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Spiritual/religious practices and their healing ingredients

  • As discussed in the previous article, healing ingredients explain those dimensions of the practices that can be related to the empirical therapeutic process, therefore are considered to be factually effective and functional in improving the human state of wellbeing. We will be discussing: prayer, counselling, preaching, fasting, sacrifice, prescriptions. Many psychotherapy clients find it a great relief to be able to incorporate religious practices into their psychological treatment (Raymond, 2019).

    To increase the commitment and motivation of a client, it is vital to integrate such person's religious value to the therapeutic process. However, before this can accelerate the effectiveness of therapy, there is a need to understand more about the healing ingredients of spiritual practices. Healing ingredient simply means those exercises performed as spiritual rite and their influence on psychological states which consequently enable the clients or religious persons to report feeling better and healthier.

    Prayer

    A way to stay conscious and to take responsibility. That is, it offers some level of motivation and hope. That is, the way we perceive the whole information (prayer words, affirmations, thanksgiving, meditated words/thoughts) cause some trigger of hormones that improve motivation and increase pleasure (Raymond, 2019). "To get something, I need to pray". That is a source of hope. It also gives some sense of personal responsibility. However, prayer justifies the belief that life is controlled by some Divine Power, that represents an external locus of control in that you get to attach your difficulties to external forces and that some Superior external force will resolve such difficulty.  This reduces the tendency to feel often troubled or gloomy.

    But on the other hand, it reduces the ability to be more proactive about situations that can be changed by some simple habit formation. People who experience some problems such as marital, interpersonal and or financial problems tend to use this quite a lot without taking some proactive and practical steps to deal with the situation or acquire skills to deal with them. Such persons use their healing practices as a sort of mask, to say to the world, “See? I live a spiritual life!” Yet all the while bitterness and animosity fester in their hearts.

    Peace of mind or mental health doesn’t come from physical practices. Nor can you “buy” it. You can pay a shaman to adjust your energy fields, you can wear crystals, and you can fill your house with all the aromatherapy scents in the world, but it won’t heal you of the inner anger and loneliness that torment you. These unconscious wounds can be healed only by facing up to their origins and making peace with them which is an opportunity offered in most psychotherapies (Raymond, 2019)

    In some way, if prayer is complemented with constructive habits or psychological interventions, prayers reduce helplessness, knowing that once you pray, you will be fine. Prayer gives an opportunity for confession, personal accountability, self-renewal, through staying conscious while addressing painful past experiences.

    Prayer is synonymous to journaling, resolutions, affirmations, reflections,  and relaxation exercise experienced in psychotherapy which induces hope, change of habits, happiness, motivation, self-discovery, self-acceptance and improved interpersonal skills. The effectiveness of this spiritual practice will be enhanced if people are taught the exact healing elements of prayers and ensure they are intentional about their prayers. They work actively toward the goals they are praying to achieve and ensure to include mindfulness during every form of prayer, to stay in the present and be in synchrony with the Universe which is only defined by Now-Presence.

    Therefore the fixation over memories, especially painful ones or anticipated future, makes them experience agony, nothing but agony. To solve every problem requires taking an active step, focusing on it at the moment it is happening and only pick relevant information from the stored memories.

    Memories exist to guide; they do not tell us the whole or exact story about reality. The trance-like state experienced during prayer can be related to hypnosis in psychoanalysis. Some people believe that the words said by the persons are expressions of their unconscious conflicts and personal resolution of those conflictions through consciousness. This can be related to above mentioned Adlerian Teleology, soft determinism and strive for superiority.

    Related article: Some interventions to prevent psycho-social problems and suicide in society

    Counselling

    This refers to one on one discussion between the religious leader and a person. The activity and goal are similar to a psychological approach. The contents are however different in that, the client is guided based on spiritual principles such as strengthening their faith, confessions (in psychology it is disclosure), acceptance of destiny (to reduce self-blame and guilt), being grateful, praying and reflecting the image of the Supreme Being by being good to all creatures. The healing ingredient includes alliance and guidance.

    Human beings naturally desire to be loved and accepted. Counselling provides such an opportunity. The relationship (with empathy) established during the counselling session is vital; it enables the client to discuss matters without feeling judged. Also complemented with guidance, the person is able to learn new information about how to stay hopeful and learn responsibilities to be able to deal with the current stressors actively.

    Some religious institutions can be both distinctly spiritual and psychologically informed. This occurs when it takes its identity from the rich tradition of a religious group and integrates relevant insights of modern therapeutic psychology in a manner that protects both the integrity of the religious role and the unique resources of the institution. For effectiveness, spiritual counselling needs to be enriched with a profound assessment to understand other areas that the individual is having difficulty and some unconscious conflicts that could cause a relapse. This practice is synonymous to psychoeducation and training in psychotherapy (Thor, 2010).

