Research and Practice
The majority position of Psychiatry has been that Psychiatry has nothing to do with religion and spirituality. Religious beliefs and practices have long been thought to have a pathological basis, and psychiatrists over a century have understood them in this light. Religion was considered as a symptom of mental illness. Jean Charcot and Sigmund Freud linked religion with neurosis. DSM3 portrayed religion negatively by suggesting that religious and spiritual experiences are examples of psychopathology. But recent research reports strongly suggest that to many patients, religion and spirituality are resources that help them to cope with the stresses in life, including those of their illness. Many psychiatrists now believe that religion and spirituality are important in the life of their patients. The importance of spirituality in mental health is now widely accepted.
Faith is very personal and means something different to everyone. People who do not consider themselves ‘religious’ can still have a strong sense of faith that shapes their lives, their world view and the values by which they live. For someone suffering from mental health issues, faith can be a very important tool in helping them cope with their problems and provide a sense of grounding at a time of great distress.
How can Spirituality help with Mental Health Issues?
When dealing with a mental health issuesit can be easy to feel alone, afraid or confused. Spirituality can help in easing these feelings by providing:
- A connection to the world around you
- A belief that there is a higher power who will guide you
- Reassurance that things happen for a reason
- A fellow group of people who share similar beliefs
- Strength, wellbeing and calm (such as from meditation)
Being able to express and explore your faith is a universal human right and your healthcare team must respect this. By explaining your views and beliefs to them it may be possible for them to incorporate them into your treatment.
You may express your faith as part of an organised religious group who will be able to offer help and support during your treatment. This can be a great benefit if you feel more comfortable talking to people who share similar beliefs. If you are unsure where to find local religious groups in your area you should ask your healthcare professional as many in many cases these groups will have strong connections with local hospitals. Getting in touch with these groups can help in many ways such as:
- Talking through your fears or apprehensions
- Group prayer
- Practical support (such as helping with shopping and house work)
- Giving a sense of community
- Helping you explore your religious awareness
- Building and maintaining personal relationship skills
Stigma and Unhelpful Groups While religious groups as a whole provide a lot of helpful support sometimes their particular beliefs can breed prejudice and exclusion. Some groups believe that a person who is suffering from a mental health issues is possessed by a sinister force, cursed by a higher being or that they should be avoided by other members of the group.
Making Space For Spirituality (Free to download)
Published by The Mental Health Foundation, November 2007
A booklet that gives advice and practical steps on how support and respond to the spiritual needs of service users.
Keeping The Faith (free to download)
Published by Mental Health Foundation: November 2007, ISBN: 978-1-906162-08-5
Keeping the faith includes examples of good practice where spiritual activities are already on offer in mental health settings and makes a number of recommendations for commissioners, and managers and clinicians working in mental health keen to meet the spiritual needs of service users.
Taken Seriously – The Somerset Spirituality Project Click on title to download
Published Mental Health Foundation: April 2002 ISBN: 1-90-3645-29-8
A report based on interviews and discussions with 27 mental health service users in Somerset with an interest in religious or spiritual beliefs. It highlights the potentially narrow line between hallucination and visions, which could lead to people either being seen as ‘psychotic’ or ‘spiritual’ depending on the interpretation of their experiences. It also reveals how people experiencing distress might be better supported and understood, particularly within faith communities and mental health services.
Spirituality And Mental Health Update Click on title to download
Published by the Mental Health Foundation: November 2002
An update briefing on the Foundation’s work exploring religion, spirituality and mental health. This work has been informed by the views and experiences of service users and survivors as voiced in the Knowing Our Own Minds user-led survey, and the UK-wide user-led Strategies for Living qualitative research.
The Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health click on title to download. Published by the Mental Health Foundation July 2006 ISBN: 978-1-903645-85-7
A literature review of the evidence linking spirituality and religious expression with different aspects of mental health and, in particular, different mental health problems. Written by Dr Deborah Cornah.
University of Staffordshire (2008)
Recognising a person’s spiritual dimension is one of the most vital aspects of care and recovery in mental health. People who use services increasingly wish to have services view them as whole persons in the context of their whole lives; and spirituality and faith is a vital element in that.
These guidelines have been developed in order give acute care staff a simple introduction to spirituality issues within acute care. They cover six key issues:
- responding to the needs of the whole person
- assessing peoples’ needs and risks
- different approaches in mapping spirituality and identity
- work with faith and spiritual communities
- blocks to responding to the spiritual dimension
- support for staff.
