Finding God in sickness: Numerous studies show the positive effects of prayer on mental health.
An old proverb says, “A healthy man has 1000 wishes, but a sick man has only one.”
In exploring alternative methods of patient care, researchers from Yasuj University of Medical Sciences in Iran suggest there may be benefits to incorporating prayer into mental health treatment.
Their 2018 study published in the Journal of Religion and Health found that cancer patients receiving spiritual therapy experienced a decrease in anxiety, which in turn eased their physical pain.
The spiritual and religious approach is crucial to cancer treatments, say the researchers, as psychiatrists seek cheaper ways to improve the quality of life in patients.
The researchers asked individuals in a group of 76 pensioners about their age, gender, education, economic status, and field of study. The higher the score, the worse their health was. “A score of 28-55 meant good general health, and a score of 56-84 meant undesirable general health.”
After a series of spiritual workshops and sessions, patients adopted “religious strategies to increase mental health and control pain.” Following the spiritual interventions, the mental health of the patients in the experimental group significantly increased, while their levels of perceived pain lowered. For example, one patient began with a score of 60.51 for general health and 8.21 for pain. After the intervention, the patient scored 41.72 for general health and 5.61 for pain, revealing the improvement in his health and pain scores by approximately 30 per cent.
While the Iranian study demonstrates the positive effects of spiritual medicine on patients’ mental health, there are some inconsistencies amongst the results.
The multidimensionality of prayer types is one factor that can explain these mixed results. In 1989, Margaret M. Poloma and Brian F. Pendleton, sociology professors at the University of Akron, distinguished between four types of prayer that researchers continue to use today when testing their hypotheses on the relationship between prayer and mental health: petitionary prayer, which is when a person prays for themselves and others to gain concrete, material goods; colloquial prayer, which has a conversational tone as a person talks to God informally and lovingly with a request for guidance; meditative prayer, which is a passive, quiet experience of listening for God’s presence and direction; and finally, ritual prayer, which involves reading scripted texts and reciting memorized prayers.
Most studies conclude that colloquial and meditative prayer cause an increase in mental health but the results for ritual and petitionary prayer vary.
The findings of a study published by the American Counseling Association in 2015 suggest that, when in a relationship with God, some prayer types are more valuable than others. The authors of the study measured closeness to God, God-mediated control, and a combination of both models in 330 Christian adults. Michigan professor Neal Krause defined God-mediated control as “the belief that God actively works together with people to influence the course of events in their lives.”
As the researchers expected, “the indirect relationships of colloquial and meditative prayers to mental health through closeness to God were significant and positive.” Petitionary and ritual prayer, however, were negatively associated with mental health because they focus too heavily on the person and their individual behaviour.
The Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling suggests that counsellors take the client’s approach to religious coping into consideration with managing the effects of psychological distress and mood disturbance. Once counsellors begin spiritual assessments and consider patients’ prayer values, they can suggest changes in their clinical approaches accordingly. Clients’ meditative and colloquial prayer types, rather than petitionary and ritual, are encouraged.
According to research from Larry VandeCreek, a retired chaplain from the Ohio State University, self-disclosure is “the communicative process of sharing personal thoughts and feelings with another.” People who practice self-disclosure regularly are more likely to find positive emotional experiences. The second party can be God and does not have to be another person.
In a 2010 study, psychologists Stephenie R. Chaudoir and Jeffery F. Fisher, outline that the discloser must begin by stating a goal, something they hope to change. When an individual discloses stressful information to God, they experience a decrease in psychological distress, or a cathartic release.
In short, speak with God in an honest way about how you feel, not to ask for something in return or just to go through the motions. This will calm my mind and give me a positive response. I can believe that!