“Spirituality should be considered one of the vital signs in the care and treatment of patients,” said Christina M. Puchalski, MD, FACP, Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (GWish). She was speaking to over 400 chaplains, physicians, nurses, and researchers from all around the world who were attending the second annual HealthCare Chaplaincy Network (HCCN) Caring for the Human Spirit Conference held in Orlando in late April. The attendees participated in various workshops and several of them focused on integrating spirituality into care for those suffering from mental illness.
I am familiar with the importance of spiritual care in dealing with mental illness, as close members of my family have dealt with this issue for as long as I can remember. My family didn’t talk openly about it when I was a kid; I just remember feeling sorry for those who suffered because it seemed they didn’t have a sense of inner peace for any length of time.
As I moved into adulthood and began a spiritual practice that taught me to turn to God when I had my own health problems, I often prayed that they would feel God’s love for them and that this mental illness – or illness of the mind – would be healed.
As a matter of regular practice, I read the Bible and writings by Mary Baker Eddy when I am praying about a health issue. This quote by Eddy, a Christian healer and health expert, is helpful when thinking about mental wellness: “Because God is Mind, and this Mind is good, all is good and all is Mind.”1 So, if Mind is a synonym for God, by reasoning, how could God’s image – man – reflect anything but a good mind? St. Paul said: “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Again…how could the mind of Christ be anything but perfect and whole?
In the Bible, the mentally disturbed were healed instantaneously and permanently by Jesus. Clearly, something about Jesus’ understanding of God allowed him to heal rather than simply ameliorate or calm. So, are these examples where Jesus healed long-standing mental illness things that only he could do or were only for his time? Is it possible that prayer can play a significant part in overall mental wellness in our day and age?
If you believe recent statistics, yes it can. Lately, when it comes to solutions, a wide array of approaches is being explored – including the role that religion and spirituality can play in improving mental wellness. And, instead of ignoring or overlooking the behavior of sufferers, mental health experts and ordinary people – like members of my family – are feeling freer to talk about spiritual solutions.
As a result of our current willingness to talk about this subject, global conversations – like the one at this year’s HCCN conference – are taking place about spirituality and its link to better health & wellness. The keynote speaker’s address was focused on a “call to the world to improve the quality of spiritual care.” Other featured speakers said that spiritual care is now at a critical juncture… that the field is poised to make major inroads toward fully integrating spiritual care into health care in the US and globally.
So, what does this integration mean for patients who once thought medications – along with their potential side effects – were the only solution?
It means things are changing, according to Kenneth I. Pargament, Ph.D, a leading expert in the psychology of religion and spirituality (known for his scientific analyses of religion and mental health). In an interview by the American Psychological Association he said that in the past, “psychologists steered clear of religion and spirituality in clinical practice.” He goes on to report, “emerging research is showing that spiritually integrated approaches to treatment are as effective as other treatments. There is, in short, good scientifically based reason to be more sensitive to religion and spirituality in clinical practice.”
My own family experience with mental disorders is an amazing journey from extreme mental challenges to peace and healing through faith in God. Recently, one member was told that their bi-polar condition was either totally gone or in remission. Since no drugs are being taken, we attribute this progress to sincere prayer and trust in God.
While I am not suggesting that people stop their present course of treatment, there is overwhelming evidence that a spiritual approach is effective in treating mental disorders. Both the older and the newer evidence is clear – the more we connect with the Divine, the more it is possible to experience mental wellness.
1 Misc. Writings 105:31