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Mar 31

Spirituality May Be Underused Tool in Treating Mental Illness

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New research suggests spirituality may offer benefits for people with mental health issues, but people may encounter barriers when reaching out for this help.

Investigators from the University of Southern California School of Social Work discovered that spirituality is often an underused resource in urban communities.

To resolve this shortcoming, and to cultivate spiritual resources that might have therapeutic value, associate professor Dr. Ann Marie Yamada worked with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LAC-DMH) to design and test a new spirituality-based treatment program.

“Stigma prevents many individuals experiencing schizophrenia or bipolar disorders from seeking spiritual or religious support from a faith-based community organization. It is difficult for some people to find a community where they feel comfortable and accepted,” said Yamada, co-author of the study with Dr. Andew Subica of the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside.

“These concerns may not be shared with mental health providers as they may perceive spiritual needs are not appropriate to discuss.”

This stigma creates a gap when patients are unable to find spiritual support from either a health care provider or religious community.

“Within the urban community served by LAC-DMH, spirituality has been an underutilized resource. It is a great tool for addressing the health and recovery needs of the largely African-American and Latino patients served by the participating LAC-DMH agency,” Yamada said.

It is essential, she noted, that investigators understand the significance of spirituality and religion in these cultures and respectfully acknowledge the philosophical differences in practices between both groups.

In the program, “The Spiritual Strategies for Psychosocial Recovery,“ spirituality is used as a therapeutic tool to teach practical coping skills.

“After learning that there are few well-documented interventions that incorporate spirituality, 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,” said Yamada.

Participants attended group therapy sessions that included breathing exercises, goal setting training, and group discussion to build both social and coping skills.

When people find the strength to improve their coping skills, they are more likely to adhere to their treatment plans and see themselves as active participants in their health and recovery.

“When people find the strength to improve their coping skills, they are more likely to adhere to their treatment plans and see themselves as active participants in their health and recovery,” Yamada said.

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