Spiritual communities, belonging and identity

I made this post a while ago to show the different types of spiritual goals. To read about (spirituality for survival) please click here! Today I share some insight into the second goal:

Belonging to religious, cultural and social groups.

To connect an individual with a religious, cultural or social group is one of the most straightforward spiritual goals. Most health professionals ask clients about their spirituality/religious occupations at the time of assessment and form an understanding from there whether further spiritual intervention will be required or not.

A spiritual assessment, such as the HOPE questions are a useful and practical tool to further understand and incorporate an individual’s spirituality into intervention.

HOPE concepts for discussion are: –

  • H—sources of hope, strength, meaning, comfort, peace, love and connection
  • O— role of organized religion for the patient
  • P— personal spirituality and practices
  • E— effects on medical care and end-of-life decisions.

After assessment, our OT brain’s start ticking with how to facilitate this very meaningful occupation for them. But WAIT. Just because it is straightforward, doesn’t mean it isn’t without risk.

Just like any therapy treatment, we need to be aware of what we are recommending and the impact it may have.

Connecting an individual to a religious group can have many benefits such as the following:

  • Sense of belonging and acceptance to a wider community
  • Build support network
  • Source of spiritual inspiration and strength
  • Can be incorporated to establish nurturing routines e.g. weekly Church, Temple, Masjid, Gurdwara
  • Sense of purpose
  • Serve as a new hobby
Photo by Nav Photography on Pexels.com

Spirituality is evidenced to improve mental wellbeing. It is known to be a strong predictor for positive mental health outcomes such as lowering suicide. Because of this, it is easy to assume that it is a very safe suggestion to encourage connection with spiritual community. However we as health professionals also have to be very mindful of the flipside as not all spiritual communities are the same.

When we encourage clients to connect with their religious/spiritual communities, we must also be aware of, prepare and support our clients with the following associated risks.

  • Firstly of course, is the risk of spiritual bypassing, specifically in this case developing a secondary spiritual/religious identity whilst not working on underlying thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Already established spiritual communities are difficult to mingle into. Rejection from being invited into the inner circles can increase feelings of alienation.
  • Stigma and shame for ‘not being religious enough’. Mental health unfortunately still holds a great taboo in many religious communities and this is a very real stigma that exists worldwide.
  • Influence of religious friendship on an individuals perception of their own mental health can be helpful or unhelpful depending on the situation.
  • Labelling of mental health as a sin, curse and so on within the spiritual/religious community
  • Affiliating with a religious group many individuals minimize their own mental health concerns to appear more spiritually progressed. This can lead to very problematic behaviors delaying the healing journey such as non-acceptance, being overly critical or invalidating own feelings.
  • Exploitation of vulnerable people with mental health
  • Gossip by others, feeling devalued as a human due to mental illness within spiritual community.

I hope this post was insightful in helping you to see how even seemingly simple advice should be given with awareness. As health professionals I hope we all come to understand a little more deeply about the application of spirituality as an intervention beyond the generic teachings of schools and studies.