Lecture – Religion, Spirituality and Mental Health: Research and Clinical Applications

Available with English captions.

Presented by Harold G. Koenig, MD, Duke University School of Medicine – Visiting Scholar Series

Is religion good for mental health? Do religious beliefs increase resilience and improve psychological and social functioning? Are the same benefits derived from being “spiritual” but not religious?

These are a few of the questions posed by Koenig during this presentation on spirituality and mental health.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • Definitions of religion and spirituality
  • Interpreting and utilizing the latest research
  • Applying research to the clinical setting

Koenig explains that spirituality is “seen as non-divisive and common to all, both religious and secular.” This, he says, makes spirituality useful in clinical settings where spiritual histories can help clinicians better understand their patients. However, the “vague and nebulous nature” of spirituality makes it difficult to measure and quantify.

To address this issue, researchers have created new research approaches and theoretical models to study spirituality, religion, and mental health. Recent studies, he reports, have looked at different populations to examine the relationships between spirituality and risks for physical, social, and behavioral health.

Reporting on this research, Koenig explains that studies consistently show how regular involvement in religious practices correlates with lower rates of depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance use disorder. Also, many studies have found that religious people are more satisfied with their lives and feel a greater sense of well-being than secular individuals and those who are spiritual but not religious.

Koenig says that religion helps people with their mental health in a number of ways. For example, many religions put a value on children, so religious children often grow up in a nurturing environment. Also, research shows that religious parents are more likely to monitor their children and keep them out of trouble. Moreover, religious families tend to place more emphasis on morals and values, which can lead to healthier behaviors and better methods of coping with trauma and loss.

Given the proven link between religious practices and good mental health, Koenig suggests that addressing spiritual concerns should be a central part of patient-centered care practices. He encourages mental health professionals to respect a patient’s beliefs and values. He also calls on clinicians to take a “spiritual history” of the patient to better understand their hopes and values.