Mental Health and Spirituality

Perhaps you’ve heard the parable of the man who waited for God to save him from the flood? At the onset of a horrible storm, people were urged to make their way to higher ground. One man didn’t have a car, so his best friend offered to drive him to safety.

The man refused, saying, “I have faith God will save me.”

When the waters rose higher, a stranger in a boat saw the man had not yet evacuated and told him to climb aboard. The stranger was also refused.

“I have faith God will save me.”

Ultimately, the deluge forced the man to his roof where an evacuation crew in a helicopter attempted to rescue him. Still, the man told these people to leave him.

“I have faith God will save me.”

The man did not survive.

In heaven, the man found God, and he lamented, “I had faith in You, yet You did not save me.”

God responded, “I tried to save you three times: by car, by boat, and by helicopter.”

This parable teaches people of any faith the importance of recognizing and embracing caregivers when they’re needed — to view them as an extension of God’s love. Increasingly, support systems of believers include mental health practitioners.

Likewise, therapists acknowledge the overwhelming benefits of a healthy belief system among their patients and encourage frank discussions of faith and spirituality.

“I routinely work with all clients to help them take advantage of available resources in coping with life’s struggles,” said Dr. Jonathan Feather of Southeast Psych. “They may be questioning why God would allow them to be in the current situation and even be angry.  I think it can be extremely important to give them a safe place to wrestle with those feelings and sort out how they want to respond.

“I don’t impose my beliefs, rather I enjoy helping them integrate their belief system into the work we do in therapy. If I can successfully help them integrate their faith and the work of therapy I believe they see the tools psychotherapy offers are also resources I feel God has provided and will infringe upon or challenge their faith.”

Many studies report that people of faith generally have better self-esteem, exhibit more empathy and are less likely to abuse drugs. In instances where spiritual belief is liked to anxiety and depression, the key isn’t to secularize patients but rather to integrate faith and treatment.

“Psychology and spirituality influence one another,” said Dr. Lauren King of Southeast Psych. “That’s why I often talk about the interaction between the two with people in therapy.  A person’s spirituality can affect the way they relate to others, feel about themselves, and think about the world around them. Similarly, personality, life events, relationships, or emotions can affect spiritual beliefs.”

Those who find their religion to cause anxiety or depression shouldn’t necessarily abandon their beliefs; rather, they should learn how to use faith and religion as it was intended: to bring comfort.

“Psychological research is continuing to find how spirituality can positively affects an individual’s health,” said Southeast Psych’s Josh Jensen. “All individuals have a deep need to work through issues of purpose, good and evil, justice, forgiveness, death and living a full life, regardless of what set of beliefs they hold. For this reason, I have found it important to help many of my clients work through the integration of their spiritual beliefs with their everyday life.”

Does your spirituality benefit your mental health? Or do you feel your search to find meaning in life has led you down dark paths? Don’t let the floodwaters get too high. If you need help reconciling your beliefs with therapy, the mental health professionals at Southeast Psych are here for you.

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