Each issue is illustrated with a short exercise and case study which are designed to increase staff awareness and confidence in addressing them. Written by Peter Gilbert, Professor of Social Work and Spirituality, Staffordshire University, CSIP NIMHE National Lead on Spirituality and Mental Health.
Spiritual Care Matters An Introductory Resource for all NHS Scotland Staff published by NHS Education for Scotland (2007) Spiritual Care Matters is developed as a resource in ‘spiritual care’. Provided in easy to understand text with images, areas covered include: communication and relationships; history; bereavement and loss; equality and diversity; and looking after one’s own spiritual well-being. Click here
Mental health: ethnic minority experiences: The role of faith, spirituality & religion (HealthTalk 2013) Spirituality meant different things to different people, but many people shared beliefs in the existence of God or Allah. Some people who were not interested in organised religion had developed their own spiritual practices, including different forms of prayer or meditation. Only a few people said spirituality played no part in their life. Many people described a relationship between religion or spirituality and mental health. A few people of Christian faith referred to their mental health as a spiritual experience.
'Spiritual Emergency a useful explanatory model?' A Literature Review and Discussion Paper by Dr. Patte Randall and Dr. Nick Argyle (2005) New Zealand. This research paper/report provides a description of the first recovery focused intensive home treatment service in New Zealand. The work takes a collaborative whole life approach.
Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening: Phil Borges at TEDx UMKC
Phil Borges, filmmaker and photographer, has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures for over 25 years. His work is exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and his award winning books have been published in four languages. Phil’s recent project, Inner Worlds, explores cultural differences with respect to consciousness and mental illness.
The Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group (SPSIG) of the Royal College of Psychiatry was founded in 1999 to provide a forum for psychiatrists to explore the influence of the major religions, which shape the cultural values and aspirations of psychiatrist and patient alike.The spiritual aspirations of persons not identifying with any one particular faith are held to be of no less importance, as well as the viewpoint of those who hold that spirituality is independent of religion.
Spiritual values have a universality which brings together all involved in mental health care. The Special Interest Group supports the exploration of such fundamental questions as the purpose and meaning of life, which are so important for mental health, as well as the problem of good and evil and a wide range of specific experiences invested with spiritual meaning including birth, death and near-death, mystical and trance states and varieties of religious experience. Both pathological and normal human experiences are considered in order to understand better the overlap and difference between the two.
More information about the SPSIG here
Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling (APSCC). The APSCC is for counsellors, psychotherapists, pastoral carers, chaplains and related professionals whose work is informed by a spiritual perspective of one form or another. The APSCC offers a rich opportunity to make links with others who share and are interested in a broad range of related subjects and beliefs. It is also an opportunity to add to the voice of spiritual and pastoral care through Thresholds, our quarterly professional journal, and via conferences, networking events and other projects.
More information about APSCC here
A national Christian-based voluntary association that recognises the importance of spiritual values and support in mental health.
Tel: 020 3397 2497
Address: Association for Pastoral Care in Mental Health, The National APCMH Secretary, c/o St Paul’s Church, 5 Rossmore Road, Marylebone, London, NW1 6NJ
National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum NSMHF is by title a forum – and those who attend, reflect variously on the actuality of how individuals integrate spirituality to mental health. The Forum therefore wishes to enable space for that diversity to be expressed.
NSMHF is a means to connect faith community/belief group representation with statutory health and social care services and third/voluntary sector organisations.
Their purposes are:
- the improving of spiritual care provision within the statutory services
- enabling better connections with mental health services for faith communities/belief groups and,
- learning from, contributing to and collaborating with the work of voluntary sector mental health organisations who might or do include spirituality within their remit.
It is based in England and was founded in 2004 by a development committee of volunteers. Some of these are experts through experience of personal spiritual crises. Some are mental health professionals. Some have both personal and professional expertise.
