Curious, isn't it, the kinds of memories we retain? Many years ago I stumbled across one of those magazine surveys you find when waiting to be seen by the dentist. Psychologists, it revealed, were the profession least likely to have religious affiliations or beliefs. As a psychologist I remember being mildly interested in these findings, but I also remember making a mental note to dismiss them. On reflection, I think I probably took umbrage about the sample size, the lack of information about where or how the data was collected, that sort of thing.
What's interesting, well to me at least, is how after all these years that same memory pops up. Perhaps it wasn't so much the accuracy of the information - I still don't know if it was accurate or not - as much as the possible implications. You see I know that spirituality and religion are important to a great many people. I also know that some features, of both spirituality and religion, can be viewed as a feature of mental illness. To this end, I wonder if health professionals simply find it easier and more convenient to do what I've just done? Yes, acknowledge the importance, but in terms of work with clients, push it to one side as an inconvenience or inconsequential issue.
Where's he going with this, you're wondering? In truth I'm really not sure, and perhaps this is one reason I'm reflecting (rambling you may feel) on it. I've always regarded spirituality as a distinctly personal thing. I find talking about my ‘core beliefs' or my ‘values' a rather sterile thing. Yet, I'm not a religious person, in the formal sense. A spiritual person may be religious, but not necessarily. To me, and to others, spirituality is a way of describing that ‘thing' that gives purpose and meaning to life. It is something that, over time, helps to develop a sense of inner peace, hope and strength. And yes, religion can certainly do this, although it tends to be linked to a particular faith and a belief in God.
I think it is rare to find a health professional that addresses spirituality. We weren't taught how to do this and, if anything, we we're guided (perhaps more by inference than design) towards some form of association between mental illness and religion. I should really qualify this by saying that I have no real insight into how health professions address issues of spirituality and religion today.
I've come in contact with people who believed their illness was a result of sin, guilt, and punishment from above. Attempts to work with such beliefs are difficult, to say the least. I was pleased to see in one of the publications by Rethink, the operating name of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, that they advocate working with religious figures such as rabbis or priests, in order to help dispute some of these beliefs. Such support from influential figures can only be an asset to the therapeutic process.
I know this isn't a particularly coherent posting but maybe it's sufficient that you can follow the spirit of it (no pun intended) and would perhaps like to comment on it. If you are a health professional reading these ramblings, spirituality may not be anywhere on your list of priorities, but it may very well be on your clients (although they may not call it this). You may, as I have felt in the past, feel a little uncomfortable or unqualified to open up a discussion about spirituality. You may feel it is not relevant to the diagnostic and treatment schedules you are qualified to undertake. It may therefore be useful for you to know that you aren't expected to guide, comment or endorse the beliefs of another person, but it will almost certainly help you to understand how they tick. Questions like, "what's it all about?" or, "where do you draw your strength from?" may not be something you are used to asking, but give it a try and see how you feel.
Published On: December 12, 2008
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