Progressions Program is a clinical framework of care based on Dr. Judith Herman’s three-stage model of recovery. Trauma and Recovery (1997) describes in detail the healing process of people who struggle with a combination of problems related to unwanted, abusive, or traumatic experiences.
In order to meet Veterans where they are on their journey, Chaplain Service groups fall into one of the following three phases:
- Phase 1: Stabilization
- Phase 2: Trauma-Processing
- Phase 3: Reintegration
Progressions Program Mental Health Integration for Chaplain Service
Trauma Processing Model
Phase 1 - Stabilization
Lodestone (PTSD & Spirituality); Women's Spiritual Values; Grief & Loss
Phase 2 - Post-Trauma Processing
Act for Moral Injury; Perpetration, Betrayal. Prerequisites; Trauma-Processing & Therapy (CPT, PE, EMDR)
Phase 3 - Reintegration
Compassionate Warrior Training for Reintegration (CWTR); Prerequisite; ACT for Moral Injury
VA Portland Chaplain Service provides groups for Veterans in all stages of trauma healing. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Moral Injury is unique in that it is post-trauma processing and is co-facilitated with mental health providers and Peer Support Specialists (PSS).
In collaboration with Mental Health, VA Portland Chaplain Service is recognized for pioneering work in the treatment of moral injury. Chaplain Rebecca Morris and Dr. Jaimie Lusk developed a 10-Week ACT for Moral Injury group that is nationally recognized by the Dynamic Diffusion Network (non-VA website).
Progressions has grown out of the reverse-engineered healing process of Chaplain Rebecca Morris, MDiv, MHICS, BCC. Along the way, there have been many influential sages who have shared their wisdom in written and/or oral format to whom we want to pay our respects.
From a structural level, Progressions stands on the shoulders of Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 2015) and Edward Tick (War and the Soul, 2005) who have each articulated their own phases of trauma healing. Many of the interventions are indebted to Bill Plotkin (Soulcraft, 2003; Nature and the Human Soul, 2007; Wild Mind, 2013; and The Journey of Soul Initiation, 2021). Chaplain Morris got to know Plotkin through extended training in the wilderness of Colorado. Tribal wisdom from Lee Plenty Wolf of the Lakota in North America and the Shapibo and Quechuan tribes of South America graciously shared their healing practices that is as old as the hills. Chaplain Morris is the only full-time Buddhist chaplain in the Department of Veterans Affairs and is ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage. Other notable works are by Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, 1990), Marshall Rosenthall (Nonviolent Communication, 2003), T. Thorn Coyle (Kissing the Limitless, 2009), Michael Brown (The Presence Process, 2010), Tara Brach (True Refuge, 2013), and Martín Pretchel (The Smell of Rain on Dust, 2015).
Progressions started in 2015 in Portland with Chaplain Morris working with Veterans at the VA Portland Health Care System Portland and Vancouver campuses. In 2018 the work expanded to such an extent that Chaplain Greg Widmer, MDiv, BCC, was hired, in large part, to stabilize programming in Vancouver. Chaplain Widmer is an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veteran where he served as an enlisted member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard for two deployments. As part of the training process to facilitate Progressions, he went through all phases of Progressions and was welcomed home in 2020 as part of Compassionate Warrior Training for Reintegration. Chaplain Widmer describes Progressions as “the opposite of boot camp” and about “becoming human again.” He finds inspiration in the works of existential philosophers (Sartre, Camus) and humanist psychologists like Rollo May and Irvin Yalom and has contributed greatly to the program with his embodied experience of these philosophers’ teachings as living experience.
Although Chaplains Morris & Widmer come from radically different backgrounds and spiritual training (Buddhist Churches of America and Federation of Christian Ministries), the two of them have found a common understanding of these collective teachings that inform their partnership in offering Progressions to Chaplain Service, Mental Health & clinical resilience to address burnout post-vention alike.
Compassionate Warrior Training Program for Reintegration — Pilot Abstract
The Compassionate Warrior Training Pilot was birthed out of an identified need to help Veterans move from continuing to utilize acute and crisis mental health services, to greater engagement in their lives and communities. After listening to our outpatient mental health Veteran’s trauma stories as they have unfolded in the clinical-pastoral relationship, we analyzed using the interpretative framework of assessment. Our analysis revealed an ongoing need for reintegration spiritual programming. This pilot is in response to meet this reintegration programming need for reintegration spiritual programming and aligns with the VA ACCESS initiative by creating more space in the VA system.
Rebecca Morris, MDiv., MHICS, CCC, is the granddaughter of a WWII infantry Veteran, and was raised by Vietnam Veterans. She has experienced the interpersonal impact of combat trauma, PTSD, and Moral Injury, and is committed to Preventive Ethics—breaking the cycle of shame, violent communication, and hurtful actions that continue to impact individuals, families, and communities. Her vision is to help Veterans rediscover their compassionate hearts, and find ways to embody what she calls is the medicine of these devastating invisible wounds so that they can safely & meaningfully integrate into their communities, post military service.
Compassionate Warrior Training is a 6-month program helping Veterans begin to realize that their “wound can become a gift,” and that they can engage in community and give back in service. There are 19 Veterans enrolled in the Compassionate Warrior Training Program. Two of these Veterans will be attending via teleconferencing for 75 percent of the program, of who would not otherwise be able to attend due to location. Many of these Veterans have been engaged in mental health services for years. Nearly all of them have gone through trauma processing, and are showing readiness to give back to others, and pursue holistic healing. The meetings occur on the VA Vancouver, WA campus on Wednesday evenings, and they meet for two hours weekly.
There are three phases in this pilot with five areas of focus:
- Phase 1 — revisiting grief & assessment. In this Phase, Veterans are consolidating the work they have done in mental health services, revisiting all that they have lost, grieving, and making room for new beginnings.
- Phase 2 — progression from grief into whole-health coaching.
- Phase 3 — Self-designed ceremony & welcome home ritual with community support. In this phase, through ceremony, and committed actions, Veterans are intentionally reintegrating into communities, and offering their gifts to others.
Growth Areas Addressed Throughout the Program:
- Area 1 — Learning various types of meditation and their application to mind states and emotions.
- Area 2 — Cultivating hope, willingness & confidence to engage in the spectrum of emotions from grief to joy, as a necessary factor for creating a sustainable mission, based on the gifts resulting from integration of invisible wounds.
- Area 3 — Finding Mission and Purpose; recognizing one’s own potential because of the integration of the wounds and the confidence that results from that integration process.
- Area 4 — Developing self-confidence, & confidence in one’s ability to use volition appropriately, leading to actions that align with the mission. These actions are marshaled and directed by creating a sustainable action plan via whole-health coaching.
- Area 5 — Performing ceremony & ritual that aligns with the individual’s spiritual identity to support each phase as initiation and ordination.