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Chaplains offer spiritual healing, practical counseling

  • Published
  • By Julie Caldwell and Staff Sgt. Tonnette Thompson
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
The urge to talk to someone - to trade ideas, ask for advice, or just vent - can make itself known in anyone. 

Unfortunately, sometimes on a military installation miles can separate one from familiar faces. Or maybe family and friends are within arm's reach, but the situation requires the unbiased ear of a neutral party. And sometimes, what the situation really needs is someone who can directly address matters of the spirit, someone who'll allow the person to walk away not just with a lighter conscience but a less heavy heart.

For people in such straits, there is an option beyond the personnel in the chain of command, or the professionals at mental health. They're called chaplains, and these people of faith, with both religious training and counseling skills, have open-door policies, organize self-improvement workshops and are available to assist with a wide array of problems, general and specific, to the military lifestyle.

At Sheppard, there are 10 chaplains, with denominations spanning the Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and even non-denominational faiths. Unlike their secular counterparts, these chaplains frequently delve into the spiritual side of any given situation, encouraging those who seek their help to also pray for guidance.

"We naturally bring in religious issues," said Col. Richard Munsell, 82nd Training Wing chaplain.

Although some chaplains do have extensive credentials specifically in counseling, the main focus of the sessions themselves, Colonel Munsell said, tends toward healing the spirit first.

The chaplains don't wait around for people to come to them, either. It's common for chaplains to roam the base, asking how the people in their "flock," or unit, are doing, initiating friendly conversation. Chaplains also frequent the Solid Rock Café every evening, making themselves available to the Airmen-in-Training.

They even stage informal counseling sessions in the form of marriage and family workshops. "Financial Peace University," an 18-week long program geared toward couples' financial awareness, is currently being held every Monday.

The issues people bring into a chaplain's office usually center around problems anyone may encounter: family, marriage, depression, workplace tension. Others are more specific to the military, such as adjusting to the lifestyle, or post-traumatic stress related to combat. While chaplains can help with these problems, they do not offer long-term or clinical counseling.

"Some problems require more expertise than we have," Colonel Munsell said. "What we try to do is help people determine the seriousness of their problems, and point them in the right direction by referring them to someone who can help."

Colonel Munsell stresses that there is no stigma in requesting or receiving counseling of any origin.

"Most people can order their events in their lives, but people in crisis become disoriented and lose the ability to do this," he said. "Counseling helps people reorder their confusion, so they can reorganize their approach to life.

"Counseling is a healthy thing to do. Healthy people seek out help."

To seek the help of a chaplain, inquiring about the chaplain assigned to your unit is one option. Another is making an appointment with a chaplain by calling the South Chapel at 676-4370.