Religious Coping Styles and Recovery from Serious Mental Illnesses

By Yangarber-Hicks, Natalia | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Religious Coping Styles and Recovery from Serious Mental Illnesses


Yangarber-Hicks, Natalia, Journal of Psychology and Theology


Despite the relative lack of empirical research on the role of spirituality in the lives of severely mentally ill individuals, personal accounts and qualitative studies have demonstrated the importance of religion in recovery from mental illnesses. Research on religious coping has shown faith to be a method individuals rely on to gain control in their lives. This study examined relations among religious coping styles, empowerment, level of adaptive functioning, and recovery activities. Findings indicated that the Collaborative approach to religious coping was related to greater involvement in recovery-enhancing activities and increased empowerment while the Deferring coping strategy was associated with improved quality of life. However, the Self-directing and Plead styles were linked with less positive psychosocial outcomes. This study provided preliminary support to the notion that reliance on religious faith and coping can be associated with active involvement in recovery and positive psychological adjustment among severely mentally ill individuals. Implications of these results and suggestions for future research were discussed.

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The idea that recovery from serious mental illnesses is a viable prospect has been promoted within the mental health field in the last decade contrasting sharply with the traditional view that they are chronic and intractable. The emergence of narratives written by individuals with severe mental illnesses describing their experiences of recovery and empirical research demonstrating the reality of positive outcomes in this population converged in the 1980s and gave birth to the recovery vision (Anthony, 2000). Anthony (1993) has defined recovery as a process of transformation, adaptation, and self-discovery involving changes in attitudes, values, and goals towards oneself and one's illness. Recovery does not refer to an end product, a linear process, or an absence of pain or setbacks. Relatedly, Deegan (1988) viewed recovery as the lived experience of individuals as they accept and overcome the challenge of their illness.

An integral part of recovery is empowerment, which involves consumers of mental health services taking responsibility and control over all aspects of their lives, including the treatment for their disorders (Corrigan, Faber, Rashid, & Leary, 1999). Traditionally, the mental health system has encouraged dependency and has restricted opportunities for choice and self-determination by regarding people who have mental illnesses as "passive recipients of treatment rather than as active agents in the recovery process" (Heinssen, Levendusky, & Hunter, 1995, p. 522). In contrast, Heinssen et al. (1995) have demonstrated that interventions are more effective when their recipients perceive choice, have a personal investment in the recovery process, and are treated as collaborators by mental health professionals. Additionally, activities, places, and people not related to the mental health system, such as lay social support networks, sports, clubs, and religious institutions, have been shown to be essential to many individuals' recovery (Anthony, 1993; Corrigan et al., 1999; Murnen & Smolak, 1994). Indeed, research has demonstrated that spiritual and religious involvement plays an important role in promoting and supporting recovery efforts (i.e., Fitchett, Burton, & Sivan, 1997; Koenig, Larson, & Weaver, 1998; Lindgren & Coursey, 1995; O'Rourke, 1997; Sullivan, 1999; Young & Ensing, 1999).

Even more neglected has been the study of the effects of religious beliefs and practices on the functioning of people who have serious mental illnesses (Crossley, 1995; Koenig, Larson, & Weaver, 1998). On the other hand, most personal accounts of recovery highlight spirituality. Religion and spirituality are seen as offering great help by providing coping and problem-solving strategies, a source of social support, and a sense of meaning in the midst of tragedy and confusion (Sullivan, 1999). …

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