Spirituality and Mental Health, Part II of IV: Spiritually Integrative Neurology

Psychiatry_Psychology2.jpgIn this article, we’ll look at some active ingredients of spirituality that are supported by research. Since they turned out to be God-optional, I’ll call this SIN (spiritually integrative neurology).

Active vs. Passive: Locus of Control in Spirituality

To understand spirituality and health, we must recognize the difference between active and passive spiritual attitudes. Locus of control has been known to be an important factor in health for a long time.

In one study, passive spiritual attitudes were associated with less knowledge about mammography, breast cancer, and breast cancer treatment, and less use of mammography. (Holt, C. L., Clark, E. M., Klem, P. R., 2007) Ösel Tendzin, who took over leadership of the Buddhist Naropa Institute for Chögyam Trungpa, and who was HIV positive, felt that his advanced spirituality would take care of any risk of viral transmission, so he had unprotected sex and become an AIDS vector in the community. Trungpa could have had him defrocked, but Trungpa died ot alcoholism before Tendzin died of AIDS.

Perhaps The Secret movie is a surrogate locus of control. It boosts your mood as long as you are selective in what you observe, but can promote passivity with recommendations such as those against anti-war activism. (If you protest war, you’ll cause war, because you’re putting psychic energy into war, according to this popular movie.)

Cancer research has shown that coming to a state of acceptance is better for reducing anxiety than is focusing on emotions. So perhaps awareness meditation and reprocessing-oriented therapies such as EMDR can get better results than Dr. Phil, preservation, and reality TV. Who’d a thunk? But coming to acceptance is not the same as being passive. One can be more assertive about health from a harmonious state of mind, and get the health benefits of lower stress at the same time. Such a deal! Sounds spiritual to me.

Abstract Spirituality: God-Optional Neurology

Spirituality as a sense of meaning and connection with higher values is about as far from religion as spirituality can get and still be thought of as spirituality. Buddhists who don’t conceive of a Western god are considered atheists by many monotheists, yet their meditation practices have been researched for connections with health and psychological well being.

In a study looking at depression in the elderly, it was found that education was an important domino to tip in fighting depression. The more highly educated people were more expressive. The more expressive were more likely to develop a sense of meaning. Those with a sense of meaning were more likely to foster a sense of gratitude. These, in turn, were less likely to be depressed. (Krause, N., 2007) We know that a poor education is as big a factor in heart disease as smoking and diet.

Women with premature ovarian failure were much more functional if they had a sense of spiritual meaning. As variables, a sense of meaning and of peace were important. Faith was not very important. (Ventura, J. L., et. al., 2007)

From this jumping off point, you can see that we can benefit from folding in the more abstract spiritual elements into medical and psychological research. In doing so, teasing out active ingredients and thinking outside of the boundaries of traditional religious thought are proving to be helpful.

I have seen this happen clinically as well, and in profound, sometimes rapid ways. In the next article in this series, I’ll write about how this is happening in psychotherapy through somatic and reprocessing approaches. I’ll also look at the question of the direction of causality. Could you say that we must improve health so people can feel more spiritual meaning, or that you can improve your sense of meaning to improve your health? Or would it be better to just go straight for the jugular by going out for coffee with friends (neurotransmitters and social support)?

Hey, suicide is lower among coffee drinkers. (Kawachi, I., Willett, W. C., Colditz, G. A., Stampfer, M. J., Speizer, F. E. 1996) Besides, epidemiological research tells us that, “coffee consumption may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease and liver disease (cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma).” (Higdon, J. V., Frei, B., 2006)


Curlin, F. A., Odell, S. V., Lawrence, R. E., Chin, M. H., Lantos, J.D., Meador, K. G., Koenig, H. G. (2007) The relationship between psychiatry and religion among U.S. physicians. Psychiatr Serv. Sep;58(9):1193-8.

Higdon, J. V., Frei, B. (2006) Coffee and health: a review of recent human research.
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Holt, C. L., Clark, E. M., Klem, P. R. (2007) Expansion and validation of the spiritual health locus of control scale: factorial analysis and predictive validity. J Health Psychol. Jul;12(4):597-612.

Kawachi, I., Willett, W. C., Colditz, G. A., Stampfer, M. J., Speizer, F. E. (1996) A prospective study of coffee drinking and suicide in women. Archives of Internal Medicine. Mar 11;156(5):521-5.

Keyes, C. L., Reitzes, D. C. (2007) The role of religious identity in the mental health of older working and retired adults. Aging and mental health. Jul;11(4):434-43.

Krause, N. (2007) Self-Expression and Depressive Symptoms in Late Life. Research on Aging, Vol. 29, No. 3, 187-206

Mofidi, M., DeVellis, R. F., DeVellis, B. M., Blazer, D. G., Panter, A. T., Jordan, J. M. (2007) Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. Aug;195(8):681-8.

Rosenbloom, S. K., Victorson, D. E., Hahn, E. A., Peterman, A. H., Cella, D. (2007) Assessment is not enough: a randomized controlled trial of the effects of HRQL assessment on quality of life and satisfaction in oncology clinical practice. Psycho-Oncology. Published Online: 7 Mar

Shariff, A. F., Norenzayan A. (2007) God is watching you: priming God concepts increases prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychol Sci. Sep;18(9):803-9.

Tsuang, M. T., Simpson, J. C., Koenen, K. C., Kremen, W. S., Lyons, M.J. (2007) Spiritual well-being and health. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 Aug;195(8):673-80.

Ventura, J. L., et. al. (2007) Functional well-being is positively correlated with spiritual well-being in women who have spontaneous premature ovarian failure. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 87, Issue 3, March, Pages 584-590.

Robert A. Yourell, MA

Robert A. Yourell, MA, has extensive experience in the mental health and social services dating back to 1975. His training includes Ericksonian communication and hypnosis with John Grinder, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with Francine Shapiro, PhD, Body Integrative Psychotherapy with Jack Rosenberg, PhD, and solution-focused psychotherapy. He provides free audio experiences on his site that include bilateral sound and Shimmering.
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