The Psychology of Healing Through Religion

The Psychology of Healing Through Religion

The history of the word “psychology” derived during the 16th century in Germany by Melanchthon and was originated to mean, “the study of the soul”. Ironically and over time, the study of the word “psychology” is now interpreted as, “the study of the mind, mental states, and processes”. How and where this dramatic turn of definition and study came to be requires a good and hard look at history; somewhere and somehow, the soul and mind were separated. Prior to the development of psychotherapy in the 19th and 20th centuries, religion and philosophy were the primary sources of study used to understand mankind and his mental dis/abilities and behaviors. As time progresses into the centuries, and more and more scientific and medical studies are conducted, there seems to be a phenomenal realization: philosophy, religiosity, and faith are primary factors in an individual’s psychological mental health.

Sadly enough to say, Psychologists and Psychiatrists are now undergoing new training to learn how to integrate faith based therapies or at least consider the religiosity of their clients prior to implementing a formal diagnosis and advise for therapy (Frazier & Hansen, 2009, ABSTRACT). In a case study questioning 300 doctoral-level psychologists between two separate age groups (age 50 and older and 49 and younger) about their practices using a RSPBQ (Religious/Spiritual Psychotherapy Behaviors Questionnaire), the findings were that the therapists did not use any of the methods listed in the questionnaire. A very small percentage of those interviewed actually considered any of the methods: actively communicate respect for clients’ religious/spiritual beliefs, evaluate when one’s religious/spiritual values and biases negatively impact treatment, actively seek client feedback about psychotherapy provided, promote autonomy and self-determination of highly religious clients, even when their values differ from one’s own, self-assess one’s competence to counsel clients regarding religious/spiritual issues, use clients’ religious/spiritual strengths in treatment, modify treatment plan to account for clients’ religious/spiritual concerns, use clients’ religious/spiritual beliefs to help inform their decisions, ask religious/spiritual questions to assess clients’ religious/spiritual involvement, accurately determine when religious/spiritual beliefs are adversely affecting the client’s well-being, use extra-therapy resources to inform oneself about a client’s (just to name a few) specific religious/spiritual beliefs.integrate or consider the faith followed by their clients until they themselves had a religious faith or experience.

Under consideration that 95% of Americans believe in God or a higher power and 65% are members of a church and believe that their religious faith plays a significant role in their life and well-being (Frazier & Hansen, pg. 81), the findings that professional therapists do not consider religion as a primary factor during diagnosis is astonishing (Frazier & Hansen, pg. 84). The data revealed in this study proves that religiosity should be further studied and understood by mental health professionals in order to more accurately recommend therapy. Without understanding or realization of faith-based therapy, society is left to depend on medications and western medicine for mental and physical help rather than provided with the ability to heal from within and through religion.

Today’s modern societies (excepting in third world countries where poverty and deprivation make it almost impossible to access) depend heavily on medications to soothe their anxieties and disorders at almost epidemic degrees. If the medication that is relied on the most is not accessible such as for financial reasons; self-medicating through illegal avenues is often the case. There is a high percentage of alcohol and drug abuse in modern societies when compared to less developed countries and more religious societies. Either way, a high percentage of mankind is searching outside of themselves for comfort, serenity, acceptance, a way to cope and understand, and forgiveness. Could this metaphorical separation of mind and soul be one of the underlying factors playing a significant role in the mental health problems and in/abilities to cope that exist today? Is it feasible that history, philosophy, psychology, and religion should have ever been separated?

According to Historical Intersections of Psychology, Religion, and Politics in National Contexts by Robert Kugelmann and Jacob A. Belzen they never were separated. As a matter of fact, they claim that the primary religion of the country predicts how an individual may react under certain circumstances. Their claim is that the political influence of the country affects the collective religious beliefs of that country and results in individual characterization development and variability (Kugelmann & Belzen, 2009, pg. 127).

Although historically, religion and psychology became separate entities under the belief that mental analysis of behaviors and beliefs was heresy; in today’s societies, religion and psychology have began to integrate once again. Religious authorities, churches, and professional psychologists and psychiatrists are realizing that an individual’s belief in something greater than their self is significant to their mental and physical health. In countries where religion is a primary factor in political leadership, faith is a community affect. Studies were conducted in Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which revealed that most of the religiosity affected the overall attitude of society and their life’s functions (Kugelmann & Belzen, pg. 126).

