Spirituality and/or religion are often integral to helping fix some of the emotional problems that send average Americans running into the offices of mental health specialists. For example,when a patient is depressed, they will often ask what the point is in continuing their lives. Sometimes the answer can be obtained by having the psychiatrist integrate the patient’s spiritual or religious beliefs with traditional psychiatric treatment to find out what gives their lives meaning.
The need to integrate a person’s spiritual or religious beliefs into their treatment is embodied by Victoria Maxwell. In 1992, Victoria had a psychotic event where she ran around shouting “I am one with God”. That episode began a series of treatments which didn’t really address the root of the problem:
“The one element, which could have helped me accept treatment more readily, was overlooked. My spiritual beliefs were not only ignored, but more accurately actively avoided. Care providers were reluctant to discuss spiritual topics for fear of destabilizing my mood… But this was a most heartfelt dilemma and conflict I needed to reconcile in order to start the healing process… Because facets of my psychoses felt life changing, I was at odds with the medical profession. How could I label something of such significance as only pathological? I sat on the edge of my hospital bed, despondent and unclear as to how to reconcile accepting that I had a mental illness without abandoning my spiritual insights by calling them delusional.”
Victoria would be glad to know that if she had faced the same problems today, things might have turned out a bit differently. On Friday, May 20, 2011, one hundred experts in the field of psychiatry came together to discuss this very subject. The conference was held in Vermont and was titled “Spirituality in Clinical Practice: Exploring Advantages and Pitfalls in Addressing Client Spirituality.”
At the conference, psychiatrists stated that now that they’ve actively decided to integrate a patient’s spiritual beliefs with treatment, they face two distinct challenges: 1) not letting their own beliefs interfere with the patient’s needs and 2) patients feel guilt or mistrust of psychiatry because they are not giving God a chance to heal their suffering. In the past, psychiatrists have solved issue # 1 by tactfully and respectfully refraining from discussing their own beliefs. However, this has started to change as some psychiatrists start working with local pastors and other local religious leaders to find a way to help their patients. Regarding issue # 2, one man’s answer was: “I’m going to sound simplistic, but the key question (for the patient) is do you know all the ways God heals? And perhaps a follow-up. Aren’t you limiting the ways God can carry out healing (by) creating a distinction that what we’re trying to do in psychotherapy is unfaithful or ungodly.”
Finding the right kind of help is of utmost importance for a rapid healing and recovery process. Therefore, if you or someone you know is in need of psychiatric treatment, don’t be afraid to ask your practitioner if they are willing to incorporate your spiritual or religious beliefs into the treatment. The worst thing that could happen is that they refer you to another psychiatrist. And that wouldn’t be so bad would it?
To read the Bennington Banner article go here.
To read Victoria Maxwell’s story go here.
Photo courtesy of nondani.