Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rock On... Religion and Mental Health

Beyond all the dogma and traditions, faith is the cornerstone for religious beliefs of all creeds. When those beliefs are positive, an individual can feel confident to do all things through a deistic being (e.g., God) with it as their strength. As a result, one can improve their mental health simply by putting their faith in faith. However, in a secular field of study like psychology, positive religious beliefs have been criticized for being narrow, subjective, and abnormal. Even various polls and studies have provided checkered results for the psychological benefits of religious beliefs. But with an ever-growing acceptance of religion as part of an individual’s lifestyle, disciples of psychology must recognize the potential for productive mental change of Biblical proportions as a result of religious beliefs.

The main reason positive religious beliefs can help one’s mental health is because it provides an individual with a sense of hope and meaning in life. By believing in a higher, deistic order, one can put confidence in that being for spiritual guidance, in both this life and the afterlife. The best part is that an individual need not belong to a religious community to feel better about their life. For example, one study conducted on 271 male and female psychiatric patients, who also met the criteria for major depression or bipolar disorder, found a negative correlation between an increase in religious beliefs and depression/hopelessness (Murphy 1104). In fact, during Murphy’s study, church attendance and private practice - the other two independent variables - actually increased depression and hopelessness, albeit by a few degrees (1104). While not clearly indicative of the entire population, this particular study does corroborate one thing: faith alone is powerful enough to positively influence an individual‘s outlook on life.

Still, it is not merely enough for an individual to have religious behavior; religion must also become one’s way of living in order to achieve greater psychological benefits. By attending more formal religious services in life, one develops a stronger religious social identity, thereby maintaining “higher levels of subjective psychological well-being” than those whose participation in the religious community remains stagnant (Greenfield & Marks 255-6). In addition, having a strong faith can keep people from being swayed by less commonly accepted beliefs. One study conducted by Kia Aarnio and Marjaana Lindeman of over 3,000 individuals found a negative correlation between having strong religious convictions and believing in “paranormal claims” (5). Like many things in life, hard work is necessary to achieve success, and enlightenment in religion is no different.

Historically speaking, though, religion and psychology were incompatible for the longest time. This dissonance came about because religion depends primarily on faith and hardly, if any, on objective findings. In the twentieth century, for instance, clinicians saw individuals with an adamant sense of religious beliefs as “more suspicious, irrational, guilt-ridden, and unstable than others and were less able to cope with life‘s difficulties” (Comer 73). Their school of thought wanted nothing to do with hypothetical claims religion brought upon by society. Likewise, religious leaders wanted nothing to do with hypothetical claims psychology brought upon by society. In fact, Agostino Gemelli, an Italian psychiatrist, fell back on his background as a Catholic priest to denounce any form of psychological treatment, specifically Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis (Farr et al. 1825). But as the twentieth century progressed, religion became a viable force once again, and the field of psychology had no choice but to embrace its impact.

Nowadays, religion has been accepted into the field of psychology, though discrepancies remain. The big objection comes from clinicians, who have remained skeptical about religion in mental health because religion provides highly subjective viewpoints into an already soft science. In 1990, for instance, the American Psychiatric Association Committee on Religion and Psychiatry released a set of strict guidelines so psychiatrists could not impose their own religious beliefs toward their patients (O’Connor 611). The amendment kept personal beliefs incognito while still openly discussing a patient’s choice of religion in their rehabilitation, if needed. Even then, experts remain divided on how to address the issue of religion in the professional setting. For example, one study of psychiatrists in the United States show that while 90% of respondents are okay about discussing religious beliefs with patients, 82% feel religion and spirituality can cause “increased patient suffering” (Eichelman 1774). Such an anomaly sounds farfetched, but this paradoxical notion is preferred when exploring diverse issues within different religions practiced in various cultures. The irony of it all is that psychology thrives on controversies like these, so when the debate over religious beliefs became more commonplace, it was sacrilegious to not discuss this issue with conflicting viewpoints. Call it an intellectual purgatory, but this amicable stalemate between religion and contemporary psychology appears to stay until the end of time.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Aarnio, Kia & Marjaana Lindeman. “Religious People and Paranormal Believers: Alike or Different?” Journal of Individual Differences, Vol. 28 (1), 2007. pp. 1-9. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

[2] Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology: Seventh Edition. Worth Publishers, New York, 2010: Chapter 3.

[3] Eichelman, Burr. “Review of Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine.” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 164 (12), Dec., 2007. pp. 1774-1775. Web. 12 Sep. 2010.

[4] Farr, Curlin A., Ryan E. Lawrence, Shaun Odell, Marshall H. Chin, John D. Lantos, Harold G. Koeing, and Keith G. Meador. “Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine: Psychiatrists’ and Other Physicians’ Differing Observations, Interpretations, and Clinical Approaches.” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 164 (12), Dec. 2007. pp. 1825-1831. Web. 12 Sep. 2010.

[5] Greenfield, Emily A. & Nadine F. Marks. “Religious Social Identity as an Explanatory Factor for Associations Between More Frequent Formal Religious Participation and Psychological Well-Being.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol. 17 (3), Feb. 2007. pp. 245–259. Web. 11 Sep. 2010.

[6] Murphy, Patricia E., et al. "The relation of religious belief and practices, depression, and hopelessness in persons with clinical depression." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 68 (6), Dec. 2000. pp. 1102-1106. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

[7] O’Connor, Shawn & Brian Vandenberg. “Psychosis or Faith? Clinicians’ Assessment of Religious Beliefs.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 73 (4), Aug. 2005. Pp. 610-616. PsycArticles. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.

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