging in something against one’s moral code. The harmed individual may have been following or issuing specific orders, such as in a combat situation, or witnessed something that was deeply offensive to his or her moral sense.
People who suffer moral injury can be soldiers, poverty-stricken/frightened parents abandoning children, or a drug addict committing a crime to support a habit. Moral injury sufferers may have allowed themselves to be sexually exploited, or to be dishonest at work for fear of losing a job, or a police officer called to intense domestic situations.
Healing requires theological and spiritual guidance. Treatment requires caring, non-judgmental moral authority, a welcoming community that can and will listen to those who suffer. Healing provides for making restitution, offering forgiveness and sustaining long term-community service and social ties.
“Moral injury is making peace with all the things that I had to do because I had to do them,” McCormick Pries observed. “We can listen to and support those who suffer, offering our presence and support through prayer. We are encouraged to continue our journey in developing a knowledge base, based on acceptable evidence-based practices, and to continue to gather information about community resources.”
Jennifer Hildebrand, a Faith Community Nurse who organized the gathering, was thrilled by attendees’ response to the presentation. “They want a follow-up meeting with area Catholic churches, to take it to the next level,” added Hildebrand, coordinator of Health Ministry for Genesis VNA & Hospice.
“This whole idea of moral injury – (sufferers) don’t wear a cast, they don’t have a limp. We have to reach out, be more welcoming and supportive. We have to bring the issues to the table so people feel comfortable talking about them,” continued Hildebrand, who leads the Health Ministry Cabinet at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. “We, as a church, need to collectively care for our people