Despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the worlds major religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a persons faith, according to a study.
Healthcare providers could take advantage of this correlation between health — particularly mental health — and spirituality by tailoring treatments and rehabilitation programs to accommodate an individuals spiritual inclinations, researchers said.
“In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait,” Dan Cohen, PhD, assistant teaching professor of religious studies at the University of Missouri and a coauthor of the study, said in a news release.
“With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health.”
The study used the results of three surveys to determine whether correlations existed among self-reported mental and physical health, personality factors and spirituality in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Across all five faiths, a greater degree of spirituality was related to better mental health, specifically lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion. Forgiveness was the lone spiritual trait predictive of mental health after personality variables were considered.
“Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions,” Cohen said. “Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.”
Cohen said spirituality may help peoples mental health by reducing their self-centeredness and developing their sense of belonging to a larger whole. Traditions in many faiths encourage spirituality, although they use different names for the process. Communing with Jesus Christ and attaining Nirvana, for example, may well refer to similar phenomena, the researchers said.
“Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimize the negative side of a patients spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse,” Cohen said. As the authors noted, spiritual interventions such as religious-based counseling, meditation and forgiveness protocols may enhance spiritually-based beliefs, practices and coping strategies in positive ways.
The paper, “Relationships among Spirituality, Religious Practices, Personality Factors and Health for Five Different Faiths,” appeared in the Journal of Religion and Health. The study abstract is available at http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10943-012-9615-8.