As a member of NAMI FaithNet, which “supports faith communities in mental illness outreach, education, and advocacy,” I receive their newsletters. A recent issue featured an interview by Gale Bataille and Bill Berkowitz with Jay Mahler, activist and founder of a grassroots movement which became The California Mental Health and Spirituality Initiative, and Rev. Laura Mancuso, Director of the initiative on the relationship between spirituality and mental health, religion and psychology. You can get to the original interview by visiting ReligionDispatches.org or clicking here. Below are some excerpts:
Historically, religion and mental health issues have had an uneasy relationship–and it goes both ways: people with mental illness have long faced stigma in religious communities, and mental health professionals have, for the most part, been suspicious of religion.
Mental health professionals are often trained to bracket out a patient’s religion in the name of professional boundaries, and have been encouraged to consider religion in the context of a medical model that can view spiritual beliefs as potential psychiatric symptoms. As psychologist David Lukoff explains:
This tendency, representing a form of cultural insensitivity, can be traced back to the roots of psychoanalysis as well as behaviorism and cognitive therapy. Freud saw religion as “a universal obsessional neurosis,” Skinner ignored religious experience, and Ellis viewed religion as equivalent to irrational thinking and emotional disturbance. Similarly, spiritual experiences have been viewed as evidence of psychopathology.
But the understanding of the role of religion and spirituality in mental health is changing. The California Mental Health and Spirituality Initiative (which grew out of a grassroots movement founded by activist and advocate Jay Mahler and other consumers, family members, and service providers) was established in June 2008 at the Center for Multicultural Development at the California Institute for Mental Health to advocate for the “inclusion of spirituality as a potential resource in mental health recovery and wellness.”
Question: Why is a spirituality and mental health initiative important?
Laura Mancuso: Spirituality is an untapped resource for recovery from serious mental health issues. That’s the most important reason. We know that spirituality and religion can play a role in health and wellness for everyone. But the public mental health system has been hesitant to venture into this realm. With good reason, actually, because we don’t want to run afoul of the separation of church and state. But a lack of clear understanding has too often led practitioners to avoid the entire subject of spirituality and religion with their clients, which is a shame. The initiative is needed to provide clear information about how to venture into this territory, and how to do it effectively, legally, and ethically.