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Relationship Between PTSD and Religion


Religion is an essential institution in most societies. In fact, in the medieval era, it used to play a vital role in people’s political and economic development (Wood 164-165). Therefore, societies credited religious institutions as being influential arbitrators for many social disputes and equally lauded them for championing social, political and economic development (Wood 164-165). For example, in many Christian societies, the church built and maintained schools and hospitals in the same way as governments do today. Consequently, people respected religion and consequently it enjoyed a massive following. However, today, faith-based actions seem to have lost their appeal and influence in society.

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Although some people may contend that religious institutions still play a role in the social, economic and political development of many societies, few could argue that the number of people who patronize churches and follow the gospel has reduced (Sebo 13-14). This phenomenon is vivid in western countries where the number of people who go to churches has significantly declined. For example, some reports show that the number of Catholics in America has dropped by close to 3 million people (Sebo 13-14). Reports from other parts of the world also demonstrate the same pattern because some reports reveal that the number of Catholic faithful in Latin America has declined from a high of 94% (in the early 1900s) to 64% in 2004. The impact of this once mighty institution is slowly waning in ways that have even baffled religious leaders. Observers have proposed many reasons for this outcome, but few have been able to offer a good reason for the decreasing number of people who subscribe to religious institutions today.

The declining power of religion has made people lose faith in their ability to help followers overcome some of their spiritual and life problems. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one such problem, which could be solved or mitigated using religious teachings (Kim-Prieto 240-242). However, many people are not considering religion as a possible remedy for the disorder. This paper argues that the waning influence of religion in modern society shares a link with its inability to solve PTSD. Sections of this study also demonstrate that religion has lost its credibility in society because scandals and corruption cases have undermined it and made its followers lose faith in it. Two ways explain the evidence supporting this assertion. First, the possible role of religion in helping people with PTSD to overcome their mental health challenges is analyzed. Secondly, an explanation of the failure of religious institutions to do so suffices. However, before delving into these issues, it is first crucial to understand PTSD as a mental health condition.


Most people who have PTSD are current or former soldiers. Those who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam form the bulk of existing victims of the condition. Usually, they find it difficult to adjust to civilian life after their deployments because most of them have experienced traumatic events, such as the death of a friend or a loved one (Hassner 124). Others have seen other people dying and have even had to kill. Such traumatic experiences often increase the risk of mental health disorders, and PTSD is just a small part of it. There are different tools for managing such problems and religion is one of them. However, as Wood points out, religious institutions have ineffectively done so (164). Nonetheless, their inability to help people living with PTSD does not undermine their potential to help those who can be receptive to their teachings. This fact informs the potential for religious institutions to help people with PTSD recover from their disorder. The following section explains how this could happen.

What can Religion Do?

Psychologists have often investigated how religion has influenced the mental health of human beings and said that the effects are both positive and negative (Kim-Prieto 240-242). Positively, people’s beliefs could change how they cope with PTSD by allowing them to look at the traumatic stress from a spiritual point of view where they would find meaning in what they feel (US Department of Veterans Affairs). For example, religion could help them understand why God allows suffering and “bad things” to happen to certain people. Here, victims may find comfort in the fact that nothing happens in vain or that whatever they are experiencing is the “will of God” (regardless of what their interpretation of their experience in religion may be). At the same time, people living with PTSD may also be negatively affected by spirituality if they start to question God and his role in allowing suffering in their lives (US Department of Veterans Affairs). The dichotomy that defines how people with PTSD view their experience from a religious angle also manifests during death, where people may find themselves either closer or farther away from God.

Although the relationship between spirituality and PTSD could result in positive or negative outcomes, many researchers agree that increased spirituality links with decreased incidences of PTSD symptoms and depression (Kim-Prieto 240; Gifford 24). For example, people who rely on their spirituality to overcome PTSD tend to be less angry and vengeful. Instead, they are more understanding of their predicament than those who do not have a firm religious foundation (US Department of Veterans Affairs). The main reason advanced to explain this outcome is that religious people are often more forgiving than those who are not spiritual.

Different researchers have made various proposals regarding the trajectory that religious people may follow to overcome PTSD (Gifford 24; US Department of Veterans Affairs). One of them is that religion often helps people to develop positive lifestyle behaviors, which could prevent them from indulging in destructive lifestyle patterns, such as drinking and smoking. At the same time, some researchers point to the robust social support systems that religious networks offer people with PTSD as another remedy that religion provides to manage the condition (Gifford 24). Faith also helps people with PTSD to make meaning of their experiences, thereby improving their ability to cope with the problem. Some religions, such as Buddhism, often teach their followers relaxation response exercises (such as meditation) which are essential in helping people with PTSD to manage their anxiety. Christianity and Islam also offer similar remedies through the “power of prayer.” Overall, religion provides people who have PTSD with a buffer that allows them to manage their condition and feelings.

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The ways mentioned above draw our attention to three primary indicators about the condition that relate to spirituality and religion – making meaning of the traumatic experience, guilt, and grief. Grief is a standard issue that people with PTSD experience. In America, many people who encounter such an emotional problem often resort to religion. The US Department of Veterans Affairs says the same is true for 9/11 victims because up to 90% of those who were affected by the attack resorted to prayer. This statistic underscores the findings of several researchers who have pointed to an association between religion and people’s ability to recover from a traumatic loss. For many victims, spirituality and religion provide them with the frame of mind for which they could make sense of their grief. Additionally, they could recover from the pain through the supportive social networks they would enjoy from being part of religious systems.

