Mental Health Matter: Spiritual Inclusivity
Spirituality is often an overlooked aspect of life in a mental health facility. Treatment of the mind and body are the predominant evidenced based practices provided in most settings, while the spiritual domain is more of a glossed over afterthought. Since the late 19th century, “the majority position of Psychiatry has been that Psychiatry has nothing to do with religion and spirituality” (Verghese, 2008). Over the past century, mental health treatment has often treated spiritually as nothing more than demographic data to be gathered without addressing it further.
There has been a historical prohibition of addressing matters of spirituality when receiving any sort of funding from government sources, especially as providing assistance in spiritual matters is not a service covered as an approved mental health service. There is also an ethical concern, as spirituality is a profoundly intimate and personal topic that requires specialized training in order to broach the topic with the sensitivity needed.
The past two decades have yielded many studies looking at the impact of spirituality in regards to mental health. Researchers have found that spirituality is neither all good nor all bad when looking at mental health. Dr. Harold Koenig (2009) indicated that spirituality can be a source of comfort, hope and meaning, though it may be entangled in psychopathology. As such, it can become extremely difficult to determine if an individual’s spirituality is a resource or liability. NAMI (2019) has identified that spiritual practices and outcomes may help manage mental health. Meditation, togetherness, as sense of understanding, and altruism are all aspects of spirituality that can promote wellness.
There has been a general movement toward recognizing spirituality as an important component in mental health treatment. This has been particularly evident in the substance abuse recovery model, which has long incorporated spirituality as a part of the 12 step program. In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General urged that all mental health treatment systems adopt the recovery model (Lukoff, 2007). There does appear to be adequate evidence that spirituality, if incorporated prudently, can be beneficial for consumers.
Mental Health providers are in a challenging position. Matters of spiritually are beyond the purview of standard mental health training and education yet there is an inherent desire to assist clients in whatever way is most beneficial for them. Most people in the United States adhere to some form of spirituality and mental health providers are no exception. Great care must be taken to encourage consumers to seek and explore outlets for their spirituality without imparting personal spiritual beliefs.
Some points mental health providers should keep in mind when talking with consumers about matters of spirituality:
- Allow the consumer to open the conversation regarding matters of spirituality.
- Remain supportive if the consumer’s spiritual beliefs do not align with personal beliefs.
- Consumers should be encouraged to seek a welcoming community.
- Seek to discover what purpose consumer’s spiritual beliefs serve (i.e. resource or liability)
- Do not disregard a consumer’s interest in spiritual matters.
- Do not impose personal spiritual beliefs on consumers.
- Be sensitive to the consumer’s culture and spiritual beliefs.
- Do not offer spiritual guidance to consumers.
- Above all, allow the consumer to take the lead on matters of their spirituality but do not be afraid to offer them support in their spiritual journey.
Koenig, HG. Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: A Review. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2009; 54(5):283-291.
Lukoff, D. Spirituality in the Recovery from Persistent Mental Disorders. Southern Medical Journal. 2007; 100(6): 642-646.
NAMI. Faith and Spirituality. 2019; Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition/Faith-Spirituality
Verghese, A. Spirituality and Mental Health. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2008; 50(4): 233-237.
~ Jon Williams, M.A.