It has been proven that religious beliefs and faith play a significant role in mental healing and dysfunction. The study of religiosity, the psychology of religion, and healing through religion have become the primary focus of several studies. The Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association, 1992) includes religion as a human difference. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the “Religious or spiritual problem” is included as a diagnosis (American Psychiatric Association 1994, p. 685) and Tarakeshwar, Stanton, and Pargement (2003) argue that religion should be fully integrated in cross-cultural psychology research (Abdel-Khalek, 2009, pg. 68).

Religiosity also plays a significant role in negative behaviors and beliefs in individuals. Another study examining scrupulosity (a religious form of obsessive compulsive behaviors) where individuals feel obsessed to pray and seek religious retribution. 11 of 25 invited priests participated in and agreed to answer a questionnaire regarding their behaviors and understanding of the scrupulosity and how they were able to professionally work with mental health professionals regarding the dysfunction (Hepworth, Margaret & Simonds, Laura Maria & Marsh, Robert, 2010, ABSTRACT). The findings revealed that priests did understand the dysfunction as a manifestation of obsessive compulsive behaviors and believed its derivation was attributed to strict religious upbringing. It is further found that religious leaders would be best suited in handling and providing supportive therapy for scrupulosity (Hepworth, Simonds, Marsh, pg. 11).

Considering the fact that the majority of religiosity studies conducted and written about include primarily English-speaking (American) individuals, a study was conducted by Kuwait University observing 487 Kuwaiti and Egyptian under-graduate college students and the affects of their religiosity in correlation with their mental and physical well-being in contrast to American English-speaking students. The findings showed that the Kuwaiti and Egyptian students scored higher than their American counterparts.

The participants were asked to rate themselves on a scale from 1 to 10 regarding their level of religiosity, their religiosity when related to others, their estimations of physical and mental health, general happiness, and satisfaction of life. The results showed that Muslim-theist believers rated higher in their physical and well-being scores because of their belief that whatever happens to them is God’s will (Abdel-Khalek, pg. 75) and they must comply and be satisfied with this divine will. It was also believed among the Muslim-theists that they were less neurotic than their American counterparts.

Healing through spirituality, faith, prayer, and a belief in a power higher than oneself significantly improves an individual’s mental and physical well being as seen in the study conducted by Adbel-Khalek. Although his study was conducted with a limited range of members including: age, race, ethnicity, and cultural background – the findings are enough to invoke a more elaborate study. Another avenue to further explore is to learn more about religiosity. Exactly what is religiosity, is it merely a belief and active practice of a Christian based faith? While researching for religious healing, several articles, book, and journals were found full of discussions on faith healing through shamans, mental health healing through the faith of your priest/preacher, the history of religion and it’s relationship with psychology; however, it was very difficult to find any that discussed mental health healing based on faith no matter what the religion. My use of the word “faith” throughout this review is meant to be defined as, “a belief in a power higher than oneself despite the religious origins”. I actively use the word to describe the ability to heal through faith. Faith in anything whether it were a cup, a waterfall, a fantasy, a deity, a religion, yourself, fate, or a God above the clouds, surely must ignite healing from within at some level. The separation of psychology, philosophy, religion, and history surely does not seem rational when dealing with the complexities of personality and individuality in mankind. The study of these concepts to understand the vast reasons and existence of a complex mankind renders these tools inferior unless intertwined as one resource.

Abdel-Khalek, Ahmed M. (2010). Religiosity, Subjective Well-being, and Neuroticism. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13(1), 67 – 79. DOI: 10.1080/13674670903092177, First published on: 21 August 2009 (iFirst)

Frazier, Royce E. & Hansen, Nancy Downing (2009). Religious/Spiritual Psychotherapy Behaviors: Do We Do What We Believe To Be Important? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(1), 81-87. DOI: 10.1037/a0011671

Kugelmann, Robert & Belzen, Jacob A. (2009). Historical Intersections of Psychology, Religion, and Politics in National Contexts. History of Psychology, 12(3), 125-131. DOI: 10.1037/a0016855

Hepworth, Margaret, Simonds, Laura Maria and Marsh, Robert (2010). Catholic Priests Conceptualisation of Scrupulosity: a Grounded Theory Analysis. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13(1), 1 – 16. DOI: 10.1080/13674670903092177, First published on: 22 July 2009 (iFirst)

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