Spirituality may prove therapeutic for people with mental illnesses, but not all people have equal access, according to the University of Southern California School of Social Work. In a recent study, USC’s Ann Marie Yamanda partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to test a spirituality-centered therapy program called “The Spiritual Strategies for Psychosocial Recovery.”
The study involved a small group of participants who underwent various therapies including group discussion, breathing exercises, and goal setting sessions, according to USC News. These participants showed satisfaction with the results, reporting better moods, a heightened sense of control, and feelings of empowerment. Yamanda said that the study put emphasis on coping skills.
“After learning that there are few well-documented interventions that incorporate spirituality, [Co-Author] Dr. Subica and I wanted to take the best practices already being used and add greater emphasis on coping skills that have been shown to be effective,” she said in a statement.
The addition of spiritual exercise to more traditional therapies aims to improve treatment outlook for mental illness patients. Individuals with anxiety make up the largest portion of this demographic. At this time, 40 million people have some sort of anxiety disorder — this is 18% of the U.S. population.
While they believe that spirituality-based therapy is effective, researchers also found that it is not widely utilized in urban communities. Yamanda thinks this is because of stigma, PsychCentral reports.
“Stigma prevents many individuals experiencing schizophrenia or bipolar disorders from seeking spiritual or religious support from a faith-based community organization,” she said in a statement. “It is difficult for some people to find a community where they feel comfortable and accepted. These concerns may not be shared with mental health providers as they may perceive spiritual needs are not appropriate to discuss.”
Yamanda emphasized collaboration of spiritual leaders and mental health professionals, urging them to break down any preconceived notions held in their communities. This will allow the patients in these urban areas to take advantage of these services.
“Involvement of both clinicians and religious leaders is one way to reduce the stereotypes held by both professions,” she said. “These stereotypes serve as barriers to developing mental health services that integrate spirituality effectively.”
Mental illness, while carrying a stigma, is far from rare. Approximately one in five adults experiences a mental illness within any given year, according to data by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. Furthermore, 70% of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence.
While aiming to bring this therapy to these individuals and communities, Yamanda said that the scope of the spirituality is meant to be individually defined.
“Spirituality enhances personal hope through connection to a greater power that could be religious, but is fundamentally defined in whatever way has meaning to each participant,” she said.