Monday, 09 March 2009 13:58

Excerpts from "Religion or belief: A practical guide for the NHS (January 2009)"

Excerpt 1:

Many religions recognise a power or powers that exist outside the laws of nature yet are in relationship with, and have an influence on, natural reality. This power or powers can be either good or bad. Such recognition of ‘the supernatural’ can have implications for religious attitudes towards scientific explanations of illness and medical therapies. For instance, it can lead to the view that scientific explanations of illness alone are insufficient.

Diseases are increasingly acknowledged to have a variety of causes (including psychosocial factors, for instance), yet some religious groups would say that supernatural forces can also have an influence on the body – they can make it ill but also well – which requires altogether different forms of therapy, such as prayer or the driving out of demons. For example, some evangelical Christian doctors argue, with reference to the New Testament’s account of demonic possession, that perhaps mental illnesses such as depression might be caused by demonic interference in people’s lives. A truly holistic view of the human condition, they argue, should involve spiritual as well as psychological, social and physical dimensions.

Excerpt 2:

Spiritual interpretations of mental disease can play a crucial part in therapeutic success. An awareness of ‘demonic’ and other religious interpretations or models of mental diseases, and the fact that there is often stigma attached to mental health conditions in some cultures, is very important. There is also a need to be aware of cultural differences in attitudes to therapy. For instance, the treatment of mental illness by counselling (i.e. ‘talking cures’), which is an essentially Western model, cannot be assumed to work equally well in other cultures.

A holistic approach to the patient, which takes account of their physical, cultural, social, mental and spiritual needs, would seem to have a particular significance within mental health services. Spirituality and an individual’s religion or beliefs are increasingly acknowledged as playing an important role in the overall healing process. Stressful life events can lead to mental illness, and it is during these events that religion or specific beliefs can play a large part in the way that an individual copes. Most religions have developed symbols and analogies as a way of interpreting and coping with life events, and these are seen as tools that might be integrated into the medical healing process.

For instance, the Royal College of Psychiatrists stated in its 2006 booklet Help is at hand – Spirituality and Mental Health: “Spirituality involves a dimension of human experiences that psychiatrists are increasingly interested in, because of its potential benefits to mental health… Evidence for the benefits for mental health of belonging to a faith community, holding religious or spiritual beliefs, and engaging in associated practices, is now substantial.”