About the discipline
Psychiatry, psychology and religion all draw on long-held traditions of human thought and practice. Scientists, philosophers and theologians have sought for centuries to understand the ways in which humans attempt to comprehend and interact with their world and to give meaning to their lives.
Mental health and religion: Before psychology rose as a field of study, religious inquiry into thought and behavior tended to center on action and nature. Beliefs centered on people’s choice to be good or evil, that the Devil guided them toward bad behavior, or that God made them a particular way. Some felt, based on religious beliefs, that those who now might be diagnosed as mentally ill acted out because of demonic possession.
In the beginning of psychiatry, practitioners often dismissed the relation of religion. Sigmund Freud believed that faith itself is an irrational and illusory act, and that its practice becomes a compulsion neurosis. Still, he and others, such as William James, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm, were interested in the psychology of religion, the psychological study of religious experiences, beliefs and activities.
Research has shown that those who practice faith tend to report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t. This offers a large frontier for researchers to examine why and how this impacts people’s lives. With the established link between physical health and psychological well-being, the role religion plays in the latter might help demonstrate how religion can affect peoples’ physical health in positive ways. Researchers might also be able to discover the origins of religious delusions in patients with psychotic or manic episodes, whether this is linked to religious experience and how it has impacted religious narratives and beliefs.
Some research indicates that people experience faith in different ways, with different levels of religious fervor and patterns of religious practice, possibly with a biological basis. Understanding better what attracts certain people to religion, and what attracts them to certain types of religious experience, can be helpful in understanding the human mind.
Current research: Scientists have studied the brains of nuns, monks and others and noted that their brains are active in certain areas during intense religious experiences. Other studies have noted activity in particular brain areas while subjects are engaged in the spiritual practice of speaking in tongues. Though some religious scholars argue that such experiments merely record emotions and don’t fully understand religious experience, researchers say they could raise profound questions about the nature of God and the human soul.
Geneticist Dean H. Hamer claims in his book, “The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes” (2004) that he identified a set of genes that indicate higher “self-transcendence” ratings in people who have them, prompting him to argue that there is a biological basis – and genetic predisposition – for spiritual experience.
Biologist Richard Dawkins argues in his “The Selfish Gene” (30th-anniversary edition, 2006), that altruistic behaviors by humans (often tied in society to religious association and sense of community) are more related to genes that seek to help related organisms reproduce to replicate copies of themselves than true altruism. This theory goes on to surmise that genetically speaking, people develop community not out of a sense of connection with others or a supreme being, but to survive and pass on their genes.
The Center’s work: MU’s Center on Religion & the Professions is conducting cutting-edge work in the area of spirituality, mental health and neuropsychology. Dr. Brick Johnstone, chair of the MU Department of Health Psychology, leads a diverse team of professionals and faculty with expertise in religious studies, cultural anthropology, social work, medical sociology, neuropsychology, health psychology, rehabilitation medicine and oncology. The pilot project investigates relationships among spirituality, religion, mental health and physical health in individuals with various medical conditions, chronic illnesses and disabilities.
The Center is also studying relationships among spirituality/religion and mental health outcomes among all populations and spirituality/religion differences between cognitively impaired and cognitively intact individuals, as well as the neuropsychology of spiritual experience. Other Center studies look at the efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction on persons with chronic disabilities; transcendence and right hemisphere functioning; and spirituality as a personality construct. The Center is applying for grants to study the relationship between neuroscience and religion and to fund additional projects on the neuropsychology of spiritual experience.
Religion and recovery: For a long time, the role of religious leader and counselor was the same. People took for granted that they would seek support or advice of a clergy person, as well as spiritual leadership. Taken to a higher degree, in the Old Testament prophecy, the messiah (understood as Jesus Christ to Christians) is described in Isaiah 9:6 as “Wonderful Counselor” (man of insight and wisdom). The advent of psychological science gave people the opportunity to seek counsel from a non-religious perspective, which continues to be controversial among some religious groups.
Today we see a blend of the traditions in church-based counseling services as part of regular ministry offerings. Some counselors work out of religious institutions or receive referrals from them. Not all counselors are licensed by state boards; instead religious organizations and denominations have the power to grant counseling certification for church counseling settings. This raises issues of training and quality of care for some, but it also offers the researcher a chance to examine how the counseling is done differently in these settings.
