Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 707–718 | Cite as

Help-Seeking from Clergy and Spiritual Counselors Among Veterans with Depression and PTSD in Primary Care

  • Laura M. Bonner
  • Andy B. Lanto
  • Cory Bolkan
  • G. Stennis Watson
  • Duncan G. Campbell
  • Edmund F. Chaney
  • Kara Zivin
  • Lisa V. Rubenstein
Original Paper


Little is known about the prevalence or predictors of seeking help for depression and PTSD from spiritual counselors and clergy. We describe openness to and actual help-seeking from spiritual counselors among primary care patients with depression. We screened consecutive VA primary care patients for depression; 761 Veterans with probable major depression participated in telephone surveys (at baseline, 7 months, and 18 months). Participants were asked about (1) openness to seeking help for emotional problems from spiritual counselors/clergy and (2) actual contact with spiritual counselors/clergy in the past 6 months. At baseline, almost half of the participants, 359 (47.2 %), endorsed being “very” or “somewhat likely” to seek help for emotional problems from spiritual counselors; 498 (65.4 %) were open to a primary care provider, 486 (63.9 %) to a psychiatrist, and 409 (66.5 %) to another type of mental health provider. Ninety-one participants (12 %) reported actual spiritual counselor/clergy consultation. Ninety-five (10.3 %) participants reported that their VA providers had recently asked them about spiritual support; the majority of these found this discussion helpful. Participants with current PTSD symptoms, and those with a mental health visit in the past 6 months, were more likely to report openness to and actual help-seeking from clergy. Veterans with depression and PTSD are amenable to receiving help from spiritual counselors/clergy and other providers. Integration of spiritual counselors/clergy into care teams may be helpful to Veterans with PTSD. Training of such providers to address PTSD specifically may also be desirable.


Depression PTSD Clergy 



This work was funded by the VA. Funding was provided by VA HSR&D (MHI-99-375) and VA Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (MHQ 10-06; RRP 12-175). The authors acknowledge the contributions of the many study participants without whom this work would not have been possible. We are grateful to Carol Simons for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and to Martin Lee, PhD, for statistical consultation. A portion of this work was presented at the Gerontological Society of America in San Diego, CA in November 2012.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura M. Bonner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andy B. Lanto
    • 3
  • Cory Bolkan
    • 4
  • G. Stennis Watson
    • 2
    • 5
  • Duncan G. Campbell
    • 6
  • Edmund F. Chaney
    • 2
    • 3
  • Kara Zivin
    • 7
  • Lisa V. Rubenstein
    • 3
    • 8
    • 9
  1. 1.VA Puget Sound Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) and Health Services Research & Development (HSR&D)SeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Washington School of MedicineSeattleUSA
  3. 3.VA Greater Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Washington State University VancouverVancouverUSA
  5. 5.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  6. 6.University of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  7. 7.VA Ann Arbor Healthcare SystemAnn ArborUSA
  8. 8.University of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  9. 9.RAND CorporationLos AngelesUSA

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