Spiritual growth and decline after trauma: the mediating role of benevolence beliefs
Desmond, Cecile Gunn
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This dissertation theoretically examines and empirically tests relationships between trauma and spirituality. Many clinicians observe a deterioration of religious or spiritual beliefs or worldviews in their clients in the wake of trauma. Empirical studies, however, have produced equivocal results: trauma leads to both spiritual growth and decline. The dissertation surveyed definitions of and approaches to religion, spirituality, and trauma, as well as theories of worldview and world assumptions. It identified variables that include benevolence beliefs about people and the world, transcendent benevolence beliefs, time elapsed since the trauma and the type of trauma experienced. Taking into account religious or spiritual beliefs prior to the trauma, the dissertation asked, how does trauma, operationalized as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, relate to spiritual growth and decline? Participants were recruited from Boston area local trauma clinics and internet support groups. Participants (n=144) completed an online survey about their trauma history, PTSD symptoms, world assumptions, changes in spirituality, and demographics. Path analysis initially reported the theorized model did not adequately represent the relationships found in the data. The model was modified to reflect theoretically sound relationships, and achieved adequate fit. The final model suggested that, at least for individuals who have experienced significant, interpersonal, violent trauma, PTSD is associated with greater decline in spirituality than growth. The large percentage of individuals in this sample (98%) with violent trauma histories made it difficult to draw any conclusions about changes in spirituality in relation to trauma in general. The mediating role of benevolence beliefs with regard to spiritual growth and decline is reported. Type of trauma and time elapsed since the trauma are also discussed. Finally, positive findings related to the importance of religious or spiritual beliefs prior to the trauma are considered. Overall, results suggest that most people who suffer violent trauma tend to experience spiritual decline rather than growth, and it appears benevolence beliefs partially mediate this relationship. This study demonstrates that integrating spiritual issues into the counseling relationship, e.g., a sense of trust in people, the world, or the divine, is an important aspect of trauma recovery therapy. Implications for incorporating spiritual themes are discussed.
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