November 14, 2006

SSA professor makes case for spirituality in mental health

Froma Walsh, a professor in the U of C School of Social Service Administration (SSA) and co-director of the Chicago Center for Family Health, argued that spirituality should have a larger role in the study of mental health in a talk at the SSA last Thursday.

She noted the recent burgeoning interest of the mental health community in the study of spirituality.

According to Walsh, the estrangement between spirituality and mental health fields such as psychiatry and psychology is a remnant of the 20th century school of thought that touted the “discounting of anything that could not be measured.”

“In the Freudian view, there was a discounting of the spiritual, the religious, and a focus on the psychological aspect,” Walsh said.

Today we are “starting to overcome the barrier that saw spirituality as something that could not be measured,” she said.

She credits multiculturalism for integrating more exotic traditions, such as the focus on the spiritual, into the mainstream.

Several studies have found that, in the aftermath of serious tragedies like September 11, people are more likely to value family and rededicate themselves to religion and spirituality.

Walsh emphasized the importance of religion in the U.S. today and said the mental health community should not discount its influence.

About 90 percent of adult and teenage Americans report religion as being important in their lives, and 96 percent believe in God or a higher being, Walsh said. She cited several studies which reported that about 90 percent of trauma survivors use prayer in coping.

Still, medical health professionals should never push religion on a client, she said. Rather, they should understand how spirituality and religion may contribute to recovery and distress.

“It is important to be informed by this, but we have to ask each and every client what the meaning of religion and spirituality is in their lives,” Walsh said.