Their vision is to act as a resource:
- for those going through or recovering from spiritual crisis
- for professionals, carers and supporters of those going through or recovering from spiritual crisis
They do this by:
- offering an email support service
- providing general information on spiritual crisis
- facilitating a national network of local groups of people with experience, interest or involvement in spiritual crisis – groups currently run in London, Sheffield, Gateshead and Norwich
- raising awareness and understanding of the issues
- developing and delivering innovative training
- gathering and sharing information about local resources
Information is provided in good faith, but does not constitute a recommendation as to suitability — you must make your own assessment of its appropriateness, and seek conventional medical advice as necessary. They like to respond to emails within 7 days but sometimes it takes longer than this. SCN has charitable status in the UK. SCN is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England, no 06755641. Registered office and correspondence address: c/o 38 Market Street, Hoylake, Wirral CH47 2AF.
You can contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Retreat Association The Retreat Association is a national Christian organisation set up to help people find ways of exploring and deepening their journey with God through spirituality and prayer.
The are an ecumenical organisation supporting those from both inside and outside the Church in the following ways:
Finding a retreat — they promote retreats through:
- Retreats — An annual journal listing 230 retreat houses and their programmes.
- Spiritual direction — they help people find a spiritual director or companion.
- Resources — for those wishing to deepen their prayer life.
- Events — national and regional events with a focus on spirituality.
- Training including courses in spirituality and spiritual direction and leading retreats and quiet days.
Catholic Retreats Click on title to link to selected houses of peace that offer a place of sanctuary, silence and guidance. Some also run courses. If you would like to visit one you will be very welcome. It’s worth asking if there is a fee to pay before booking. At most of these you will be able to arrange to speak to someone who can help you to pray.
Buddhist retreats Going On Retreat provides you with easy access to retreat information for various UK Buddhist Retreat Centres. Each retreat centre runs a wide variety of retreats throughout the year exploring buddhism, buddhist meditation and yoga. Some centres also run specialised events which promote well being such as tai chi, shiatsu, massage, and the arts. GoingOnRetreat.com is a collective venture set up by the UK Buddhist Retreat Centres featured on this site. All of the UK Buddhist Retreat Centres are run by the Triratna Buddhist Community which is dedicated to communicating the ancient teachings of the Buddha in the modern world
Spirituality and Mental Health: Information from the Mental Health Foundation
This is the fact sheet from the Mental Health Foundation Spirituality. Spirituality can play an important role in helping people maintain good mental health and live with or recover from mental health problems, here you can find useful information about spirituality and religion.
Spirituality Factsheet from Rethink
Religion and spirituality can play an important role in many people’s lives. This factsheet from Rethink looks at spirituality and religion generally and also more specifically at spirituality and religion in relation to mental health.
Spiritual Crisis – Information from Wikipedia
Spiritual crisis (also called “spiritual emergency”) is a form of identity crisis where an individual experiences drastic changes to their meaning system (i.e., their unique purposes, goals, values, attitude and beliefs, identity, and focus) typically because of a spontaneous spiritual experience. A spiritual crisis may cause significant disruption in psychological, social and occupational functioning. Among the spiritual experiences thought to lead to episodes of spiritual crisis or spiritual emergency are psychiatric complications related to existential crisis, mystical experience, near-death experiences, Kundalini syndrome, paranormal experiences, religious ecstasy and meditation or other spiritual practices (Grof & Grof, 1989; Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse, & Lu, 1995).
Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) (USA)
SEN provides individuals that are experiencing difficulties with psychospiritual growth a therapist referral and support service that is staffed by trained graduate students. In a culture which has not understood issues surrounding spiritual development, the gift of being heard and understood by a knowledgeable and supportive listener can be life-altering.
Spiritual Recovery (UK)
“I am an individual who has undergone a transformative experience that in this culture and setting would be identified as psychosis or schizophrenic. Other cultures and settings have other names for the same experience: kundalini awakening, shamanism, mysticism, gnosis, the psychotic-visionary episode, the dark night of the soul, ego death, the alchemical process, positive disintegration, post traumatic stress disorder with psychotic features, spiritual emergency, etc. I was not on any form of spiritual path previous to that experience nor was I experimenting with ethnogens. I was simply an individual in a great deal of pain doing my best to get through it. That experience lasted approximately six weeks. I was guided through it by a mentor figure who appeared and served as my constant companion. Everything in this blog has been researched after the fact.”
See Also Spiritual Emergency blog
Beyond Hearing Voices
“Hearing voices has not only enabled my spiritual growth and development, but has broadened my ability in helping others with their spiritual healing. You will discover my experience in dealing with hearing voices by reading mental illness stigma, and you can help yourself by doing cleansing.