Have you been wondering why there is such a surge in a mix of mental health and spirituality? Are you wondering what is the benefit of it all?
Although studies on the subject of how religion and spirituality affect mental health are still in their infancy and most research done include small samples, the studies that have been published show that religion and spirituality are effective in creating and maintaining mental well-being in people.
According to the Good Therapy site, “a sense of belonging and connection can help promote resilience and decrease the risk for some mental health concerns”.
Good Therapy states that “a 2013 review of multiple studies on religion and spirituality found that, although religion can have a negative impact on mental health in some cases, such as religious abuse or negative beliefs, religion and spirituality often promote positive coping techniques and good mental health”.
It is no surprise then, that many mental health professionals are incorporating spiritual and religious practices in their treatments to help patients. Especially since studies have shown that the majority of people believe in a higher power, whether they are religious or spiritual or both.
The studies usually differentiate between religion and spirituality, but for this article we will look at things that both religion and spirituality can help with.
Remember that this article is meant to be for educational purposes only. This article is not meant to diagnose or treat anything. If you need help or advice please seek support from a mental health professional.
Although not the only things, here are seven ways that religion and spirituality seem to help with mental well-being.
1- Increases the effectiveness of the intervention
From the point of view of the psychologist, therapist, or counselor, being open to respectfully talk about religion or spirituality when the patient is ready helps to develop a good sense of understanding and trust between the professional and the patient.
Alongside the openness, the ability of the professional to implement some basic practices of the religion or spirituality within the treatment can also be beneficial.
In an article, called Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy: A Practice-Friendly Review of Research, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, it was found that “applying basic psychological practices (and concepts) in a way that is consistent with a client’s religious or spiritual perspective is likely to increase the effectiveness of the intervention and further contribute to the client’s trust and comfort in the therapy process”.
Similarly in Taking Spiritual History, a journal published online by Cambridge University Press, it was also discovered that “taking a spiritual history or enquiring attentively about patients’ primary concerns and motivating factors, deepens rapport and improves its quality. Feeling valued as individuals, patients often relax and invest further trust in the doctor, thus improving the therapeutic alliance”.
Improving and deepening the connection between the professional and the client, helps the treatment advance more rapidly and better than if the topics of religion and spirituality were never discussed. This is because many of the struggles that people deal with are related in some way, shape, or form to their beliefs.
2- Prevention of relapse of depression
The Cambridge journal on spiritual history states that existential problems, like those of depression and anxiety, derive from emotional attachments that make people vulnerable to the threat of loss and to loss itself.
“Anxiety, bewilderment, and doubt are emotions associated with the threat of loss”, said the journal, “Anger, the emotion of resistance, arises as the loss becomes more likely and imminent. Depressive emotions – shame, guilt, and sadness – emerge when a loss increasingly becomes an acknowledged reality”.
Spirituality and religion can play a major role in identifying the causes of this fear of loss, the attachments, and helping the patient heal.
“Taking a spiritual history involving inquiry about a person’s primary attachments…. Can help to identify the major attachments, and the spectrum of emotions arising in response to threatened and actual loss, which encourages emotional flow towards acceptance and resolution”, said the Cambridge journal on spiritual history.
“Taking a spiritual history is therefore intrinsically therapeutic”, continues the Cambridge journal, “It helps to clarify for the patient that these emotions are normal and healthy, part of their pathway to psychological growth and maturity through the acceptance of losses and resolution of the emotional healing process”.
“This reflects another principle of spirituality, that personal growth results more often through facing and enduring adversity, rather than from trying to avoid it”, the Cambridge journal states.
Similar beneficial findings have been found in various studies and research conducted recently, which say that integrating spirituality and religion, depending on the preferences of the patient, can help the patient with mental illnesses.
A study made by Coelho, Canter, and Ernst in 2007 about research on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression, mentioned in the Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy: A Practice-Friendly Review of Research article, found that those who received the mindfulness therapy relapsed in their depression statistically less than those who didn’t.
“Results for patients with three or more previous episodes of depression was promising in that the number of individuals that relapsed within one year was statistically less for the group that received TAU plus MBCT (37%) as compared to the group that received TAU (66%)”, said the study by Coelho.
3- May help drug addicts to shift
Another study mentioned in the article Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy, found that implementing spirituality and religion, helped the patients to decrease their drug use.
“A shift in self-schema from ‘‘addict self’’ to ‘‘spiritual self’’ was correlated with a decrease in drug use and other HIV risk behaviors”, stated the findings on the research completed by Avants, Beitel, and Margolin (2005).
This shift is seen in the people who follow the twelve-step program of dealing with addiction according to the article on Spiritual History published by the Cambridge press.