Counselors of faith working within religious or secular settings may face the professional challenge of when it is appropriate to insert personal faith into the counseling setting, such as quoting a biblical passage, praying with a patient, prescribing prayer or urging a patient to seek salvation as a therapeutic technique. Practitioners can be aware of the diversity of religious belief and perspective in those who come for psychiatric care and discern whether a religious approach is appropriate. Patients also have the opportunity to seek counseling in a religious or non-religious setting, based on their preference.
Some practitioners may explain the value of psychological science to patients accustomed to tackling psychological issues from a purely spiritual perspective. Some argue for the appropriateness of combining psychological and spiritual elements in recovery. Religion has played a large role in the addiction and recovery movement, from the “higher power” referred to in the popular 12 Steps programs, to religiously based recovery programs such as Celebrate Recovery and Reformers Unanimous, which are specifically Christian-based. The Unity School of Christianity, a New Thought church, incorporates some aspects of psychology in its emphasis on positive thinking.
Issues today: Researchers can examine how types of people experience different levels of religious fervor and patterns of religious practice in order to help understand what attracts certain people to religion, and what attracts them to certain types of religious experience. Researchers and others could pursue whether research into spiritual experience destroys the notion of the soul, or whether there is one core religious experience or many ways of being religious.
Studies could examine where biology and psychology begin and end, and how each impacts or is impacted by religious experience. What are the key areas of disagreement between scientists and theologians? Can a biological basis for the experience of God be equated with God? What theological questions need to be addressed in this area? What impact does practicing religion, or how it is practiced, have on mental health? Research is being done that attempts to combine the two disciplines, in publications such as the Journal of Theology and Psychology, and through inter-disciplinary work done by the Center.
- “Age and Gender Differences in Adaptation and Subjective Well-Being of Older Adults Residing in Monastic Religious Communities” by Alex Bishop. Pastoral Psychology. Vol. 55, No. 2 (2006): 131-43.
- “A narrative review: arguments for a collaborative approach in mental health between traditional healers and clinicians regarding spiritual beliefs” by Cara A. Pouchly. Mental Health, Religion & Culture. (2011).
- “Battered Black Women’s Use of Religious Services and Spirituality for Assistance in Leaving Abusive Relationships” Hillary Potter. Violence Against Women. Vol. 13, No. 3 (2007): 262-84.
- “Cultural Issues in Emergency Psychiatry: Focus on Muslim Patients” by Jagoda Pasic, Brian Poeschla, Lorin Boynton, and Shamim Nejad. Primary Psychiatry. Vol. 17, No. 7 (2010): 37-43.
- “Effect of Religion on Suicide Attempts in Outpatients with Schizophrenia or Schizo-Affective Disorders Compared with Inpatients with Non-Psychotic Disorders” by Philippe Huguelet, et. al. European Psychiatry. Vol. 22, No. 3 (2007): 188-94.
- “Ethnic density and risk of mental ill health – The case of religious sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A population data linkage study” by Tania Bosqui et al. Health and Place. 47 (2017): 29-35.
- “How Religiosity Helps Couples Prevent, Resolve, and Overcome Marital Conflict” by Nathanial M. Lambert. Family Relations. Vol. 55, No. 4 (2006): 439-49.
- “Is it God or Just the Data that Moves in Mysterious Ways? How Well-Being Research may be Mistaking Faith for Virtue” by James Benjamin Schuurmans-Stekhoven. Social Indicators Research. Vol. 100, No. 2 (2011): 313.
- “Long-term psychological outcomes in older adults after disaster: relationships to religiosity and social support” by Katie E. Cherry et al. Aging & Mental Health. 19 no. 5 (2015): 430-443.
- “Original article: Longitudinal study of religiosity and mental health of adolescents with psychiatric problems. The TRAILS study” by W. van der Jagt-Jelsma, M. de Vries-Schot, P. Scheepers, P.A.M. van Deurzen, H. Klip and J.K. Buitelaar. European Psychiatry. 45 (2017): 65-71.
- “Parent Spirituality, Grief, and Mental Health at 1 and 3 Months After Their Infant’s/Child’s Death in an Intensive Care Unit” by Dawn M. Hawthorne, Joann M. Youngblut and Dorothy Brooten. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 31 no. 1 (2016): 73-80.
- “Religion and Spirituality in Psychiatric Care: Looking Back, Looking Ahead” by James K. Boehnlein, Transcultural Psychiatry. Vol. 43, No. 4 (2006):634-51.
