The Intersection of Faith and Mental Health

The intersection of faith and mental health has long been disputed. However, recent conversations have begun to emphasize the interconnectedness between the two areas. Research has shown the value of mental health professionals being able to have more open and candid conversations in the therapeutic relationships with their clients about their faiths. Additionally, more and more clients are making efforts to incorporate their faith beliefs into their work in therapy.

The Intersection of Faith and Mental Health

Historically, many mental health professionals, as well as clients, maintained a firm line between faith and mental health. In some religious circles, clients experiencing mental health problems were viewed as not having enough faith or not believing in God enough.

Some individuals felt ashamed of their mental health difficulties and were unable to talk openly whether with their church elders or with their mental health professionals. While some religious leaders were unreceptive to dealing with mental health concerns within their communities. And some mental health professionals were unwilling to have conversations around faith in the therapeutic relationship.

These various responses reduced people’s ability to accept mental health as a part of holistic healing. Unrealistically, people were expected to compartmentalize their healing, with psychological healing getting the short end of the stick.

Progress in the Intersection of Faith and Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that in the US, clergy outnumber psychiatrists by nearly 10 to 1. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of people to mental health disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.

Historically, people have relied on faith, church, and religious elders for guidance to cope with life stressors. However, as our world continues to rise in traumas, people need more resources to help them cope with life stressors. Today, the US has experienced a precipitous increase in mass shootings and school shootings.

Other stressors include workplace violence, toxic workplace environments, weather and climate changes, ongoing wars including the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine – which is still ongoing, the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and financial problems including inflation. These examples are communal stressors that are added to daily life stressors related to work and home life. These examples highlight the need for increased access to mental health resources as well as the need for a healthy connection between faith and mental health.

Mental health professionals and religious leaders who truly want to serve their communities will find ways to bridge the gap between faith and mental health. Allowing people to have as many supportive resources as possible to increase their ability to cope with these increased stressors will only be achieved with more opportunities for people to express themselves in religious and mental health circles. When value is placed on both faith and mental health, a safe space can be created for people to share their experiences.

Faith and religious leaders will need to demonstrate their understanding of holistic healing. Holistic healing includes mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical healing. It is vital for mental health practitioners and religious leaders recognize that all healing is interconnected. For example, anxiety can present with somatic symptoms just as stress can produce somatic symptoms. Forcing individuals to choose between the type of healing they want will cause practitioners to lose clients and churches, synagogues, and mosques to lose members.

Final Words

As a Christian, faith is inherently a part of my coping skills. Faith is essential to how I handle stressors in my life. Faith is also a filter for how I make decisions and identify values that I want to corporate in my life.

As a mental health practitioner, I find that clients often test out the therapeutic relationship by hinting at their personal values to see how these values will be received. It is essential to recognize that as mental health practitioners, we are not authorities on clients and their lives. We are simply here to walk alongside them, to help them regain their equilibriums, and to help them strengthen their resources for coping with life and its stressors.

Photocred: Umit Bulut/Unsplash.com

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