The Impact of Spirituality and Mental Health
Written by Lydia D’Ross, Ordained Minister and Outreach Chaplain for Renewal at Brookhaven Hospital
The American College of Graduate Medical Education mandates in its special requirements for residency training in Psychiatry, that all programs must provide training in religious and spiritual factors that can influence mental health. Only very few psychiatrists make use of religion and spirituality in the therapeutic process.
There is a positive relationship between spirituality and mental health. Recent studies show that religious beliefs and practices are supportive in coping with stresses in life. Religious beliefs are also shown to have a positive impact on receiving mental health services from a holistic approach.
In a 12-year follow up of all articles appearing in the American Journal of Psychiatry and Archives of General Psychiatry, 72% of the religious commitment variables were shown to be beneficial to mental health. [Larson DB, Sherrill KA, Lyons JS, Craigie FC, Jr, Thielman SB, Greenwold MA, et al. Association between dimensions of religious commitment and mental health, reported in American J of Psychiatry and Archives of General Psychiatry: 1978-1989. Am J Psychiatry. 1992;149:557–9]
Ernest E. Bruder wrote, “Deeply troubled people need a pastor with more than just the requisite skills to detect the depth and extent of their difficulties. They need one who can communicate meaningfully to them that, come what may, they can never be separated from God’s compassion and concern.”
“A clinician who regards all religious belief to be pathogenic is not only disregarding the weight of empirical evidence but also is likely to manifest this prejudice in practice.”[ William R. Miller, ed., Integrating Spirituality Into Treatment (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1999), 12.]
Pastors who minister within the limits of their competency and use the skills of referral and collaboration when their members are in emotional crises are a valuable asset to any congregation. Pastors need to know their community resources and establish a network to better serve their members. Not doing so is a disservice to all involved.
More and more, pastors are valued by mental health professionals. Both disciplines are communicating to the benefit of people in emotional and spiritual crises.