Can Spirituality and Medication Work Together?

I never would have imagined that medication and spirituality had anything in common.

But a study out of Rush University Medical Center led by chaplain and assistant professor Patricia Murphy, PhD brings new findings that suggest spirituality can act synergistically with medication to produce better patient outcomes.

For instance, spirituality may be a key factor in improving response to medication for patients diagnosed with clinical depression.
spirituality
Researchers surveyed 136 adults with major depression or bipolar depression before and after 8 weeks of antidepressant medication treatment.

Patients who reported belief in a personal higher power or a higher power concerned with their well-being were more likely to experience an improvement in depressive symptoms after 8 weeks.

What’s more, patients who scored in the top 33% for overall religious well-being were 75% more likely to show improvement.

Researchers looked to see if hope was a contributing factor but found that hope had no impact on patient outcomes. Belief in a caring higher power alone seemed to increase chances of improvement.

What this study shows is that medication and spirituality can work together to produce stronger results than medication alone.

The study wasn’t randomized or controlled so generalization is limited. On the other hand you can’t randomly assign spiritual beliefs. That said, the results are intriguing.

Quite likely, spirituality has the potential to effectively complement and enhance many different types of treatment. That’s why we’ve brought the world’s leading spiritual thinkers together for our Spirituality in Healing webinar series.

The series will show you how spirituality can help you connect more deeply with your patients and bring your clients a new dimension of healing.

To check out the series, click here.

Have you integrated spirituality into your practice to enhance treatment with your patients? Please leave a comment below.

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25 Comments

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  2. Mose says:

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  3. Esther says:

    I say absolutely not. Anti-depression drugs shut down your ability to believe in God as much as you did before the drug. A better solution is a TMS machine like the alpha-stim machine. It CURES depression without side effects leaving the faith part of your brain unimpaired.

    • Janay says:

      Wow I must confess you make some very trenhcant points.

  4. Don Ross says:

    As time goes on Christian Science seems less and less extreme and modern medicine as practiced in the US seems more and more insane. Television comercials prompting us to ask our doctors if we should add a second antidepressant medication if we are still feeling depressed on only one. Studies showing little difference between antidepressant and placebo other than increased suicide with the antidepressant. I would like to see a similar study including a group with placebo and one with no meds at all.

  5. If a person has a condition that medicine helps it is always best to attempt to find an option to the Med due to potential side effects. But getting off the drug isn’t always the answer. I know lots of epilepsy patients who need their anti seizure drugs so I have learned how to cut their dosages to the lowest and healthiest, effective dosages. This involves dietary supplementation, breathing practices (better oxygenation, awareness and self control) positive attitudes, and perhaps some supplements to boost the medicines functional power even though less is needed.

    Patients must accept their need for medication with compassion and accept their condition and it’ll get a good chance to improves immensely.

  6. DOROTHY CHAMBERS says:

    Spirituality the general sense we are not alone and can be comforted is good. Theology and organized religion which has united social rules with the belief in a punishing God is much more open to debate.I have a friend who while on her way to hospital in labour let out she had no man, from that point the behaveour of the nursing staff was concerned first with punishing her and lost all duty to keep her in a good frame of mind. The baby died leaving a suspicion that the Irish Catholics concerned are partly responsible for the death. Psychology is less than fifty years away from listing homosexuality as in need of cure, just one up from being evil and some States of America have politicians pandering to the crowds who want it punished, fundametallist Christians follow the Bronze age teacher Moses who authorised homosexual’s death.All in the name of a good society by those who believe in a punishing God. Spirituality is a word which has gained favour to try and keep the good and loss the bad out of religion, but the religions will try and use science embrasing spirituality to “prove” they and their literal intepretation of the Bible is right and start persecuting others again.

  7. i have been working as a therapist for the last 15 years and during this time i have included spiritual awareness therapeutically, with great effect. As a result, i decided to develop a model of therapy that incorporated and provided an easy access point to spirituality. The model is called Insight Focused Therapy.

