General News Therapies — 28 August 2012

Despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the world’s major religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person’s faith, according to University of Missouri researchers.

The MU researchers believe that health care  providers could take advantage of this correlation between health –  particularly mental health – and spirituality by tailoring treatments  and rehabilitation programs to accommodate an individual’s spiritual  inclinations.

“In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that  spirituality functions as a personality trait,” said Dan Cohen,  assistant teaching professor of religious studies at MU and one of the  co-authors of the study. “With increased spirituality people reduce  their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and  connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was  that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived  degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the  relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health.”

The MU study used the results of three surveys to determine if  correlations existed among participants’ self-reported mental and  physical health, personality factors, and spirituality in Buddhists,  Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Across all five faiths, a  greater degree of spirituality was related to better mental health,  specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion.  Forgiveness was the only spiritual trait predictive of mental health  after personality variables were considered.

“Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering  from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord  injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly  to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and  spiritual interventions,” said Cohen. “Spiritual beliefs may be a coping  device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.”

Cohen believes spirituality may help people’s mental health by  reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of belonging  to a larger whole. Many different faith traditions encourage  spirituality though they use different names for the process. A  Christian monk wouldn’t say he had attained Nirvana, nor would a  Buddhist monk say he had communed with Jesus Christ, but they may well  be referring to similar phenomena.

“Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimize the  negative side of a patient’s spirituality, which may manifest itself in  the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse.” As the authors note,  spiritual interventions such as religious-based counseling, meditation,  and forgiveness protocols may enhance spiritually-based beliefs,  practices, and coping strategies in positive ways.

The benefits of a more spiritual personality may go beyond an  individual’s mental health. Cohen believes that the selflessness that  comes with spirituality enhances characteristics that are important for  fostering a global society based on the virtues of peace and  cooperation.

As first appeared on, 20 August 2012


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