Friday, April 20th, 2018 by

The Difference Between Spiritual Survival Training and Chaplaincy

Over the past 18 years it has been my privilege to design and provide training for law enforcement officers in Spiritual Survival. My training addresses a very specific aspect of the law enforcement experience: the spiritual dimension. Spiritual Survival training is, I believe, a crucial aspect of training to help officers successfully negotiate the challenges of a law enforcement career. The goal is to help officers recognize and acknowledge the noble idealism and integrity within the human spirit that brings them into the career. It is this human spirit that can keep them devoted to their law enforcement mission, with all its challenges, disappointments and difficulties. My aim is to help them identify the toxins that daily deplete and exhaust their spirit, equip them with tools to nourish and replenish their precious idealism and integrity, and renew their commitment to faithful performance of their law enforcement mission.

Often, when police chiefs hear that I offer training for “Spiritual Survival,” they reassure me that their agencies already have chaplaincy services, so their agencies don’t need the spiritual survival training I offer. That’s when I gently explain that the two support structures, chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training, are not the same.

Chaplaincy services inspire strong reaction – avid advocates and suspicious detractors. A common story among law enforcement executives tells of a skilled, dedicated chaplain who intervened to save a cop in distress; others regale me with anecdotes of chaplains who overstepped their bounds and trespassed into the realm of proselytizing. But in all cases I unequivocally assure law enforcement executives that Spiritual Survival training is not equivalent to chaplaincy.

Indeed, chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training both support officers and agencies, and ought to be complementary. But they each have profoundly different goals.

The greatest distinction between chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training is this: Chaplaincy is reactive by its nature, whereas Spiritual Survival training is proactive. Even more significant is the fact that officers who receive chaplaincy services are… passive recipients – receivers and beneficiaries of aid, comfort, and assistance a chaplain provides. On the other hand, an officer who has undergone Spiritual Survival training has learned to be an initiator and an active participant who presides over his or her own spiritual health.

A good way to understand the relationship between chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training is to look at the relationship between conventional and complementary medical traditions. The conventional medical model is, by its nature, reactive and external. A doctor dispenses healing to a patient, who receives it, in the form of a pill, a shot, or a surgical procedure. The patient’s role consists largely of having trust in the doctor’s knowledge and ability to alleviate an existing condition.

In the complementary medical model, however, the healing process is proactive and preemptive. In most cases, the role of a complementary medicine practitioner is to prescribe a change in lifestyle to the patient, in the belief that the responsibility for healing and health lies with the patient. Patient and doctor are thus partners in the process of health. The doctor shares knowledge about how to maintain health, empowering the patient to take personal responsibility for his or her self-care. Doctor and patient are partners.

Conventional medicine approaches work especially well in responding to massive, sudden trauma, whereas complementary medicine works especially well in addressing chronic illnesses caused or exacerbated by poor on-going lifestyle choices and behaviors. But it is important to note that even when treating cases of massive, sudden trauma, patients have a better chance of weathering the ordeal well when they are in robust health to begin with. A strong, healthy constitution can better endure trauma and enhance recovery.

This is also true for an officer’s spiritual well-being.

Consider the chaplaincy model: It is by nature passive. The chaplain dispenses spiritual healing, and the officer is the receiver. Thus, responsibility for healing rests in the hands of the chaplain who directs and presides over the process.

The Spiritual Survival training model views healing as a proactive process in which the officer and trainer are partners in the process of health. Officers are taught by the instructor and empowered to take responsibility for their own self-care. They are armed by the Spiritual Survival trainer with an arsenal of techniques for nourishing their spiritual well-being in the course of everyday life. They themselves are ultimately responsible for their own healing and health through a reorientation of their lifestyle.

Chaplaincy services are essential in times of sudden, overwhelming trauma, whereas Spiritual Survival training prevents long-term effects of the chronic toxins and demoralizations that can be a part of every shift. Moreover, officers have a better chance of weathering the ordeal of massive, sudden trauma when they are in robust spiritual health to begin with. Officers with strong, healthy reserves of inspiration, integrity and spiritual clarity can better endure physical and psychic shocks to their systems.