    For clients who include spirituality into their daily lives, incorporating this important resource into therapy can be hugely life changing. i have seen nothing short of, amazing outcomes by doing so. However, for those who have grown up in highly toxic; religious; rigid; punitive environments, incorporating the spiritual can add a complicated layer to the presenting issue. I have found that as with all therapy, a wise approach is to include this topic in the assessment interview and then throughout therapy to remain highly attuned.
    Best wishes
    Pauline

  8. Gayook says:

    Thank you for this article. Even ‘tho the example refers to depression, I found that taking meds for cancer plus my spiritual practice has helped to shrink a maglignant tumor. My oncologist is surprised and pleased at how much shrinkage there was prior to surgery.

  9. Mary says:

    Just read an interesting article on Niacin and depression…We are an organic machine with requirements from a multitude of natural substances… When something is missing the machines doesn’t work all that well… Faith is a substance, a force that has the ability to discern the body’s needs if the spirit, soul, and body are intact and functioning at a capacity of discernment. Since we are a multi level being then it takes all the beings awareness to be functioning at the same time. The key is the spirit, the source is the mind and the completion is the will… if any component is missing we need to seek professional help to find the missing substance and repair the lack…

    • Please mention some benefits about the usage of NIACIN. It’s got some fabulous qualities doesn’t it?
      Can you mention some of it’s dependable and special qualities.

  10. Marty says:

    from a clients standpoint, I believe in the theory that meds are to stabilize while we do our daily healing. So spirituality or mindfulness benefits any therapy. Acceptance and awareness are part of healing and living.

    I see so many suffer but refuse to take mental action and responsibility. You can not heal running from trauma or avoiding it. it only grows.

    Online, I have seen so many who believe healing is contained in a pill or a therapist will heal them. It is sad to see them wait and suffer.

  11. Vic Bradford says:

    Thanks. I think the issue here is not whether spirituality helps medical intervention, but on the nature of the relationship — is it causal, is it merely associative, is the effect related to a unique effect or perhaps a common causal antecedent, what is the strength of the relationship and can factors be modified, what is the clinical significance and how could we practically change outcomes, etc.? Without answering some of those questions, without carefully defining what “spirituality” or “religious well-being” mean, and so forth, the nature of the relationship is sketchy and the conclusions may be too shallow to be useful. As much as we would like to hang our hats on this preliminary investigation, and as much as we want them to reinforce our common-sense observations, I am hoping the investigators learned enough about this matter to investigate it more deeply.

  12. Peace Warden says:

    As I have grown in wisdom, I have noticed a pattern of beliefs from my customers who are diabetic or with cancer issues, Their overwhelming statements are……” My doctor told me to take it, Did you ask why? No my doctor told me to take it, Do you know what it is doing to help you or give you more side affects? No my doctor told me to take it.” This is how patients are mesmerized into a behavior that is not life affirming or proactive in partnership in their care. Many doctors do not ask their patients what aspect of their spiritual practice they have been using to help heal themselves,especially prayer, herbs and laying on of hands.

    Always Peace

  13. Joel Chudnow says:

    SPIRTUALITY DOES NOT AUGMENT MEDICINE!
    Spirituality trumps and overcomes the horribly toxic effects medicine has on the body. The individual with an uncompromised hope-belief daily spiritual practice will recover and heal!
    When the vessel is full of God’s peace, love, light and joy, what room could possibly be left for anything
    toxic.

  14. Judi Lansky says:

    Of course they mix and support each other. When I had a major depression, I took meds, joined a meditiation group, saw a wonderful therapist individually and after a little while, added a Spriritual Counselor to the mix. I continued all of those modalities for many years as I healed. And even as I’m much better now, I stilll phase those in and out gratefully.

    And I certainly talk about Spirituality with those of my Career Counseling cllients who are open to it.

    Ruth, I love your current series on Spirituality. I find it more spiritual than anything else on the web.

  15. Mary Frasaer says:

    As a pastoral counselor, I have been able to actively utilize people’s spiritual lives in their therapeutic process for the 28 years of my practice. I find it indispensable in sorting out motivations and garnering positive energy for dealing with therapeutic issues. However, I have also witnessed the immense contribution that medications play in regulating physical and psychological energy.

