An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | Jan. 19, 2017

Straight, narrow path leads psychologist to military support

By Airman 1st Class Kevin West Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Years before coming to Charleston, Dr. Peter Lewis, 628th Medical Group clinical psychologist, took a Greek class while studying at Swarthmore College that would change the course of his life. 

“There were six students, including myself, who thought it would be fascinating to read the bible in Greek," said Lewis. "Most of us had filters with regards to understanding scripture and how it is written. This just came across in a very different way. That was the beginning of my conversion. Different experiences made me become very interested in Christianity.” 

One of his assignments while in school required him to translate scripture. That was his first step in his path to a monastery.

After he had finished reading the bible in Greek, Lewis decided to live at a monastery. He inquired with a few monasteries and decided to visit one in California. Lewis said walking into the orthodox chapel for the first time opened up his heart in an unfamiliar way.

“There was a lot I really valued about the monastic life and that really set me on a path for the next 10 years,” said Lewis. “The monastery was very ascetic. We lived out in the woods basically. We didn’t have any central heating or running water. We had a well that we used to pump water out of and into a holding tank that was gravity-fed into the kitchen. We had an outhouse. It was pretty primitive living.”

Lewis became very sick and lost a lot of weight. Realizing he would die if he stayed, he decided to find another path.

“I was searching for what I was going to do when I left the monastery,” said Lewis. “There are a lot of people that have been in monastic life and have turned to mental health. It makes a lot of sense because you are dealing with some of the same principles." 

Lewis went back to school and earned his degree in psychology. He decided to help service members because of the similarities between the military and the monastery.

“It is not surprising I ended up working with the military,” said Lewis. “There is very similar structure; hierarchy, sense of obedience and institutional idealization that happens when you are in the monastery. The idea of learning how to be constant under hardship is very similar to what happens in the military.”

While the structure is familiar to Lewis, what he finds to be the most rewarding aspect of his job is the ability to connect with other people on a personal level to help them deal with their inner pain that is.

“When people come in for therapy they are often hurting in some way," said Lewis. "Most of the time when we talk with one and other we put on a façade that everything is okay and how great our lives are. The reality of it is that we are all hurting inside in some way. We all have wounds to deal with. When someone else is genuine about that there is a real grace that comes with that.”