- “Religion involvement and quality of life in caregivers of patients with schizophrenia in Latin-America” by Alejandra Caqueo-Urízar. Psychiatry Research. 246 (2016): 769-775.
- “Religiosity, authoritarianism, and attitudes toward psychotherapy in later life” by Joseph C. McGowan and Elizabeth Midlarsky. Aging & Mental Health. 16 no. 5 (2012): 659-665.
- “Religious coping across a spectrum of religious involvement among Jews” by David H. Rosmarin et al. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. 9 no. 1 (2017): S96-S104.
- “Religiousness, Antisocial Behavior, and Altruism: Genetic and Environmental Mediation” by Laura B. Koenig, et. al. Journal of Personality. Vol. 75, No. 2 (2007): 265-90.
- “Religiousness and mental health: Systematic review study” by Naziha S. AbdAleati, Norzarina Mohd Zaharim and Yasmin Othman Mydin. Journal of Religion and Health. 55 no. 6 (2016): 1929-1937.
- “Religious support mediates the racial microaggressions–mental health relation among Christian ethnic minority students” by Paul Youngbin Kim. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. 9 no. 2 (2017): 148-157.
- “Research paper: Religion, spirituality, and mental health of U.S. military veterans: Results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study” by Vanshdeep Sharma et al. Journal of Affective Disorders. 217 (2017): 197-204.
- “Socio-demographic and Psychological Correlates of Posttraumatic Growth among Korean Americans with a History of Traumatic Life Experiences” by Gyeong-Suk Jeon, So-Young Park and Kunsook Bernstein. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. 31 no. 3 (2017): 256-262.
- “Studying the Relationship between Mental Health, Spirituality and Religion in Female Students of Tehran Azad University: South Branch” by Amineh Ahmadi and Nayereh Shahmohammadi. Social and Behavioral Sciences. 205 (2015): 236-241.
- “The distinct roles of spirituality and religiosity in physical and mental health after collective trauma: a national longitudinal study of responses to the 9/11 attacks” by Daniel N. McIntosh, Michael J. Poulin, Roxane Cohen Silver and E. Alison Holman. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 34 no. 6 (2011): 497-507.
- “The effects of parental marital discord and divorce on the religious and spiritual lives of young adults” by Christopher G. Ellison, Anthony B. Walker, Norval D. Glenn, and Elizabeth Marquardt. Social Science Research. (2010).
- “The Ethics of Prayer in Counseling” by Chet Weld and Karen Eriksen, Counseling and Values. Vol. 51, No. 2 (2007): 125-38.
- “The Folk Psychology of Souls” by Jesse M. Bering. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Vol. 29, No. 5 (2006): 453-62.
- “The influence of spirituality and religiousness on suicide risk and mental health of patients undergoing hemodialysis” by Ana Catarina Tavares Loureiro, Maria Carlota de Rezende Coelho, Felipe Bigesca Coutinho, Luiz Henrique Borges and Giancarlo Lucchetti. Comprehensive Psychiatry. 80 (2018): 39-45.
- Mind, Brain and the Elusive Soul. Mark Graves. Ashgate, 2008.
- Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion: Illusions, Delusions, and Realities about Human Nature (Templeton Science and Religion Series). Malcolm Jeeves, Warren S. Brown. Templeton Press, 2009.
- Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality. Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. Guilford Press, 2005.
- The Psychology of Religion. Bernard Spilka, Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Bruce Hunsberger and Richard Gorsuch. Guilford Press, 2003.
- Psychology and Religion: An Introduction. Michael Argyle. Routledge, 2000.
- Religion and Psychology. Diane Elizabeth Jonte-Pace and William Barclay Parsons. Routledge, 2001.
- Handbook of Religion and Mental Health. Harold Koenig (ed.). Academic Press, 1998.
- Spirituality and Mental Health Care: Rediscovering a “Forgotten” Dimension. John Swinton. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2001.
- Spirituality And Mental Health: Clinical Applications. Gary W Hartz and Harold G Koenig. Routledge, 2005.
- Psychology and Religion. Carl Gustav Jung. Yale University Press, 1960.
- The Psychologies in Religion: Working with the Religious Client. E. Thomas Dowd and Stevan Nielson (eds.). Springer Publishing Company, 2006.
- Towards Cultural Psychology of Religion: Principles, Approaches, Applications. Jacob A. Belzen. Springer, 2010.
