Religious and spiritual beliefs and practices continue to be important to a large majority of Americans. Over 90% of American citizens state that they believe in God or Higher power. Many individuals describe religion and spirituality as a vital aspect of their lives that provides them with strength, hope, and meaning. Like other areas of life, spiritual beliefs and practices are complex and can have a different meaning depending on the person's culture, value system, and personality.
Traditionally mental health professionals (i.e, psychologists, psychiatrists) have viewed expressions of spirituality with suspicion and frequently understood them as symptoms or causes of mental and emotional problems. In recent years, however, social scientists have begun to recognize the positive impact that religious faith can have on a person's life and well-being. Specifically, many research studies in medicine and social sciences, such as psychology, have shown benefits that reliance on spirituality can have on mental and physical health.
However, most of us have known people whose use of religion interferes with their own and others' spiritual and emotional growth. The boundary between helpful and harmful expressions of spirituality is blurry at times and can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Because of a history of mutual suspicion and fear between religious and mental health communities, some people of faith are hesitant to turn to psychology in times of emotional or spiritual crisis. Instead, they first seek out a member of clergy, often their own pastor, rabbi, or priest. However, many spiritual leaders lack the psychological expertise to address especially the more serious psychological difficulties and, thus, are more likely to refer their congregants to a mental health professional.
Most people experience their own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being as interrelated and desire to be understood and treated by their physicians, mental health professionals, and clergy as a whole and integrated person. Often it is not necessary or even possible for psychotherapists and counselors to be well versed in the specifics of various spiritual and religious perspectives they may come into contact with. However, here are some of the things that you can expect from a clinician who is sensitive to your spiritual beliefs and practices:
- A nonjudgmental, accepting, and empathic relationship with you
- An openness and willingness to take time to understand your spirituality as it may relate to your emotional difficulties
- Some familiarity with values, beliefs, and practices that are common among people residing in a particular area of the country
- Comfort in asking and talking about spiritual issues with you
- A willingness to seek information from appropriate professionals and clergy and coordinate care concerning your spiritual traditions
At Wright State University's Counseling and Wellness Services, licensed psychologists and trainees alike are committed to viewing religion and spirituality as important aspects of human diversity. We also make a large effort to understand and help individuals who receive services at the Center holistically, in ways that incorporate biological, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of life. And we strive to create an environment that is respectful of the various faith perspectives represented among Wright State University students.
Prepared by Natasha Yangarber-Hicks, July 2002