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Why spirituality should be studied through the lens of psychology.




- By Jamie Louise Walsh


The word Psych– comes from the Greek psȳchḗ, meaning “breath, spirit, soul, mind.” Ology is “the study of something”. Therefore the nature of the word implies that the roots of psychology itself came from the study of the soul, the spirit, and the mind. Spirituality is difficult to delineate as a concept in words. Yet it is consistently characterized by faith, a search for meaning and purpose in life, a sense of connection with others, and a transcendence of self, resulting in a sense of inner peace and well-being (Sharma, Charak, and Sharma, 2009). In early research, the terms religion and spirituality are used interchangeably because of the similiarity between the two. In modern times, the distinction between the both is more prominent. Yet in historical times spirituality and religion were one, in the same way that religion and healing were also one (Bonelli et al., 2012). This essay suggests various reasons why spirituality should be studied through the lens of psychology when relating to the common objectives of humanity, to alleviate human suffering and further understand the human mind.


In prehistoric times, priests practiced healing, The priest-physician was believed to possess supernatural powers and to be able to reverse the effects of an evil spirit or punishment by the gods, which is thought to be the cause of sickness (Koenig, King, and Carson, 2012). The current paradigm that has been adopted by medical and psychological sciences is a reductionist one based on an atomic and materialistic view of reality and spirituality, which by nature defies a materialistic interpretation (Dhar, Chaturvedi and Nandan, 2013) Spirituality ought to be demystified by cultivating those desired spiritual practices and temperaments, which could potentially drive individuals toward optimum health and fulfillment and alleviate human suffering.


Carl Jung held that the self suffered as it was separated from its transpersonal and spiritual unconscious that contained mythic, archetypal, and spiritual energies along with instinctual desires. He stated that psychological health depends upon getting in touch and expressing all these archetypes (Lafond, 2023) Research findings have since, been generally consistent with Jung's views that if an individual is alienated from one or more archetypes there is the likelihood that he may suffer.


It is undeniable that science has amassed excellent knowledge. Yet the disconnect from spirituality and the sense of being rather than becoming is contributing to the hostility of the world (Dhar, et al, 2013). Data shows that 22% of 22-29-year-olds worldwide reported that they “felt so anxious or depressed that they could not continue their regular daily activities as they normally would for two weeks or longer” (Our World in Data, 2020). Regarding mental health, some studies have shown a direct relationship with psychological well-being, such as satisfaction, happiness, and moral values (Bonelli et al. 2012; Moreira-Almeida et al. 2014). In their review, (Koenig et al, 2012) reported a 95% positive correlation with social support, 93.7% with purpose and meaning of life, and 79% with well-being, optimism, and hope.

The findings from these studies and the ones that follow suggest that including a spiritual perspective in psychology could reduce human suffering and enhance psychological well-being.


Spirituality is related to a human's beliefs. A recent study revealed that high spirituality scores on items in intrinsic beliefs, such as belief in a higher power, the importance of prayer, and finding meaning in times of hardship, were associated negatively with depression (Haokip et al., 2021). People who have had spiritual experiences show distinct changes in their psyche and their approach toward fellow beings and life. Spirituality has also been identified as an adaptive coping strategy as it impacts the perception of pain, (Oliveira et al., 2021) reported that as faith increased, pain decreased. (Haokip et al., 2021) showed that the mobilization of faith in coping with adverse health situations, such as cancer, can result in a significant reduction in pain intensity. According to (Ganasegeran et al., 2018) the level of pain tolerance seems to be higher in those who sought spiritual resources. Spiritual practices such as faith, compassion, forgiveness, prayer, and meditation in a person's lifestyle may reduce the suffering of a subjective experience. The suffering that accompanies almost all mental and physical illnesses is reinterpreted within a spiritual framework as a journey or pilgrimage that fosters hope and individuals can locate meaning and faith within their suffering (Sharma, et al, 2009). If we ask the question ‘Should we awaken suffering or alleviate it?’ a paradox arises in that awakening suffering can be synonymous with alleviating it this holds the potential for a major transformation.


