Religion, spirituality and therapy

Does religion have a place in the therapy room? How can spirituality effect our mental health? Is there a difference between spirituality and religion? Whether you consider yourself spiritual or not, adhere to a set of religious principles, or are a steadfast atheist, these are important questions to consider if you are interested in mental health.

But why? I mean, society is becoming more and more secular. Some authors have even suggested that therapy was born out of society moving away from religious communities1. I have always considered myself an atheist and for most of my professional life have felt it redundant to tie mental health with anything spiritual or religious.

Something changed. I did not suddenly find God. I did however start listening more. Listening to my client’s and the people around me. Spirituality and religion played an important role in how some of these people identified who they were and how they lived. Their beliefs were, therefore, fundamental to their mental health. By understanding what their religion means to each individual we can have an insight into what their internal world looks like.

Spirituality and religion

These two words are often used interchangeably and can leave many wondering ‘aren’t they the same thing?’ The two are different and over the years, there has been a lot written and many debates about exactly what these differences are. Many people have their views as to which is better and it can be hard to find a non-biased definition of the two. A dictionary search2 yields these answers:

Religion:    a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.

Spirituality: the search for meaning in life events and a yearning for connectedness to the universe.

In my own view, I see religion as defined as a set belief system, with certain rules that must be followed, and the worship of particular deity/deities. Whereas I see spirituality as a personal experience of something more than physical reality.

Faith for positive mental health  

There are many documented cases of people turning their life around with the help of religion. Many of these cases have become world famous through media coverage and biographical works. Organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous help those with alcohol addiction throughout a combination of talking and firm religious principles. Whether you are religious or not it is hard to ignore the potential for religion as a therapeutic tool.

Spirituality based practices, such as mindfulness, are becoming increasingly popular as both therapeutic techniques and as a life style choice. The evidence of both the mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness is mounting up. The psychological benefits of mindfulness have led to the development of several new forms of therapy; mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) are two popular examples of this.

Although there are arguments that religion is a bad thing, for both society and individual mental health. People often cite religious wars, terrorism and the abuse of young boys by catholic priests as examples of the evil of religion. I feel that the people in these incidents are at fault and not the religion itself. If religion were not there, these people would find something else to attach their extreme views and horrific acts to.

In conclusion, I believe the presence of religion and spirituality in the therapy room is highly appropriate. These beliefs can be at the centre of understanding what clients are going through and what might help them on the road to recover. I think it is important for therapist to view the person as a whole; encouraging not only emotional and psychological wellbeing but also physical and spiritual health.

 

  1. See An introduction to Counselling, McLeod, J. 2009. Open University press. P22-30.
  2. Dictionary definitions taken from http://www.dictionary.com.
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Author: The here for you blog

Hello and welcome to The Here for you blog. My name is Harvey Lidstone-Lane and I am a counsellor working in Chiswick, London. This blog is an opportunity for me to share some of my research and adventures into the field of mental health and emotional well being. I hope that you find the information, opinions and resources in this blog useful. Any feedback is warmly welcomed. To find out more about the therapy I offer or to book an appointment please visit my main website, my twitter page or feel free to email or call me: http://www.hereforyoucounselling.co.uk/ https://twitter.com/hfycounselling harvey@hereforyoucounselling.co.uk 07523734902

3 thoughts on “Religion, spirituality and therapy”

  1. Fantastic site you have here but I was curious about if you knew of
    any message boards that cover the same topics discussed
    here? I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get opinions from
    other knowledgeable people that share the same interest.
    If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Bless you!

    Like

    1. Thank you for you comment! In terms of specific religion and spirituality boards I am not sure of what exists out there. There is an online magazine called ‘ the counsellors cafe’ that writes about a lot of mental health related topics and they are always looking for people to contribute. I also a part of couple of mental health blogging communities via me google+ account. Sorry I couldn’t be more help I am relative new to this myself.

      Like

  2. Hi Harvey; thanks for the follow on Twitter. Having been on a similar journey myself, I agree with you. Spirituality is, for me as an existential psychotherapist, conceived as one of the ‘four worlds’ (van Deurzen) of the physical, social, psychological and spiritual (Überwelt). People use different words, but in my experience always have some meaningful sense of the context in which they find themselves, something that appears unfathomable. It’s a rich territory to explore, if they’re curious. Best wishes,

    Like

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