Some therapists are hesitant to include spirituality in their practice.
But if it can calm worries and lower stress, wouldn’t we want to integrate it into practice?
Psychologist David Rosmarin, PhD headed up a research team at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital to study how spirituality and belief impact worry and doubt.
They conducted two studies I think you might find interesting.
The first gathered responses from 332 subjects from Jewish and Christian faiths. They were asked to rate their level of trust in a Judeo-Christian God who looks out for them, their level of worry, and how tolerant they were of uncertainty.
Participants who had higher trust in a caring God reported lower levels of worry and more openness to uncertainty.
Because you can’t randomly assign subjects to different beliefs, we can only draw correlational conclusions and thus, cannot determine causality.
The second study was a bit more clever. Instead of comparing individuals by their current beliefs, researchers randomly assigned participants to one of three groups: a spiritually integrated treatment (SIT) group, a progressive relaxation group, and a wait-list control group.
The SIT program consisted of daily teachings and spiritual exercises designed to increase trust in God and decrease mistrust. The progressive relaxation group was taught how to systematically relax their bodies, and the waitlist group received no intervention of any kind.
Before the intervention, researchers tested the groups for trust in God, worry, intolerance to uncertainty, and stress. After the two week intervention the SIT group had significantly higher levels of trust and lower levels of intolerance, worry, and stress.
On the other side of the spectrum, participants who mistrusted God exhibited higher levels worry, stress, and more intolerance to uncertainty.
These results help us understand one way spirituality might have real-world implications.
Dr. Rosmarin commented on the findings, saying that this data could help motivate practitioners to take their patients’ spiritual beliefs into account.
You can find the entire study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
The evidence suggests that spirituality may have a larger role in healing than previously thought. If we know how to incorporate it, spirituality may be a key factor in improving patient outcomes.
The future of this kind of research is absolutely fascinating. I’d love to see a next step that looks at whether practices like SIT have any direct health effects, like reduced hypertension or lowered inflammation, for instance.
Have you ever incorporated your patient’s spiritual or religious beliefs to help them heal or cope with a difficult situation? Do you think spirituality has a place in treatment? Please leave a comment below.