Faith and Healing Paper
Azusa Pacific University
Part One: Research Review
Despite the progression of modern medicine over time, there are countless religious and spiritual groups who still believe in the power of faith healing for individuals with mental health disorders. Religious and spiritual beliefs typically emphasize the depth of meaning and purpose in life, and the belief in a higher, unseen power (Behere et al., 2013). They can make a significant contribution in directing the course of an individuals life. This raises the question of whether religiosity and spirituality make a positive impact on the lives of individuals with mental health disorders.
Research has been conducted to explore the physical and psychological benefits that are beneficial for mental health overall. The research data has shown that physical health can be benefited in many ways. Because many religious groups and spiritual practices prohibit certain behaviors that negatively impact health, this can help encourage a healthier lifestyle by treating the body as a sacred temple and therefore contributing to a higher likelihood of disease prevention (Behere et al., 2013). Religiousness has been linked to decreased smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as positively affecting heart disease and blood pressure (Behere et al., 2013). Research findings have shown that religious affiliation, especially active participation, lowers the rate of alcohol consumption while increasing suicide prevention and drug abstinence (Behere et al., 2013).
Research regarding the psychological impact of religion has had varied results. For many people, religious and spiritual beliefs can generate peace, self-confidence, self-purpose, and positive self-image (Behere et al., 2013). This is because these beliefs may produce positive emotions and further provide preventive or therapeutic benefit (Levin, 2009). These beliefs can maintain stable mental health and prevent mental illness by helping individuals cope with feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, inferiority, despondency and isolation (Behere et al., 2013). A persons purpose in life can be motivated by the desire for personal growth. Spiritual and religious beliefs create positive expectations that prevent or alleviate psychological distress (Levin, 2009). In addition, the inclusion in a faith group provides social support and a sense of belonging, which in turn promotes psychosocial wellbeing.
The way an individual processes stress and challenges in life can be influenced by their belief system. From a social learning perspective, the locus of control examines why people cope differently even when facing the same difficulties (Behere et al., 2013). An internal locus of control is associated with greater wellbeing, whereas an external locus of control can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Religious and spiritual beliefs can favor an internal locus of control with a positive impact on mental health (Behere et al., 2013). Positive religious coping has been associated with good health outcomes. The individual may perceive their illness as a lesson instead of a punishment (Behere et al., 2013). They recognize the importance of doing what they know is in their power and leaving the rest to God. People of faith may have higher levels of hope as a coping resource. Research findings suggest that hopefulness and optimistic thinking is linked with better medication compliance, lower rates of affective disorders, and a more successful response to psychotherapy (Levin, 2009).
Faith healing is practiced as an alternative medicine practice in almost all parts of the world (Kar, 2008). Non-medical approaches for mental illness are more commonly seen in developing countries compared to Western countries (Kar, 2008). In India, belief is a powerful mechanism that has a significant influence on the India healthcare system. More specifically, blind beliefs about the origin of mental illness are especially prevalent in rural and tribal areas of India (Subudhi et al., 2017). More than two-thirds of people with mental illness and their family members believe that mental illness is caused by supernatural forces (Subudhi et al., 2017).. Their perception of mental health disorders is centered around ideas of spirit possession, witchcraft, breaking of religious taboos, divine retribution, and capture of the soul by spirit (Subudhi et al., 2017). Because of their beliefs, individuals with mental illness seek consultations with traditional healers before they resort to modern psychiatric treatment.
In the religious and folk sectors of faith healing, they believe that the causation of mental illness is due to a breach of taboo by the individual or his/her ancestor in their present life or previous incarnation (Subudhi et al., 2017). The healing process consists of performing religious prayers and ritual activities, such as fasting or eating raw fruits, to help reduce the effect of the mental illness (Subudhi et al., 2017). The healers offer prayers as a widely used management of mental illness. It is the first choice in this community, because the majority believe prayer is the only way to cure mental illness. Folk healers will examine the individuals body and then use various healing techniques such as chanting spells, poking with pins, beating and flogging, tying in ropes and chains, scalding, and providing herbal medicines (Subudhi et al., 2017). The reliance on healers in treating mental illness may be attributed to an absence of modern mental health professionals and lack of awareness regarding the availability of medical care and mental health treatment. Consequently, the dependence on faith healing practices in India leads to a failure in early detection and treatment of mental health disorders (Subudhi et al., 2017).
