Spirituality & Mental Health- Using Prayer and Meditation to Treat Mental Illness

توضیح مختصر: There is a long and complicated history between religion and mental illness, but recent developments in psychology are showing advantages to religious treatments for mental issues. This lesson examines faith-based therapy.

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Religion & Abnormality

Imagine that you’re a psychologist, and Andy comes to see you. He’s feeling depressed and very anxious. He has trouble sleeping and anytime he tries to leave the house, he gets too scared. As a result, he ends up staying home for days on end. What’s going on? How can you treat Andy’s depression and anxiety and get him to where he can function normally and have a happy life?

Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. More specifically, abnormal psychology is interested in how best to treat mental illness. There are many ways to treat Andy and people like him. Some mental health practitioners view drugs as the best treatment for anxiety or depression. Some believe that talking about Andy’s past and interpreting his dreams will help him heal. Many believe in a combination of drug and talk therapy. Let’s look closer at one particular approach to the treatment of mental illness: religious or spiritual treatments.

History

Historically, religion and mental health haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. Starting in the ancient world, many mental illnesses were seen as a religious problem; people with diseases like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder were treated as though they were possessed with demons. Exorcisms and other religious rites were given to try to cure the person of the disease by ridding them of the demons inside of them.

As the centuries passed, the church became the predominant service provider for the mentally ill. Mental asylums were run mostly by churches. Partly, this was due to the belief that mental illness represented a spiritual weakness, like demonic possession, and partly due to the church’s ministry of outreach.

But then, in the second half of the 19th century, new movements in both psychiatry and psychoanalysis led to the view that religion and mental illness should be separated from each other. This carried into the 20th century, where mental health providers were taught to view religion skeptically and keep faith out of therapy. But recently, things have begun to change again as the role that religion can play in treating mental illness becomes more and more clear.

Religious Treatments

Religious therapy is not that different from traditional therapy in most respects. It usually involves either a single person or a group talking to a psychologist. The psychologist might offer insights or tools to help the patient work through their problems.

But religious therapy is also rooted in the religious beliefs of the patient. For example, if Andy is a devoted Christian, his therapist might offer him support through both traditional therapy means and also through Christian means, such as prayers or devotionals. Even having a therapist reaffirm his beliefs by telling him that Jesus will give him strength to get through the anxiety and depression can make a big difference to someone like Andy.

In fact, studies have shown that people who are very religious have larger gains when they see therapists that are the same religion as they are. This might have to do with the treatment, or it might be because they feel more comfortable opening up to someone who is like them.

Meditation

Benefits of treatment focused on religious beliefs can be very helpful. But even if someone does not believe in a higher power, they can still benefit from some spiritual practices, like meditation. Meditation, which requires a person to focus in the present moment, often includes breathing techniques. Emotions have physiological consequences; when a person is angry, their blood pressure might rise, and when they’re anxious, their heart rate might increase. Meditation and breathing techniques help regulate the physiological response of the body and therefore can help with certain mental health issues.

Let’s go back to Andy for a moment. He’s feeling really anxious. Whenever he tries to leave his house, his heart races and his breathing gets shallow. He feels like he might have a heart attack and die. But imagine if Andy could close his eyes and take a few deep breaths. Instead of focusing on what might happen to him if he leaves his house, he brings his attention to his breath. As his breathing deepens, his heart rate slows. His muscles begin to relax.

As Andy’s body begins to relax, so too does his mental tension slowly go away. Even if Andy wasn’t religious, the spiritual tradition of meditation could help him fight off his anxiety. Meditation has long-term benefits, too. Through deep breathing and relaxation, the chemicals in the brain change, and Andy might find that his depression is less severe after he’s been meditating regularly for several weeks.

Lesson Summary

Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, feelings, and actions. There has been a long and complicated history of mental illness and religion, but recently mental health practitioners have come to understand the important role that religion and spirituality can play in treating psychological disorders. In addition to faith-based therapy, meditation offers a non-religious, spiritual tool that anyone can use to help fight off the effects of some mental illnesses, like anxiety or depression.