Mental Health and the Latter-Day Saints

By Peterson, Daniel | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), March 21, 2018 | Go to article overview

Mental Health and the Latter-Day Saints


Peterson, Daniel, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


The great Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) took a very positive view of the effects of religious belief. “We and God have business with each other,” he wrote, “and in opening ourselves to his influence our deepest destiny is fulfilled. The universe … takes a turn genuinely for the worse or the better in proportion as each one of us fulfills or evades God’s commands.”

On the whole, though, the most prominent early figures in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis were not only personally irreligious but vocally anti-religious. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), for example, described religion as “the universal compulsive neurosis of humanity” and titled one of the books that he devoted to the subject “The Future of an Illusion.”

“Religiosity,” Albert Ellis (1913-2007) declared, “is in many ways equivalent to irrational thinking and emotional disturbance.” “The elegant therapeutic solution to emotional problems,” he claimed, “is to be quite unreligious.” “The less religious they are,” he asserted, “the more emotionally healthy they will be.”

Not everybody agreed. Prominent among those who challenged Ellis’s claim that atheism is psychologically healthier than faith was Allen Bergin, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who taught clinical psychology at Columbia University before joining the faculty of Brigham Young University, where he remained until his retirement in 1999.

In a brief new article, Daniel Judd, an associate dean of religious education at BYU who holds a graduate degree in family science and a doctorate in counseling psychology, reports on the basis of 30 years of study that “with few exceptions, my reviews of the academic research have produced little support for the assertions of Freud, Ellis and others that religion facilitates mental illness.” Although occasional contradictions and ambiguities exist, he says in “The Relationship between Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints,” in the winter 2018 BYU Religious Education Review, “the larger body of academic research supports the conclusion that religious belief, and most especially personal religious devotion, facilitates mental health, marital cohesion, and family stability.”

Surveying 540 studies conducted during the period 1900-1995, Judd indicates that “51 percent reported that religion was positively associated with mental health, 16 percent indicated a negative relationship, 28 percent were neutral, and 5 percent yielded mixed results.”

When attention turns to the Latter-day Saints, however, the results are “remarkably positive. …

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