There are many concerning factors regarding the impact of faith healing approaches in India. For one, many of the religious and folk treatment interventions are physically traumatizing for the victims (Kar, 2008). Secondly, the beliefs in this culture create more negative perceptions and stigma surrounding mental illness. Research studies have shown that people in India were more likely to express negative views about mental illness. They receive more support and understanding when the mental illness is thought to be caused by supernatural forces. Because of this, individuals with mental illness may be reluctant to seek professional help in the first place (Kar, 2008). According to Kar (2008), a considerable portion of the patients and families felt that the faith healing was supportive, reassuring, and more acceptable in the community; however, it is uncertain whether the faith healing has made any contribution in curing them of their mental health issues.
In contrast, Buddhism offers an entirely different approach to mental health disorders. According to Wallace and Shapiro (2006), the Buddhist faith focuses on identifying the inner causes of human suffering, the possibility of freedom from suffering, and the means to realize such freedom. It explores the nature and causes of mental imbalances and offers techniques for achieving mental wellbeing and reducing suffering. The goal of Buddhist practice is the realization that personal wellbeing is not achieved by the presence of pleasurable external or internal stimuli (Wallace and Shapiro, 2006),. Followers of Buddhism believe that valuing objective things and events as sources of happiness leads to a wide range of psychological problems; because everything in life is fluctuating and impermanent, a persons happiness fades when they no longer have those sources of stimuli to provide pleasure (Wallace and Shapiro, 2006). One of the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism is that human suffering is due to imbalances of the mind; for example, anxiety and depression are considered to be symptoms of an unbalanced mind (Wallace and Shapiro, 2006).
Buddhism counseling aims to train the human mind to attain a state of equanimity, joy, and liberation (Lee et al., 2017). The counseling process may include meditation, Buddhist teachings, references to Buddhist scriptures and Dharma teachings in order to to conceptualize suffering, empower and provide comfort for people with mental health disorders (Lee et al., 2017). Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy are used for treating mental health disorders. They touch on aspects of Buddhism beliefs by incorporating mindfulness interventions as an important component of treatment (Lee et al., 2017) It is believed that Buddhist interventions can be effective in alleviating symptoms of many mental health disorders by cultivating awareness of ones thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to promote emotional self-regulation (Lee et al., 2017).
Part Two: Reflection
Regarding the research presented in Part One, I believe that prayer and positive thinking can made a positive impact, in the sense that it makes a person feel better and provides comfort and peace in challenging situations. However, I do not believe that prayer makes any direct impact on the persons overall outcome. For example, an alcoholic is not going to have fewer urges to drink simply because they pray for it. In order to reap the benefits of abstinence, the person must make a conscious choice themselves not to drink. Just because a person prays or has faith, it does not mean that they will be healed regardless of whether they have cancer, paraplegia, or the flu.
In my opinion, the effects of prayer are a placebo effect. People pray, and good things might happen. People pray, and bad things still happen. But for people who depend solely on prayer, I believe it becomes a crutch. Instead of using practical and concrete means of support, some people put all their hope that their prayers will manifest into a miracle, and that may or may not happen. When it doesnt, this line of thinking only leads to disappointment in the end. I think that this mentality leads to guilt because people, especially young children, may believe that they are responsible for their illness. This is why I believe that religious and spiritual beliefs are a double-edged sword.
