Discussion Questions for Spirituality and Mental Health
- It has been observed that many of the founders of religious faiths went through experiences that would today be considered as psychotic. What questions does this observation bring to you?
- Since the inception of psychiatry in the early 1900s, its relationship to religion has been seen quite differently by different parties. Sigmund Freud viewed religion as an illusion and God as a longing for a “father figure.” On the other hand, Carl G. Jung said, “Among all my patients over the age of 35,… every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.” How do you feel about Freud’s and Jung’s views of the relationship between psychology and mental health?
- There have been different views of the way that religion and mental health relate to one another. Reasons given by those making the argument that religion is generally beneficial to mental health are that religion:
- reduces existential anxiety by offering a structure in a chaotic world
- offers a sense of hope, meaning, and purpose, and thus emotional well-being
- provides reassuring fatalism enabling one to deal better with pain
- affords solutions to many kinds of emotional and situational conflicts
- offers afterlife beliefs, helping one to deal with one’s own mortality
- gives a sense of power through association with an omnipotent force
- establishes moral guidelines to serve self and others
- promotes social cohesion
- offers a social identity and a place to belong
- provides a foundation for cathartic collectively enacted ritual
Reasons given by those who feel that religion doesn’t help, and may harm mental health are that religion has the potential to:
- generate unhealthy levels of guilt
- promote self-denigration and low self-esteem by devaluing human nature
- establish a foundation for unhealthy repression of anger
- create anxiety and fear by beliefs in punishment in hell for ‘evil’ ways
- impede self-direction and a sense of internal control
- foster dependency and conformity with an over-reliance on external forces
- inhibit expression of sexual feelings
- encourage black and white views of the world: all are ‘saints’ or ‘sinners’
- instill ill-founded paranoia concerning evil forces threatening one’s integrity
- interfere with rational and critical thought
How does your religion/church stack up on the list of harmful and helpful aspects of religion?
- What do you think about “spiritual emergencies”?
- Dr. Gunnar Christiansen identifies the following steps (to be followed in order) in building a ministry that serves those with mental illness.
- Gain approval from the senior clergy person and lay leadership
- Establish a task force at your congregation
- Education. Learn how you can respond to the need effectively. Get your pastoral care team involved.
- Provide a support group for family members and a group for mental health clients.
- Provide the full range ministry to those who have a mental disorder as you do to others, including pastoral care
- Establish guidelines for appropriate behavior in church.
- Outreach to those with mental disorders in the community surrounding a congregation. Examples are providing low-cost housing and/or a drop-in center.
- Provide a model as an employer by offering jobs to those with mental disorders
- Advocacy on behalf of those with mental disorders to local, state and national government.
What could your church be doing to improve care for mentally ill people and their families?
- For local resources see: Resources Mentioned in the Show
These questions are to provide family and peer discussion and education. The information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychological condition. If you think someone is too fragile to be part of the discussion, please have them consult their mental health care provider for individual advice regarding the situation.