The system that best maximizes an officer’s chances of maintaining optimal spiritual health without succumbing to the stresses of the career is a combination of these two spiritual-health modalities.

Though Spiritual Survival training is not the same as chaplaincy services, they are closely related, and mutually beneficial. Spiritual Survival training will never render chaplains or their services unnecessary. Quite the contrary, law enforcement chaplains should work together with Spiritual Survival training to provide officers with “tools of intentional spirituality.” These can lessen the intensity of the career toxins that are part of the job and provide the tools officers need to take responsibility for their self-care. Indeed, thus educated, officers who understand the critical importance of tending to their own spiritual well-being will create increased demand for chaplaincy services. Far from making chaplaincy obsolete, appreciation of the all-important role of the spiritual dimension of proper law enforcement performance will make chaplains indispensable.

Another medical analogy is equally instructive: battlefield medicine. Law enforcement too often takes place in combat conditions. In such situations, when officers are physically wounded, we don’t wait until they can be transported to a hospital. We train them to use their own personal first-aid trauma kit and administer what aid can be supplied immediately until expert care can be provided.

The same phenomenon exists in the realm of spiritual wounds. Officers must be taught emergency spiritual self-care to attend to their spiritual health under challenging embattled conditions. A basic first-aid kit can mean the difference between spiritual life and death. It’s not enough to wait until a dispirited officer can be transported to a chaplain to receive expert spiritual attention. Care, even in less than ideal conditions, must be deployed immediately.

Officers experience intensely demanding events that challenge their most basic beliefs about the purpose of life, about people, and about themselves. An officer can respond to and witness incidents that produce feelings of disillusionment, sadness, betrayal, confusion, helplessness, and rage. These can inspire more psychic pain than an officer can bear. Each such event kills something fundamental within a person, who loses a piece of his or her spirit. Spiritual Survival techniques enable officers to ground themselves in powerful beliefs about the purpose of life; to recognize and reaffirm their commitment to the law enforcement mission; and to start the healing process after the event.

This kind of preparation may, perhaps, change some of the ways that chaplaincy is practiced. Better prepared officers who have been trained to access their own spiritual wellsprings and cultivate their own reservoirs of spiritual inspiration will enhance the chaplain’s role. The chaplain will have a more sophisticated clientele, and interactions will be more meaningful and productive. Far from downplaying chaplaincy, enriched recognition of the importance of the spirit to the officer’s performance and career will make the chaplain’s role more effective.

Thomas Edison, looking toward the future of the healing arts, wrote, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Observing this new landscape, Edison might very well have described in this way the new paradigm for law enforcement’s spiritual health: “Law enforcement chaplains of the future will give no externally-applied healing, but will instruct officers in the care of the human spirit, in the spirit’s proper care and nourishment, and in the cause and prevention of spiritual disease.”

Law enforcement officers in America confront as never before a crisis in morale. Their motivations are impugned, and they are increasingly presumed guilty by the media, the politicians, and the public until proven innocent. To cope with this onslaught of mistrust and condemnation, officers must have access to and be able to reconnect with the noble aspirations that brought them into the career and that keep them devoted to the law enforcement mission. Replenishing and nurturing their internal sources of inspiration and integrity in the face of external vilification and demoralization is now more important than ever before. Chaplaincy plays an important role in tending to the indomitable human spirit, and Spiritual Survival training has a unique role to play in fulfilling our obligations to maintain the inner resources and health of our officers.

Cary A. Friedman, Chaplain
Chaplain Cary A. Friedman is an Associate Director of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and also works as a consultant and trainer on matters of stress-management and ethical decision-making for the law enforcement community. A hospital, prison, and police chaplain, he began consulting to the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, VA in 2001, and contributed to the design of the Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement course for the FBI’s National Academy. Chaplain Friedman is the author of six books, including Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement and Wisdom From The Batcave. He has provided training at the FBI Academy, the FBI Training Network, International Conference of Police Chaplains, TX Department of Public Safety, CT Department of Public Safety, and appeared on the History Channel.

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I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers and improve their heathy, wellness and effectiveness. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence. Thank you for reading!

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