Spirituality is a key part to our mental and emotional health. Many people find their spirituality in different areas. I find mine through my Christian faith. Having not only been raised in the church, but also the daughter of the church pastor, also known as a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid), I embrace my spirituality through my Christian beliefs.
Although I myself am a Christian, I have worked with people from all spectrums of faith, religion and spirituality, including self-identified atheists. In my professional experience, I have found religion and spirituality to be key aspects for mental wholeness. Why is that?
Well, let me first break down the difference between religion and spirituality.
Religion is a set of rituals, rules and expectations. Hawkins (2005) defined religion as “an outer expression of faith or behavior.” Religion frames our value systems.
Spirituality is the inner peace and feelings that you are connected with someone or something greater than yourself. It gives your life purpose and meaning. Hawkins (2005) defined spirituality as “an inner journey…an experience that takes us to a higher level of function.” Spirituality encompasses love, compassion, hope and/or forgiveness.
Religion and spirituality can exist separately. However, I am a believer that the two together form a stronger base. For me, my religion forms my values and personal belief system. My spirituality drives my spirit and inner peace, empowering me to love others, have compassion and forgiveness for myself and others, and to have hope for tomorrow.
For decades, going all the way back to Freud, psychotherapists believed that religion and spirituality was a symptom of mental illness. Today, however, that is drastically changing. There is a growing movement to incorporate spirituality and one’s religious beliefs into the mental health practice (Hawkins, 2005). In fact, many recent studies have found that spirituality plays a key role in the healing process. In a recent interview featured in the American Psychological Association publication with religion and spirituality expert Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD (2013), Dr. Pargament refers to empirical scientific research which supports the theory that one’s religion and spirituality has a positive impact on one’s ability to overcome major life stressors. He defines life stressors to include “natural disaster, illness, loss of loved ones, divorce and serious mental illness” (Pargament, K.I, 2013). Scientific literature has found that one’s religion and spirituality is extremely beneficial for mental wholeness and healing (Seybold, K.S. and Hill, P.C, 2001). Dr. Pargament (2013) identified religion and spirituality as “key resources” that can facilitate growth:
“People can draw on many religious and spiritual resources that have been tied to better adjustment in times of crisis. These positive religious coping methods include spiritual support from God or a higher power, rituals to facilitate life transitions, spiritual forgiveness, support from a religious institution or clergy and reframing a stressful situation into a larger, more benevolent system of meaning” (Pargament, 2013).
However, it is important to note that for some, religion and spirituality can be negative contributing factors to their emotional and mental wholeness. I have personally experienced and seen first hand this negative side of religion. Remembering that religion is a set of rules and expectations, such perimeters can bring judgement when religion is not united with spirituality. Religion void of spirituality, can quickly loose the key spiritual aspects of love, compassion, and forgiveness. This can and has resulted in the church, which is meant to be a safe place of healing, being for some a place of deep hurt. This is even true for pastors and their families. Even so, that too can be and should be addressed in therapy; in a safe non-judgmental place. According to surveys, people want to include matters of faith, religion and spirituality in their therapeutic treatment (Pargament, K.I, 2013).
As Hawkins (2005) reminds us, “spiritual practice is all about love, compassion, forgiveness, hope, recovery, strength, support, dignity, worth, meaning, resilience, and optimism.” Today, research is discovering that integrating spiritual approaches to therapy are as effective as other evidence-based treatments (Pargament, K.I, 2013). This is a dramatic change from the days of Freud. Scientific studies has opened our eyes and expanded our territory. As a result, incorporating religion and spirituality into the therapeutic process is quickly becoming widely accepted among mental health professionals (Koenig, 2010).
If you or someone you know is looking for a safe, therapeutic place of healing where your religion and spirituality will not be challenged but rather encouraged, please call me. If you or someone you know has been hurt by the church, and you need a safe place to heal, call me. I am here to help.