“The value of a spiritual approach is specifically acknowledged by those who advocate or follow the twelve-step method of dealing with addiction”, said the Spiritual History article, “The key step for addicts is to recognize and respect some form of spiritual reality, manifest particularly as a higher power: ‘Soon we came to believe in a power greater than ourselves’.”
This recognition can lead to resilience as the patients feel a sense of duty to recover due to the love and support that greater power is giving them.
4- Lower psychological disturbance and eating disorder issues
In a study made by Richards, Beret, Hardman, and Egget in 2006, and mentioned in the Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy article, it was found that the treatment decreased the patient’s psychological disturbance and eating disorder symptoms.
It was concluded that a spiritual group intervention on eating disorder inpatients was effective.
“Compared to clients treated in the cognitive and emotional support groups, clients in the spirituality group scored significantly lower on psychological disturbance and eating disorder symptoms and higher on spiritual well-being at the conclusion of treatment”, found the study.
5- Healing for sexual abuse survivors
In a 2006 dissertation, Gregory Peter Knapik studied the spiritual journey in a group of 50 (me and women) survivors of various degrees of sexual abuse and concluded that religion and spirituality were a key part in the recovery and healing of the participants.
“For some participants, a spiritual connection allowed them to begin a spiritual journey that was associated with healing”, states Knapik in his study, “ For a few participants, spiritual journeys led to spiritual transformation. Transformative meaning conveys the life-changing power of achieving divinely enlightened meaning about the sexual violence and responses to it”.
Because of their spiritual and/or religious affiliations, survivors of sexual abuse were able to accept, move on from, heal, and even become advocates for other survivors of sexual violence.
“The current theory supports a previous systematic review by Shaw, et al (2005) that revealed religion and spirituality as usually being beneficial to trauma recovery (including sexual violence), and that experiencing trauma can lead to a deepening of religion and spirituality”, says Knapik.
The spiritual journey and process that the participants went through enabled them to be “delivered” and heal their trauma.
“Being delivered reflects participants’ use of spirituality to help them heal from the many types of sequelae of sexual violence”, explains Knapik.
6- Low levels of worry, stress, and intolerance
Spirituality and religion also seem to be able to help with worry, stress, and intolerance.
According to Good Therapy, “one recent study found the spiritual beliefs of people in therapy impacted their levels of worry, stress, and tolerance of uncertainty. Those participants who trusted in a higher power were found to be more trusting and to have lower levels of worry, stress, and intolerance.”
This trust is most likely due to the feeling of being carried, protected, and being taken care of that the constant communication with a higher power seems to give people.
In his dissertation, Gregory Peter Knapik found that “many participants described being accompanied, protected, shielded, healed and unburdened, by ongoing and persisting Divine guardianship and guidance.”
7- Helps clarify psychotic symptoms
From the professional’s point of view, looking into the patient’s beliefs can help distinguish between spiritual emergence (period of spiritual growth) and psychosis, relays the article Taking A Spiritual History.
Finding out what is the meaning in life or what is their purposes in life can create distress in a person. Sometimes creating meaningless insignificant feelings within the person.
“As part of a psychotic reaction, such symptoms may be common to those feeling particularly unworthy or unloved, and their religious content hints at a spiritual solution”, says the article.
These feelings can turn into psychosis or worsen an already existing one. Knowing if the patient is suffering from a period of spiritual growth or an actual psychosis will help the professional implement a treatment.
“It is better that such a person, when well enough, is encouraged to understand the true origins of their distress and work towards more modest, mature and acceptable ways of gaining meaning, recognition, and satisfaction in daily life”, states the article.
The article continues, “Only what may be called ‘spiritual sustenance’ will be effective against the degree of insignificance and all-consuming meaninglessness that can be at the heart of psychotic and other disorders.”
As more studies are done in the areas of religion, spirituality, and mental health the better we will be able to see the effects that religion and spirituality have on mental health.
But for now, what did you think of this list? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel for more topics about mental health. Thank you for reading.
Dale, S., & Daniel, J. H. (2011). Spirituality/religion as a healing pathway for survivors of sexual violence. In T. Bryant-Davis (Ed.), Surviving sexual violence: A guide to recovery and empowerment (pp. 318–327). Rowman & Littlefield.
Culliford, L. (2018, 2 January). Taking a spiritual history | Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/taking-a-spiritual-history/6005C8AEE855867192AA66935332C428
GoodTherapy Editor Team. (2019, 27 September). Spirituality. GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/spirituality
Knapik, G. P. (2006, December). Being Delivered: Spirituality in Survivors of Sexual Violence. Ken State University College of Nursing. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=kent1164145904&disposition=inline
Post, B. C., & Wade, N. G. (2009). Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy: A Practice-Friendly Review of Research. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(2). https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20563. file:///C:/Users/17875/Downloads/PostandWade2009.pdf.