In cases where people with PTSD were perpetrators of violence, religion could help them overcome their guilt because it would offer them perspective on their role in wars and give meaning to why conflict exists in the world. Some religious teachings, such as forgiveness and the imperfection of man, could help them overcome a “guilty conscience.” Similarly, some faiths allow confessions as an alternative to redeeming oneself from such guilt. Such channels of self-redemption are part of religious teaching and would be beneficial for many victims of PTSD.

Lastly, several studies have shown that part of the role of religion in helping people with PTSD cope better with their issues is helping them make sense of the problem in the first place (US Department of Veterans Affairs). For example, Gifford says, by helping people to make sense of their experience, religion could help eliminate their PTSD symptoms and enhance their regular functioning (24). Several researchers have pointed out that victims may also have retrogressive thoughts such as “God has abandoned me” or “God has punished me.” Such ideas may lead to adverse clinical outcomes (US Department of Veterans Affairs). Other studies show that increased cases of substance abuse could link with the same issue (Gifford 24-25). One study conducted with veterans who suffer from PTSD found that their inability to use religion as a coping mechanism contributed to depression and intense PTSD symptoms (US Department of Veterans Affairs).

People may make progress in treating PTSD by subscribing to religious teachings, which may help victims to change their perspective of the disorder and choose to live a more fulfilling life. Such solutions may help to improve their understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. Since some people with PTSD question the role of God in the world and why he allows “bad things” to happen, such discussions would be a start to understanding why it is essential to revisit the role of faith in human life. These considerations would be necessary when helping people with PTSD to reevaluate their mental status and perceptions of what they are experiencing. Comprehensively, the issues discussed above exemplify the vital role that religion could play in helping people with PTSD overcome their psychological problems. However, as highlighted in the introduction section of this report, the same faith could have a detrimental effect on their mental health. The numerous issues plaguing religious institutions today could explain this phenomenon because some people are skeptical about relying on organizations that lack the moral authority to help them. The failures of religion appear below.

Failures of Religion

As seen from the above section, religion could play an instrumental role in helping people with PTSD cope better with their condition. However, the ability of religious institutions to exert such positive influence on their followers is questionable because of scandals and corruption cases, which have undermined their authority. Indeed, new cases of sexual abuse, embezzlement of funds, mistreatment of people and the existence of instances of “unholy” unions between religious leaders and politicians limit the ability of religious leaders to help their followers overcome their daily problems effectively. For example, Sebo says it is rare to find many Christian leaders operating independently (14). Consequently, incidences of state funding and the involvement of religious institutions in politics have led to a decline of the influence of religion in the society.

Cases of priests molesting children, politicians giving bribes and money to the church (among a host of other issues) have made some people skeptical about whether the church is the right place to seek moral guidance. The involvement of religious organizations on controversial topics such as war, reproductive health matters, and interfaith relationships has worsened the situation, as some people seem to disagree with some religious leaders on such issues. Based on these problems, religion seems to have lost its influence on society as it continuously changes to adapt to people’s views, as opposed to sticking to its fundamental teachings. Here, the challenge mostly comes from the diminishing moral authority that religious leaders are welding in the society. Ethically, they are also losing the power to steer people to “do the right thing” because there is a belief that they are using double standards to encourage their followers to act right when they are not doing the same (Sebo 14-15). Simply, it is a case of “preaching water and drinking wine.”


Based on the findings highlighted in this paper, the relationship between religion and PTSD could have both positive and negative outcomes. Since religious leaders are exposing their weaknesses in helping their followers to manage such issues, it is possible to assume that seeking help outside religious circles could be a more reliable way of controlling the disorder. While this suggestion seems like a likely way of managing PTSD, it is difficult to ignore the weaknesses of religious institutions in helping their faithful to overcome such problems. The declining number of congregants in different churches around the world has partly explained this phenomenon.

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Religious institutions should resist attempts by some individuals to infiltrate it and liken its values to the society if it is to overcome these weaknesses. In other words, these institutors should concentrate their efforts on influencing people (positively) and refrain from trying to follow trends in the society. Religion is the anchor of any cohesive community and the right pillar of social progress where people who have problems should go to seek refuge. Religious bodies should be allowed to play this role and be supported by the populace to be anchors of the society and “beacons of hope.” Without such a change, it would be difficult to reverse the current trend where many people are questioning the role of religion in society.

Works Cited

Gifford, Greg. Helping your Family through PTSD. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2017.

Hassner, Ron. Religion on the Battlefield. Cornell University Press, 2016.

Kim-Prieto, Chu. Religion and Spirituality across Cultures. Springer, 2014.

Sebo, Martin. Nihilism-In-Tension: A Theology of Kenosis as a Response to Some Nihilistic Inclinations in the Context of Contemporary Slovakia., 2017. Google Books, Web.

US Department of Veterans Affairs. “Spirituality and Trauma: Professionals Working Together.” National Center for PTSD, Web.

Wood, John. Going Dutch in the Modern Age: Abraham Kuyper’s Struggle for a Free Church in the Netherlands. OUP USA, 2013.

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