Fostering Spiritual and Religious Competencies in Mental Health Care

October 25, 2018
Nina Fry-Kizler, Science Team

The IONS research team is working on a very exciting project with Bowling Green State University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and Baylor University. Funded by the Templeton Foundation, the goal of this study, entitled Fostering Spiritual and Religious Competencies in Mental Health Care is to bring more training in spiritual and religious background, beliefs, and practices to mental health professionals.

In spite of many links between religion and spirituality (RS) and mental health, the vast majority of mental health professionals receive little to no training whatsoever in spiritual or religious aspects of people’s lives. Not in textbooks, not in classes, not in internships, and not on their licensing exams. And not surprisingly, the spiritual and religious domains are rarely addressed in mental health assessment and treatment.

Think about that for a moment. This means that the vast majority of people being treated for debilitating depression, anxiety, or other psychological disorders,  will generally not be asked even one time by their mental health professional about whether or not they have a spiritual path, any beliefs about God or spirit, the meaning of life, what they think happens after death, or their spiritual or religious background, beliefs, or practices.

Do you have access to a group of practicing mental health professionals, such as a clinic, listserv, or association of psychologists, MFTs or social workers? We need your help getting people to take this survey!

Contact the Research Project Manager

The aim of this pioneering project is to change that. Why? Because we know that spiritual, religious, and contemplative practices are key to most people’s mental and emotional well-being. Hundreds of research studies show that:

  • Contemplative Practices help direct your attention, shift towards an inward-reflection and can increase compassion, empathy, awareness and a quiet mind. Brain researchers have found that meditation can help regulate difficult emotions and relieve stress. (reference)
  • Spiritual Communities for many people are a  source of social support and can create a sense of belonging, security and connection.
  • An Interconnected Outlook can help process emotional pain that can come with difficult experiences. If we can remind ourselves that painful experiences are part of the human experience and others also experience them, it can increase self compassion.
  • Forgiveness is a practice that is reflected by a number of spiritual traditions (including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism). Forgiveness has been shown to reduce feelings of anger, hurt and emotional suffering.
  • Prayer and Meditation help people cope, and can elicit feelings of hope, gratitude, and compassion, which appear to serve as antidotes to negative emotions and thinking patterns.

In this project, we are surveying general mental health professionals (not those with specialties in transpersonal or spiritually-oriented psychotherapy) currently practicing mental health professionals to learn about their views, training and experience with spiritually-integrated mental health care. We are looking for large groups of mainstream mental health professionals to participate.

Based on the information we gather in the survey, the research team will develop an online curriculum to train mental health professionals in basic RS competencies, and tools to assess whether this training is effective. Ultimately, we hope to improve the overall effectiveness of mental health care, ease suffering, and promote emotional well-being.

If you would like to learn more about ways you can help support this study, visit the Research Participation page on the IONS website or email the Research Manager with the subject line “Spiritual Competencies” for more information.

* Compentencies are a set of attitudes, knowledge, and skills that someone who is in training (for mental or medical health care) need to demonstrate to become a working professional in their field.

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