Modern psychology excludes the importance of spirituality in the current treatment model, thus the inclusion of the spiritual aspects of the human experience has been too long ignored. Nurse leaders have acknowledged the importance of the spiritual and physical in providing optimal nursing care (Delgado, 2005). Evidence suggests that individuals who regularly participate in spiritual worship services or related activities and who feel strongly that spirituality or the presence of a higher being or power are sources of strength and comfort to them are healthier and possess greater healing capabilities (Udermann, 2000)


It seems that suffering without meaning can leave people feeling disconnected from themselves and makes life seem cruel and like a form of punishment. Therefore we should develop more insight into the role of spirituality in a human's psyche and life experience. A movement away from the prevalent paradigm is needed to appreciate the potential of spiritual transformations. With rising awareness, it is clear that the desire for a holistic approach to psychology that integrates body, mind, and spirit into a cohesive whole is necessary for the evolution of our collective consciousness and public health.


Reference list

ANNE GRACE LAFOND (2023). JUNG’S THEORY OF THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION AND SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR RELATED EMPIRICAL RESEARCH. [online] e-Publications@Marquette. Available at: https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8502590/#:~:text=Thus%2C%20to%20Jung%2C%20religion%20was [Accessed 21 Jun. 2023].

Bonelli, R., Dew, R.E., Koenig, H.G., Rosmarin, D.H. and Vasegh, S. (2012). Religious and Spiritual Factors in Depression: Review and Integration of the Research. Depression Research and Treatment, [online] 2012, pp.1–8. doi:https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/962860.

Delgado, C. (2005). A Discussion of the Concept of Spirituality. Nursing Science Quarterly, 18(2), pp.157–162. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0894318405274828.

Dhar, N., Chaturvedi, S. and Nandan, D. (2013). Spiritual health, the fourth dimension: a public health perspective. WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health, 2(1), p.3. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/2224-3151.115826.

Doolittle, B.R. and Farrell, M. (2004). The Association Between Spirituality and Depression in an Urban Clinic. The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 06(03), pp.114–118. doi:https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v06n0302.

Ganasegeran, K., Abdulrahman, S.A., Al-Dubai, S.A.R., Tham, S.W. and Perumal, M. (2018). Spirituality Needs in Chronic Pain Patients: A Cross-Sectional Study in a General Hospital in Malaysia. Journal of Religion and Health. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-018-0730-z.

Haokip, H.R., Chauhan, H., Rawat, I., Mehra, J., Jyoti, J., Sharma, K., Sachan, K., Kaur, K., Krishal, M., Mery, A., Dinesh K., Sharma, Belsiyal C. and Xavier (2021). Relationship between spirituality and depression among patients with malignant cancer at a selected tertiary care Institute - A study from North India. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, pp.1–16. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/07347332.2021.1990184.

Koenig, H.G., King, D. and Carson, V.B. (2012). Handbook of Religion and Health. [online] Google Books. Oxford University Press, USA. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=NiRZcCVbkZ4C&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&ots=DX5k9oMSXA&sig=HnxObqKFqG_ZAiLlOK5o_TAQIZ8&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed 21 Jun. 2023].

Moreira-Almeida, A., Koenig, H.G. and Lucchetti, G. (2014). Clinical implications of spirituality to mental health: review of evidence and practical guidelines. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 36(2), pp.176–182. doi:https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-4446-2013-1255.

Oliveira, S.S.W., Vasconcelos, R.S., Amaral, V.R.S., Sousa, H.F.P. e, Dinis, M.A.P., Vidal, D.G. and Sá, K.N. (2021). Spirituality in Coping with Pain in Cancer Patients: A Cross-Sectional Study. Healthcare, 9(12), p.1671. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare9121671.

Our World in Data. (2020). Age when first had anxiety or depression. [online] Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/age-when-first-had-anxiety-depression [Accessed 21 Jun. 2023].

Sharma, P., Charak, R. and Sharma, V. (2009). Contemporary Perspectives on Spirituality and Mental Health. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, [online] 31(1), pp.16–23. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.53310.

Udermann, B.E. (2000). The effect of spirituality on health and healing: a critical review for athletic trainers. Journal of Athletic Training, [online] 35(2), pp.194–197. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16558630/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2023].








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