I frequently get calls from people wondering how I involve spirituality with my patients. Some wonder if they have to be a certain religion to benefit from the spiritual aspect of my counseling.
The answer is no. In most cases, my practice is supportive of all types of spirituality that the client finds helpful. Whether it be prayer, spiritual literature, meditation, appreciation of nature, or recognition of some higher power, whether it be Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, unaffiliated, or something else, I respect my client’s preference and if appreciated, I encourage and support these religious or spiritual feelings.
We may explore what their spirituality means to them and whether there is conflict within them that may be contributing to difficulties. For some, we may do some meditative relaxation exercises.
Research shows spirituality contributes to good mental health, regardless of religion. That could be because spirituality encourages a broader, less selfish perspective. It promotes a sense of one-ness with a larger whole.
A 2014 study showed religion and spirituality actually showed up in brain scans: A particular brain cortex was thicker in patients who said religion or spirituality was important to them. Interestingly, that cortex is one that tends to be thinner in people who are at risk for depression.
There can be a downside to spirituality, though: Those who have negative spiritual beliefs–that bad things happen as punishment from a higher power, for example–have worse mental and physical health than those whose spiritual beliefs are only positive. These negative beliefs are something we can explore in therapy.
So whatever you believe, let’s talk about how we can make spirituality a part of your healing process.
Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.