Why Are Spirituality & Religion Important For Psychology?
A recent Gallup Poll (2010) reported that 54% of a representative sample in the United States indicated that spirituality and religion are very important in their own lives.
A rich body of empirical literature has tied spirituality/religion to psychological health. In one recent systematic review of 850 studies, 80% demonstrated positive relationships between spiritual/religious beliefs and practices and greater life satisfaction (Koenig and Larson, 2001), and nearly two thirds of studies found that spiritual/religious individuals experienced lower rates of anxiety and depression.
Consistent evidence also indicates that spirituality/religion play a vital resource in the process of coping with psychological distress for many individuals (Pargament,
A burgeoning literature highlights the importance of integrating spirituality into psychotherapy (Pargament, 2007).
The Relationship Between the Field of Psychology & Spirituality
Psychology and mental health disciplines have shied away from the study of spiritual issues as they relate to basic and applied research. As a result, many questions about the relevance of spirituality/religion to human psychology remain unanswered. For example:
What are the mechanisms by which this domain relates to human anxiety, depression and other symptoms? How can patient spirituality be integrated into evidence-based treatments? When should this be facilitated, and how might doing so impact treatment efficacy and treatment dissemination?
Without evidence-based answers to these questions, most clinicians are never
trained in basic core competencies in how to assess for and address patient
spirituality in treatment (Pargament, 2007).
A responsible, scientific framework is needed to examine human spirituality in the
context of modern psychology.
Advances in the Area of Psychology and Spirituality/Religion
While most existing spiritually integrated treatments have not been cognitive-behavioral in modality, several successful attempts have integrated spirituality and religion into cognitive behavioral and rational-emotive behavioral therapy (e.g., Johnson, DeVries, Ridley, Pettorini, & Peterson, 1994; Propst, Ostrom, Watkins, Dean, & Mashburn, 1992; Azhar, Varma & Dharap, 1994; Nielsen, Johnson, & Ellis, 2001).
Spiritually-integrated cognitive behavioral therapy (SI-CBT) is similar to
conventional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) except that the rationale for
treatment is presented in a spiritual framework, and selected religious beliefs
are utilized to counter maladaptive beliefs (Robb, 1988; Nielsen, 2001).
Spiritual/religious practices can be purposefully included in
treatment as behavioral activation strategies with the intention of increasing
positive emotions such as gratitude and hope (Paukert, et al., 2009).
While research on treatments is still in its early stages, more than 30 clinical
trials have been conducted, including several prominent randomized controlled
studies (e.g., Propst, Ostrom, Watkins, Dean, & Mashburn, 1992; Rye, et al.,
2005; Oman Hedberg & Thoresen, 2006; Wachholtz & Pargament, 2009; see Hook, et al., 2009 for a review).