Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Religious Practice and Spirituality in the Psychological Adjustment of Survivors of Breast Cancer

Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Religious Practice and Spirituality in the Psychological Adjustment of Survivors of Breast Cancer

Article excerpt

Religion and spirituality are resources regularly used by patients with cancer coping with diagnosis and treatment, yet there is little research that examines these factors separately. This study investigated the relationships between religious practice and spirituality and quality of life (QoL) and stress in survivors of breast cancer. The sample included 130 women assessed 2 years following diagnosis. Using hierarchical multiple regression analysis, the authors found that spiritual well-being was significantly associated with QoL and traumatic stress, whereas religious practice was not significantly associated with these variables. The results suggest that it may be helpful for clinicians to address spirituality, in particular with survivors of breast cancer.


Advances in the detection and treatment of breast cancer have led to a significant increase in the number of survivors (American Cancer Society, 2007). Despite this positive trend, cancer continues to affect quality of life (QoL) at diagnosis, during treatment, and after recovery (Compas & Luecken, 2002). The significant stress of cancer is associated with multiple QoL issues for survivors (Andersen, Anderson, & DeProsse, 1989; Epping-Jordan et al., 1999). There is evidence that initial levels of stress predict subsequent QoL up to 12 months postdiagnosis (Golden-Kreutz et al., 2005).

Although much of the literature documents negative consequences of breast cancer, several studies have noted positive outcomes that affect psychological adjustment, including clearer sense of self and sense of meaning, greater confidence in the face of challenges, and a deepened religious and spiritual perspective (Bower et al., 2005; Carpenter, Brockopp, & Andrykowski, 1999; Carver & Antoni, 2004; Cordova, Cunningham, Carlson, & Andrykowski, 2001). Responding to the call for more research on positive factors in the lives of survivors of cancer and others with chronic illnesses (Buchholz, 1996; Carver & Scheier, 2002; Gotay & Muraoka, 1998), the present study examined the relationships between religion, spiritual well-being, QoL, and stress for survivors of breast cancer.

Religion and spirituality are regularly used by patients with cancer as part of their strategy for coping with diagnosis and treatment. In a study of 103 women with breast cancer, Johnson and Spilka (1991) found that 85% reported using religion to help them cope with cancer. Carver et al. (1999) also found religion to be a common coping strategy both pre- and postsurgery for women with breast cancer. These two cancer studies are consistent with several others that examined coping by healthy individuals and by patients with chronic illnesses (Bower et al., 2005; Frame, Uphold, Shehan, & Reid, 2005; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Laubmeier, Zakowski, & Bair, 2004; Pargament, 1997; Salsman, Brown, Brechting, & Carlson, 2005). The findings of these studies are also consistent with national figures reporting that a majority of the U.S. population believes in God or a Higher Power (Harris Interactive, Inc., 2006). In religious women dealing with adversity, there is also evidence that religious practices and spiritual beliefs develop and deepen during the process of coping with stressful experiences (Williams, Jerome, White, & Fisher, 2006).

Religion has been defined as "adherence to the beliefs and practices of an organized church or religious institution" (Shafranske & Malony, 1990, p. 72) and is concerned with a set of "institutionalized doctrines, ethics, rituals, texts, traditions and practices" (Helminiak, 2001, p. 164). Several authors (e.g., Koenig et al., 2001; Miller & Thoresen, 2003) emphasize the socially organized nature of religion and the rituals or practices that have been accepted by a specific group. The social interaction and support offered by religious participation as well as the positive perspectives offered by religious belief (e. …

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