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Connection between Spirituality and Mental Health
by Mary Madsen-Heskin
Spirituality and Mental Health
When I worked as a counselor in adolescent and adult substance use disorder treatment programs, we completed an assessment at the start of work together with a new client. It was called a bio-psycho-social assessment. The intent was to gather information for a jumping off point with our work to support a client in counseling services.
We asked a variety of questions to better understand an individual’s strengths and any areas that would indicate a hinderance to not only engaging in counseling but increasing and/or maintaining optimal health in all areas of life.
Bio-psycho-social assessments were commonplace in behavioral health programs (mental health and substance use). However, we touched on an additional area. Spirituality. Making it a bio-psycho-social-spiritual assessment.
We explored client’s spiritual beliefs and the impact spirituality had on their lives. Sometimes this included religion. But religion was not what we were assessing. We were attempting to understand how clients considered themselves, their world, their values, and their views.
I still see a very strong connection between spirituality and mental health.
What is spirituality? Here is a brief summary:
Simply, it is sensing, knowing, or feeling a connection to something bigger than ourselves.
- It could include understanding your life purpose or the possible “meanings of life”.
- It is inclusive, it touches us all and is not divisive, it connects us all.
- It fosters an increased sense of what it means to be alive – a human being and doing.
- It’s flexible and unique to the individual. Our personal definition may change over time based on our experiences.
- It is a recognition that we are always connected to the Divine as we are part of the Divine.
What is it not? Here is another brief summary:
Spirituality is not a particular religion. Think of religion and spirituality in terms of a Venn diagram. There is overlap, but there are definitely differences between the two of them.
- It is not rigid, meaning it is not measured as black/white, right/wrong, true/false.
- There are no specific outlines for how, where and when to practice spirituality.
- Although it does explore morality, it does not condemn others for what another person might deem as a “moral failing” or give another person sovereignty over another.
- It does not have rules on who is able to connect to Divinity.
- It does not exclude anyone. There is no hierarchal structure with “leadership roles”.
Spirituality is good for mental health. Here are a few reasons why:
- Decreases our sense of isolation, separateness, and inequity. We find connection and community with the world. We are built for both, it is truly in our DNA. We recognize we are no better or worse than others.
- Decreases our worry, stress, anxiety, and depression. We learn (and/or begin to believe) that we are already whole, we have power and choice in our life and future, we accept all aspects of ourself.
- Decreases anger and resentment, leading to increased forgiveness and compassion (for ourselves and others). This increases our sense of inner peace and balance.
- Increases our sense of accountability and responsibility, allowing us to be more comfortable or tolerating of vulnerability and increasing our willingness to seek out win-win solutions.
- Increases our confidence in hearing and following our intuition, solidifying that we have internal wisdom within us. It becomes easier to tune out the noise. When we trust our self, we feel better about our ability to make positive choices and the resiliency to bounce back from mistakes and errors.
- Increases our self-esteem and self-worth (worth and value) as we begin to see and believe that our life has meaning. We may also begin to understand our individual purpose for this lifetime; feeling as though we have something to share and therefore are contributing to others.
How do we begin to explore or expand our spirituality?
I suggest you start with exploring your beliefs and values. This can be through talking it out with a trusted friend, a trained therapist, a spiritual advisor or mentor or through the process of journaling or even meditation.
- Are your beliefs and values yours or someone else’s?
- Practicing simply observing your beliefs and values, free from the lens of family, cultural, and societal “norms”.
You may notice how mental health may have been impacted by teachings about spiritual concepts.
- You may find that teachings, beliefs, values, or experiences within your family of origin (or extended family) left you feeling guilt and shame –there could have been trauma ("big T": a significant event or series of events that were traumatic or "little t": small micro-aggressions, hurts/ pains that create an over arching theme of traumas) around spirituality (and/or religion).
- Family beliefs about spirituality and/ or religion could have left you feeling like you were not good enough.
- Like you had to prove you were worthy, devalued your worth.
- Left you feeling separate, less than, unequal.
- Disconnected from your intuition and your inner thoughts, wishes and wisdom.
Now practice reconciling what you now know with how you feel.
- This might be done best with a therapist or spiritual advisor or on your own through your own journey of personal growth.
- You can find connection with spiritual groups, but honestly, it can be as simple as connecting to Nature. Connecting to the human race. Connecting to something bigger than yourself. Re-connecting to your essence and core self. Embracing how you fit in with all those relationships; tapping in to how you are welcomed, supported, and loved. Giving yourself permission to live a spiritual life that provides you with guardrails, but also the freedom to put your flavor on it.
I know that seems simple. But guess what? Once we increase our understanding, working towards healing any wounds that religion or spirituality teaches left, we can immediately begin to feel our connection to spirituality grow. Leading to better mental health because we truly start supporting ourself fully…mind-body-spirit.
If you are needing support in this process, reach out and we can discuss ways I can help or other providers I recommend working with for this process.
Wishing you wonderful spiritual and mental health,