Spiritual Support for Mental Health Challenges

Spiritual Support for Mental Health Challenges

A new program explores the potential of spirituality-infused treatments.


Imagine wanting to discuss spiritual issues with your mental health-care provider... but having him or her pooh-pooh your beliefs. Imagine, then, also turning for support to your church, synagogue or mosque, but feeling unwelcomed, because—you have mental-health issues.

This is why, “Stigma prevents many individuals experiencing schizophrenia or bipolar disorders from seeking spiritual or religious support from a faith-based community organization. It is difficult for some people to find a community where they feel comfortable and accepted,” wrote Ann Marie Yamada, an associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Yamada is the coauthor of a study on a new program she created, one that uses spirituality to help treat mental illness. “These concerns may not be shared with mental health providers as they may perceive spiritual needs are not appropriate to discuss.”

Yamada’s co-author on the study is Andrew Subica, of the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside. Yamada teamed up with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LAC-DMH) to create a new treatment program based on spirituality. The Spiritual Strategies for Psychosocial Recovery program uses spirituality as a tool in therapy. Group therapy sessions included activities like breathing exercises, goal setting and group discussion to build both social and coping skills. Many of the LAC-DMH-affiliated wellness and recovery centers already offer some type of spirituality-related activities, such as meditation and mindfulness.

Early findings on the study are promising, as participants were consistently satisfied with the therapy sessions. Many patients described that they felt improvements in their mood, and a feeling of empowerment and control over their conditions.

“Within the urban community served by LAC-DMH,” Yamada wrote in her study, “spirituality has been an underutilized resource.”

Again and again, science is proving that spirituality can be a powerful tool for helping address the health and recovery needs of many different kinds of people.

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.

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