I do believe that there is a higher power out there, but I do not label it as God. I consider myself a spiritual person, and many of my beliefs are similar to those of Buddhism. I believe that each of us has a predetermined fate. We are here on Earth to grow and evolve through challenges in life that are unique for each of us. In my opinion, the only way to truly overcome struggles is through empowerment and finding your inner strength. At the end of the day, the most important relationship is with yourself. Nothing in the world is stronger and more influential than personal resiliency and determination. For 17 years I have struggled with Trichotillomania, which is a mental disorder that causes me to have urges to pull out my hair. Because research is basically non-existent and the medical community does not yet know the cause of Trichotillomania, my treatment options are very limited. This disorder has caused me a lot of suffering in my life, but I have been able to find strength through connecting with others in my community and empowerment by sharing my story with others. A Teddy Roosevelt quote I live by is do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Over the years, my perspective has evolved and I no longer see myself as a victim. I refuse to let this disorder have any control over my life and what I want to do. I am not defined as a person by the stuff growing out of my head! All in all, I believe that every person has the ability to change their circumstances in life in some way. Hope is not wishful thinking, it is a personal choice.
Because of my personal beliefs, I think the best way I can support children is by helping them to feel empowered and connected with others. I feel that this will have the longest impact by helping them to feel inner peace and able to face their medical challenges with confidence. One way to do this is through interventions that promote personal empowerment. Self-acceptance activities with children allow them to work through their feelings and build self-esteem, while also accepting the limitations in their circumstances. By coming to terms with their diagnosis, the childs mental health will be improved overall. Self-esteem activities could include interventions such as making a collage highlighting the childs strengths or writing down positive affirmations in a journal. Another way I would want to help empower children is to brainstorm the things that they do have control over in their life. This helps the child to recognize that they are not powerless in their situation. Children could also benefit from learning mindfulness exercises and breathing techniques. These techniques help the child to redirect negative thoughts, as well as release tension, anxiety, and fears.
Another way to provide support is to provide opportunities for socialization. I think everyone feels more positively about their situation when they dont feel alone. Socialization is incredibly powerful for helping people to feel connected and part of a community with other people who understand their situation. Support groups are a powerful resource for anyone who is seeking emotional support in coping with a mental health disorder. Children can also benefit from socialization that is non-structured in nature, such as playing board games or having a movie night with peers. I believe laughter and lightheartedness can be just as therapeutic by boosting mood. I hope to make a positive impact on the lives of children and families by showing compassion and kindness, and using playfulness and humor as my tools to help them heal.
For someone who believes in faith healing, they may be able to connect with children and families on a more intimate level if they share similar beliefs. First, the child life specialist will be more knowledgeable about what faith-based needs to advocate for. For example, the child life specialist will be able to pray with the family and connect them with pastoral services to provide emotional and spiritual support. The family may feel comfort through reassurance that God has a plan for their child, and that their prayers will be answered if they keep trust in their faith. The child life specialist may be able to better help the child and the family cope with their grief by helping them understand from a faith-based perspective why their child was chosen to have this diagnosis. By sharing the same language with the family, the child life specialist can also build rapport more easily with them and tailor interventions in a way that they relate to.
As a future child life specialist, I know it is inevitable that I will work with people with different spiritual beliefs than my own. It will be my challenge to respect and accept that some of my co-workers will be more effective in their work with certain patients and families, and its not a bad thing or a reflection of me personally. Their approach will be able to reach families in a way that I cant because I dont hold their same beliefs. I will respect that they will be able to have a special therapeutic relationship. Regardless of whether it is me or this child life specialist who works with this patient and their family, our ultimate goal as child life specialists will still be met of providing emotional support.
Behere, P., Das, A., Yadav, R., & Behere, A. (2013). Religion and mental health. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(6), 187.
Kar, N. (2008). Resort to faith-healing practices in the pathway to care for mental illness: a study on psychiatric inpatients in Orissa. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 11(7), 720740.
Lee, K. C., Oh, A., Zhao, Q., Wu, F., Chen, S., Diaz, T., & Ong, C. K. (2017). Buddhist counseling: Implications for mental health professionals.. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 4(2), 113128.
Levin, J. (2009). How Faith Heals: A Theoretical Model. EXPLORE, 5(2), 7796.
Subudhi, C., Biswal, R., & Acharya, S. (2017). Healers and healing practices of mental illness in India: The role of proposed eclectic healing model. Journal of Health Research and Reviews, 4(3), 89.
Wallace, B. A., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). Mental balance and well-being: Building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology.. American Psychologist, 61(7), 690701.