Religion and Spirituality: Mental Health Tools or Not for You?

Shmuel Fischler, LCSW-C · September 12, 2018

More Americans are identifying as spiritual and not religious, but there are still many people who avoid both terms altogether. There is a big intersection between psychology and faith of any sort, and there are numerous mental health benefits of engaging in spiritual and religious practices. Do you swipe right or left when it comes to religion?

The Benefits of Religion and Spirituality

One comprehensive study of adults was designed to investigate the effects of spiritual and religious beliefs on overall health. The top positive characteristics of spiritual people show how belief in something positive can influence actions. The most common characteristics include:

  • Gratitude: Prayer is one type of expressing gratitude, so it isn’t too surprising that religious people are more likely to be gracious. The emphasis on giving back and volunteering in religion also leads to positive expressions of happiness.
  • Compassion: Being compassionate is directly aligned with those who see themselves as spiritual or religious. Compassion doesn’t just benefit the people who are receiving the compassion, but also the people who are giving it.
  • Resilience: The ability to bounce back from life’s twists and turns is essential, and many people who are spiritual have a higher-than-average level of resilience.
  • Self-Actualization: According to the survey, spiritual adults are more likely to value personal development and growth in all sectors of life. Since many religions place a focus on becoming a better person, carefully considering internal values and building positive relationships with others, it isn’t surprising that spiritual people are more likely to set and complete goals.

Potential Drawbacks

Just like any practice or belief, there are circumstances where religion and spiritual beliefs can actually interfere with mental health treatment. Some adults struggle with feelings of guilt and condemnation as a result of strict religious beliefs and interpretations of religious texts. In some individuals, religion can also increase anxiety levels. Other patients prefer to rely solely on religion to treat serious psychiatric issues, which can have its own risks. A trusted therapist can help you to evaluate whether or not religion is a positive or negative presence in your life.

Incorporating Spiritual Elements for Better Mental Health

The benefits above make it clear that, even if you aren’t interested in dressing up for church and spending time in a pew, there are plenty of positive things the average person can learn from spirituality. Mindful self-compassion, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and other evidence-based approaches can all give you the benefits of spiritual practice without feeling like you need to identify as spiritual. Even writing down three things you are grateful for daily can help to improve your attitude and better prepare you for the bumpy parts of life.

Spiritual or Not Religious? We Help Everyone 

If you need help, you aren’t alone.  Reach out to CBT Baltimore at 443-470-9815. We would love to speak with you.