Our thanks to Jane Fisher who wrote this article especially for our website.
Religion and spirituality play a vital role in the lives of many people, including those who hear voices. Over the past decade in particular, various studies have shown the positive effects that spirituality can bring, including stress reduction, an enhanced ability to weather life’s vicissitudes, and a sense of companionship. In one recent review published by S Grover et al (2014), it was found that religion and spirituality can also instill hope, lend greater meaning to life, and positively influence social integration. In this post we discuss these important findings, which suggest that health practitioners can benefit positively from greater awareness of the importance of religiosity and spirituality for many patients.
The Popularity of Religion and Spirituality
Studies from across the globe have shown that many people who hear voices, including those diagnosed with schizophrenia, choose to take part in religious or spiritual activities. One 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Services, found that up to 91% of participants took part in religious or spiritual activities. While religious service is evidently more structured, spiritual practice can run the gamut from Eastern practices such as yoga, right through to psychic readings aimed at increasing self-awareness and highlight thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that may benefit from change.
Mixed Findings on Religiosity and Spirituality
Although research indicates that some persons who hear voices can have religious delusions, many studies show that there are important benefits associated with religiousness or spirituality. These include a reduced likelihood of developing substance abuse, greater social integration, a lower rate of smoking, and an enhanced quality of life. When patients receive religious or spiritual support, they tend to have better recovery and reduced relapse rates, though in some patients, being more religious has been linked to a greater likelihood of suicide attempts.
Religion and Spirituality as a Means of Coping
In the general population, religion and spirituality have been found to enhance the ability to cope with challenging occurrences and experiences. One study showed that participation in religious worship was the only community activity associated with sustained happiness, in contrast to other activities such as community fundraising. While the latter provides participants with social occasions in which to meet and form friendships with like-minded individuals, religiosity and spirituality go deeper. They provide meaning or purpose to life, even though it may take time and though to achieve greater understanding of the losses human beings face.
Studies suggest that positive religious coping in patients with schizophrenia is linked to greater psychological wellbeing, when God is viewed as a benevolent rather than a punishing force. Participating in spiritual activities, meanwhile, has been found to help patients deal with symptoms.
Spirituality and mental health have many things in common, the most important of which is the alleviation of human suffering and the fostering of personal growth. Despite findings indicating the extent to which religion and spirituality can affect various aspects of the health of those who hear voices (wielding both positive and negative effects), many health professionals lack an awareness of the spiritual or religious needs of patients. When doctors begin to understand the extent to which religion affects outcomes in patients, more personalized services can be provided. While further investigation is required to elicit the best means to achieve this aim, we can take heart in the words of researcher, P Sharma, “Unlike their predecessors, modern psychologists and psychotherapists have stopped pathologizing spiritual experiences and approach them with increasing sensitivity and empathy.”