Can a Belief in God Affect Therapy?

Have you ever wondered if God should be invited into your therapy sessions?

If He were invited in, would you see improved results in your treatment outcomes?

For the better part of the 20th century, spirituality and psychology were at odds with one another. During that time, psychology prided itself on being a serious science and tended to shy away from all things religious or spiritual in favor of a rigorous scientific approach to the clinical practice.

However, times are a’ changing. Towards the very end of the 20th century, psychology has embraced spirituality and religion more. Recent research suggests that you just might, indeed, benefit from using spirituality with your therapist.

Belief in God Helps

A recent study by researchers at the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, found that patients who had higher levels of belief in God demonstrated more positive effects of treatment. Out of 159 men and women who took part in the study, those who deemed their spiritual belief as most important in their lives appeared to be less depressed after treatment versus those with little or no belief. This same group also appeared less likely to participate in self-harming behaviors.

Dr. David H. Rosmarin, a psychologist at McLean Hospital and the director of the Center for Anxiety in New York, and the study’s lead author, suggests that one possible reason for this is that “patients who had more faith in God also had more faith in treatment. They were more likely to believe that the treatment would help them, and they were more likely to see it as credible and real.”

A Strong Belief in God Yields Higher Expectations

The researchers at McLean went on to find that, of the 56 people who expressed the strongest belief in God, 27 also had very high expectations for the positive outcome for the treatment while only nine had very low expectations. Contrast that with 30 patients who said they had no belief in God or a higher power, only two had high expectations for treatment.

In a yearlong study conducted by Dr. Marilyn Baetz, a psychiatrist at the University of Saskatchewan, and her colleagues, they also found correlations between strength of spiritual commitment and better outcomes. The study revealed that people with panic disorder who deemed religion as “very important” to them responded better to cognitive behavioral therapy, showing less stress and anxiety, than those individuals who deemed religion as less important.

Spirituality Alignment Between You and Your Therapist is Beneficial

In his book “The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice”, Dr. Kenneth Pargament states that religion can be an important resource in the search for new values in counseling. Most religious traditions have, at the core, the belief that every human life has value. No matter what our condition may be, everyone is said to have a special purpose or mission in life. Exploring this mission with a counselor may help restore what you have lost that is most significant.

Dr. Pargament, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University, recently presented these six benefits to using spirituality with a mental health provider at an annual conference on psychotherapy and faith:

  • A stronger alliance with the therapist / counselor
  • More personal growth and transformation
  • Greater self-efficacy (the belief in one’s capabilities to succeed in a particular situation)
  • Improvement to overall health
  • Greater sense of spiritual well-being
  • Less depression

Bring God Into the Equation

In the last three decades, thousands of studies have been conducted showing a correlation between positive mental health and a belief in God. Many of these studies show that matching people of deep faith who are in need of mental health care with counselors of faith (those who incorporate prayer, Scripture and other faith resources) have significant positive treatment outcomes.

So, the next time you are meeting a counselor for therapy, let them know that you are a person of faith with a belief in God. You may well experience more benefits from your counseling sessions by inviting God in to join you.

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