  16. jan says:

    I have found that medication is a good option for short term use. My long term clients (who had been on medications for more than a year) at an integrated center either began to be symptomatic with side effects or were on additional medications to stem the side effects. Generally when working with the elderly if I looked at the known side effects of the medications they were on I could find the complaint(s) they came in with to see me. All I could do was teach them a more spiritual perspective about their bodies and hope that gave them the courage to eliminate the med. But since psychopharmaceuticals tend to numb people they can be challenging to give up. I would hope that anyone who prescribes them also works with their clients so the prescribing doctor knows where their client is with regard to the med and all the side effects. The trick is to ask what their physical symptoms are because if you simply ask “Any problems?” they are very likely to say “no.”

  17. I did a year Fellowship investigating the role of spirituality in women with breast and gynecological cancers, titled “Restoring the Soul in the Midst of Cancer.” Twenty five women participated in two groups (am & pm) for 6 weeks. The most powerful week was on forgiveness. At end one of the repeated comments was “this was best thing in all of my care.”

  18. Ellen Cooper Phelps says:

    Ruth, this is a tremendous series! We must never be complacent in our own points of view.

    More specifically,t his series is adding depth and breadth to our awareness that spirituality- a deep belief in the meaningfulness of life and a person’s life experience- is extremely important to human well-being.
    It remains a very important subject, in all of its intricacies, for both field and laboratory research, as well as for study on every level.
    Medication for mental health conditions, especially extreme and/or Crisis Phase, needs to be kept on the table, as a documented source of efficacious treatment.
    Although there are some who write and speak of the “evils” or, just plain uselessness of medication, for every physical or mental health condition; we need not all jump on that bandwagon.
    The wise understanding of each mode of treatment will always be to our advantage- thank you, thank you NiCABM for this fascinating and instructive series!!

  19. Emma Bragdon says:

    Yes, spirituality does enhance health. Period. That has been shown in numerous studies: see “Soul Medicine” by Dawson Church, PhD and Norm Shealy, MD. But, the positive effects are not necessarily tied to potentiating medication. Spirituality can effect improvement in mood disorders without medication. The book “Resources for Extraordinary Healing: Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Other Serious Mental Illnesses” demonstrates how spirituality has had a positive effect on serious mental illness, as well–with only cautious use of medication.
    If you are going to promote the effectiveness of spirituality and medication together–I think it is only fair to show also the effect of spirituality with little to no use of medication. By working with spirituality you are working with a very powerful promoter of health. This has been proven by numerous studies: see Harold Koenig’s newest “Handbook of Religion and Health” for more information.

  20. John Whitney says:

    I don’t get it.
    Since the psychological Stone Age there has been hard evidence of the efficacy of a deeply held belief and it’s effect on ones physiology, and even, “spooky action at a distance” aka, PK. So it obviously goes beyond what is often classified as placebo. Why then is stuff like this being presented as being rather new, even edgy information? It’s over 200 years old !
    “Spirituality” is obviously a sub-set of belief. I find that institutions “researching” (re-re-researching?) belief under any other disguise to be not only timid and quaint, but redundant and close to boring.

    John Whitney

  21. Karen says:

    It does not surprise me that patients that reported a belief in a Higher Power and/or had a connection to spirituality experienced results with lifting depression symptoms. In my view, that may be the critical intervention for depression as antidepressants do not have a very good track record in research and often are no better than a placebo. I believe that depression will never be relieved solely on the use of an antidepressant. They are predicated on the assumption that brain chemistry is the source of the issue with depression and do not take into account that depression (and other mental health diagnoses) are a mulitfactoral health problem rooted in the many variables of a human being’s life.

  22. Shirley says:

    When I refer patients to other medical professionals I find that those who carry a sense of being ethical – whether this stems from a religious or secular basis – tend to hold their patients in higher regard, give them more time and create a caring, relaxed and positive atmosphere – appear to have greater treatments outcomes. Whether this is because they are also more competent or that they support and nuture their patients into greater self efficacy I do not know. I like to think that the outcome is due to all these things. Certainly these qualities will improve placebo – and nuturing environment has to be an absolute basis for any form of healing.

  23. sybil says:

    People with Diabetes who believe in a higher power seem much more accepting of their disease and do better sticking to their regimen. I don’t have a formal study but after being in practice for 31 years believe spirituality helps people with all chronic diseases recover faster, and create more success with their lives overall.

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