Spirituality and Mental Health

Article excerpt

Byline: Abraham. Verghese

Introduction

All along, 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. As John Turbott[sup] [1] puts it, rapprochement between religion and psychiatry is essential for psychiatric practice to be effective. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, London, has a special group on Psychiatry and Spirituality. 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. The World Psychiatric Association recently established a section on psychiatry and religion. Lukoff et al .[sup] [2] proposed that the diagnostic entities of religious and psychospiritual problems should be incorporated in DSM4 which has been accepted. DSM4, V 62.89 includes three categories-normal religious and spiritual experiences; religious and spiritual problems leading to mental disturbances; and mental disturbances with a religious and spiritual context. I understand that the Indian Psychiatric Society has formed a task force on spirituality and mental health which is urging the Medical council of India to include taking the spiritual history as part of psychiatric evaluation. Even so the importance of religion and spirituality are not sufficiently recognized by the psychiatric community. Religion does not have a place in most of the psychiatry text books. Only very few psychiatrists make use of religion and spirituality in the therapeutic situation.

This paper makes an attempt to bring out the importance of spirituality in mental health.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is a globally acknowledged concept. It involves belief and obedience to an all powerful force usually called God, who controls the universe and the destiny of man. It involves the ways in which people fulfill what they hold to be the purpose of their lives, a search for the meaning of life and a sense of connectedness to the universe. The universality of spirituality extends across creed and culture. At the same time, spirituality is very much personal and unique to each person. It is a sacred realm of human experience. Spirituality produces in man qualities such as love, honesty, patience, tolerance, compassion, a sense of detachment, faith, and hope. Of late, there are some reports which suggest that some areas of the brain, mainly the nondominant one, are involved in the appreciation and fulfillment of spiritual values and experiences.[sup] [3],[4],[5]

Spirituality and Religion

Religion is institutionized spirituality. Thus, there are several religions having different sets of beliefs, traditions, and doctrines. They have different types of community-based worship programs. Spirituality is the common factor in all these religions. It is possible that religions can lose their spirituality when they become institutions of oppression instead of agents of goodwill, peace and harmony. They can become divisive instead of unifying. History will tell us that this had happened from time to time. It has been said that more blood has been shed in the cause of religion than any other cause. …