- Saints and Madmen: Psychiatry Opens Its Doors to Religion. Russell Shorto. Henry Holt and Co., 1999.
- Psychiatry and Religion: Context, Consensus and Controversies. Dinesh K.L Bhugra (ed.) Routledge, 1996.
- Psychiatry and religion: the convergence of mind and spirit. James K. Boehnlein (ed.). American Psychiatric Pub, 2000.
- Handbook of spirituality and worldview in clinical practice. Allan M. Josephson and John R. Peteet (eds.). American Psychiatric Pub, 2004.
- Lawsuit filed against Eastern Michigan University for dismissing a school counseling student for refusing to affirm homosexual relationships due to religious beliefs: Dismissal letter(.pdf) | Transcript of hearing(.pdf)
- “Culturally competent counseling for religious and spiritual African American adolescents” by Cheryl Moore-Thomas and Norma L. Day-Vines. Professional School Counseling. February 2008.
- “Exploring the role of religion and spirituality in the development of purpose: case studies of purposeful youth” by Kirsi Tirri and Brandy Quinn. British Journal of Religious Education. Vol. 32, No. 3 (2010): 201-14.
Codes of ethics
- American Psychological Association – Ethics
- APA– Ethical Principles of Psychologists
- American Psychiatric Association of the AMA – Code of Medical Ethics
- American Counseling Association – Code of Ethics
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – Code of Ethics
- American Association of Pastoral Counselors – Code of Ethics
- National Board of Certified Counselors – Codes of Ethics (.pdf)
- International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
- Journal of Psychology & Christianity
- Journal of Religion & Abuse
- Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
- Journal of Spirituality & Paranormal Studies
- Mental Health, Religion & Culture
- Journal of Religion & Health
- Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
- Psychology of Religion pages
- Virtual Religion Index – Psychology of Religion
- Psychology and Religion (David Myers site)
- National Community Anti-Drug Coalition Institute Cultural Competence Resources
- Practical Bearings (bibliographies and reviews of books, articles and other publications on theory and practice of pastoral care)
- Psychiatry and Religion: Must they conflict?
- Rivals: Religion And Psychiatry – Study Reflects Tension That Influences Care For Mental Health
Professional associations and faith groups
- American Association of Christian Counselors
- American Scientific Affiliation: A Fellowship of Christians in Science
- Association of Professional Chaplains
- Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists
- Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation
- Christian Association for Psychological Studies
- Christian Community Health Fellowship
- Christians in Caring Professions
- International Association of Christian Chaplains
- International Association of Muslim Psychologists
- National Association of Catholic Chaplains
- National Association of Jewish Chaplains
- Society for the Study of Psychology and Wesleyan Theology
- Abu-Raiya, Hisham and Kenneth I. Pargament. “Empirically based psychology of Islam: summary and critique of the literature.” Mental Health, Religion & Culture. Vol. 14, No. 2 (2011): 93-115.
- Coyle, Adrian. “Counseling Psychology Contributions to Religion and Spirituality.”Therapy and Beyond: Counseling Psychology Contributions to Therapeutic and Social Issues. Martin Milton (ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK, 2010.
- Lovejoy, Merilee Brooke. “Examining the influence of prayer counseling on client levels of depression, anxiety, spiritual well-being, and surrender to God.” Dissertation, Seattle Pacific University. 2010.
- Schwartz, Gary E. “William James and the Search for Scientific Evidence of Life After Death.” Journal of Consciousness Studies. Vol. 17, No. 11-12 (2010): 121-52.
- Richards, Graham. “Psychology and Non-Christian Religions.” Psychology, Religion, and the Nature of the Soul. Vol. 0 (2011): 117-21.
- Stansbury, Kim L.; Blake Beecher and Mary Ann Clute. “African American Clergy’s Perceptions of Mental Health and Pastoral Care to Elder Congregants.” Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought. Vol. 30, No. 1 (2011): 34-47.
- Cognitive Psychology of Religion(.pdf). Dr. Jason Slone, University of Findlay
- Psychology of Religion. Dr. Adam Cohen, Dickinson College
- Psychology of Religion. Israela Silberman, Columbia University
- Psychology of Religion. Raymond F. Paloutzian, Westmont College
- Psychology of Religion(.pdf). Dr. Nathaniel Wade, Iowa State University
- Psychology of Religion(.doc). Dr. David Rosen, Texas A&M University.