Spirituality and mental health are very much related, but together they make many people uncomfortable and maybe even, confrontational. There is the age-old issue of therapists not wanting to work with clients who are of different faiths. There is the issue of therapists not wanting to work with clients whose lifestyles differ from their religious beliefs. There are clients who do not want to work with therapists who are not of their cultural and religious beliefs. There are, of course, counselors who involve the clients’ faith in their therapy. I belong to the latter group. If a client wants to discuss their religious and spiritual beliefs, I am very much comfortable with that discussion. If the client’s faith is unfamiliar to me, well then, it’s my job to do research to get to know that belief, and also to listen to the client’s experiences of that belief.
Interestingly though, I have met individuals who feel that seeking a therapist is a betrayal of their religious beliefs. Personally, I had never considered that belief. Now, I have found that this is a common belief within the black community. Christianity is a common religious belief within the Black community and many of us have been raised in the church, so this belief of betrayal makes sense when I began to break this down. We are told that we should take everything to God in prayer and that we should seek His help. But somewhere in those thoughts and lessons, the idea that having faith alone was our only job became prevalent. Even the Bible notes that faith without works is dead. Putting thoughts and beliefs out into the world is only one part of the journey.
This is why God gave us free will
In the Black community, we struggle with our beliefs about creating healthy mental health habits in our lives. The truth is creating these habits do not need to be isolated from our spiritual/religious practices because they are complimentary. We each must create our own habits and routines that fit with our lives and who we are as individuals. But we need both habits to strengthen our spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. We can still have faith in our beliefs and work to care for ourselves. There is no either/or regarding these two necessary practices. When we pit mental health and spirituality against each other, we are removing necessary supportive practices and beliefs, especially within the Black community where we are notorious for suffering alone because we think it makes us stronger. The black community already has a shortage of resources, we do not need to contribute to this shortage.
There is most definitely a place for spirituality in mental health. In no way, would we be betraying our faith, regardless of whatever our faith is, by taking care of ourselves. Our faith is important because it reminds us of our place in the world. Faith reminds us that we are all connected; every living being on this planet and in the universe is connected through our existence, through our soul, and through each of us being chosen to be put on this planet at a determined time and for a determined length of time. Our soul is the thing that can heal us.
Yet, we spend so much time talking about our hearts and our bodies, and neglect the thing that will outlast all these transitory things. So yes, it is imperative to talk about spirituality in mental health. Now, spirituality and religion are two different things. Religion is institutionalized and I am not speaking about this. Spirituality refers to our soul; to the ‘spark’ that sits in each of us; that thing that we each must become aware of because that’s what makes us unique; it’s that thing that no one can take from us. Developing our spirituality awakens our relationship with ourselves, with the universe and world we live in, with each other. Now, I referred to Christianity because this is my faith. But the same principles apply to any person belonging to any other faith. Because at the end of the day, we are all just seeking our place in the world; we just want to know that we are enough and that we belong. This is what makes us human. This is where we can all connect.
I encourage you to think about the values and beliefs that you have. Regardless of the faith you choose and whatever god you give your time, think about how your beliefs impact your daily lives and routines. Spiritual beliefs are meant to enhance and add value to our lives. These beliefs are meant to unite, to bring a sense of belonging, to reduce isolation and loneliness, and to increase positive and loving bonds and connections with others. Our beliefs should help us see the good in the world and in others, especially in time of struggles. I do not think that any faith told us that there would never be hard times. Isn’t this the point of faith? To believe when it seems like there is no reason to? Faith tells us that there is always hope if we hold on to each other.