    Also, the therapist or religious leader needs to emphasise personal responsibility and continue to teach concrete problem-solving skills that can be utilised when the client has no access to the spiritual leader.  The healing function of pastoral counselling involves the offering of hope and encouragement in an effort to promote spiritual wellness (Thor, 2010). As such, the pastoral function of healing can be considered an aspect of the reorientation phase of Adlerian therapy. Through counselling, dysfunctional thoughts that incite emotional pains are replaced with healthy ones. A person who has physical ailment is able to deal with the illness with some feelings of hope; delightful thoughts that continue to release hormones of pleasure necessary for subjective wellbeing and which can facilitate the effects of the chemotherapy being received.

    By offering hope and caring, including maintaining an optimistic view of the future, the clients feel relieved and more energetic necessary to promote or maintain their wellbeing. Sometimes, the counselling involves more than a person which could be a form of group therapy where people share their experiences, each person learns from the other person, and everyone is willing to be supportive. This assures the affected person (s) that they are not alone in the struggle, whatever it is. This is related to Adlerian Social Interest.

    Preaching

     This involves providing spiritual guidance to a group of believers. This shares healing ingredients with counselling. Firstly, the congregation consists of several people with shared beliefs, therefore, acceptance and respect for one another are definite to a large extent. It is in human nature to feel accepted and secure within a group. This component of religion allows this to happen. Preaching offers motivation and reorientation. People get to identify with the examples made by the religious leader. People get some guidance on some problems they are facing, as some would describe, "I got answers to my inner questions". This also relates to Adlerian Social Interest, Life Tasks

    Fasting

    This refers to the abstinence from food, sexual acts, water, other substances for some time. It helps to attain self-control and reflections. With fasting, we demonstrate some control over our impulsivity, and this is good for dealing with addictions, anger issues, extravagant spending and other excesses in human acts that can impair their psychological, spiritual and social functioning including physical wellbeing. It helps us to adopt healthy diet habits, as indicated in Islamic practices. This reflects Teleology

    You may want to check out this article on fasting and the whole systems science as the stimulus to heal.

    Sacrifice

    This involves the fulfilment of spiritual right by selflessly giving out valuable items in exchange for the fulfilment of some personal needs. It includes almsgiving, rendering free services, carrying some concoctions at a specific period of the day. This serves as motivation, placebo and incites social interest. This is related to Social Interest and Soft Determinism

    Concoctions and Substances (prescriptions)

    Sometimes the religious leader gives some holy water, powder and herbs to heal a particular ailment, behavioural problem or even financial problem. These are considered to be placebo in that the expectations of the individual will motivate them to act in ways that fulfil their needs and help them experience positive changes. Sometimes the religious leaders would employ specific psychological tactics to convince the individuals that their intervention caused the changes. Such as using Socratic questions, assumptions, generalisations etc. This reflects Teteology and Soft Determinism

    Other spiritual practices include dancing, festivals etc. It is no breaking news that exercises which include dancing are recommended by health care experts to improve our wellbeing and facilitate the flow of body round the body. These facilitate social connections and relationships with others. It is also a way to exercise the body, take a break from overthinking (that could lead to mood disorders or other psychological pains). It triggers the release of excitatory hormones. In this and practices as mentioned earlier, reinforcement and beliefs influence the sustainability of the practices. Some people come to give testimony; also sometimes the religious leader makes use of self-fulfilling prophecy - whereby their expectations will influence the behaviours of the followers. Some followers simply try to conform by engaging in confirmation bias. They will attribute any noticeable changes to spiritual practices or intervention. All of these facilitate the reinforcement of whole processes.

    Implication and summary

    We need to understand that the changes these practices cause our behaviours are what make us feel better and experience a better life. Other forms of miracles are not necessarily coincidental; they are just effects of the good feeling you have incited through a change in habits, mindfulness, expression of love/gratitude, acceptance and good appraisal of your situations. All these are based on our active participation, whether intentional or not. Such grace becomes more lasting if our actions, whether spiritually or psychotherapeutically motivated, are intentional.

    Everything we feel and/or experience in life is a consequence of our cognitive processes (perception, appraisal, judgement and beliefs) which continue to influence our neural activity. As epigenetics proposes, the environment and our operations on this environment, i.e., our reactions to the environment, have some influence on our genetic codes. Miracles are simply our lack of awareness about how or why a thing comes to be. Once there is familiarity with the miraculous essence to it disappears. For example, if say, in the past 30 years, someone was using a cell phone to talk to a person in another country, that would be a miracle because, at the time, there was no familiarity with phones and use of them. In some villages today, cell phones will most likely be considered a miracle.

    Related article: Everyone is unique: Here’s how to discover and embrace your uniqueness

    Conclusion and Intervention

    Once we understand these dynamics, then better health services can be provided both spiritually and psychologically to promote wellbeing and sustainable welfare within society. There is room for knowledge expansion in this area to understand more about the psychological ingredients in traditional or spiritual interventions so as to train, educate and empower these "traditional therapists" to offer best and very effective services to their followers/clients/congregation. More will be written on how focus on religious institutions can benefit mental health care services.

    References

    Raymond L. (2019)  A guide to psychology and it's practice; Healing. San Francisco.

    Thor J., (2010) Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy An Individual Psychology Perspective. New York.

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