Editor’s note: My wife Regina—an energy healer, a volunteer and a retired counselor—gave me the notes below that I turned into bullet points. I got her permission to do some follow-up research and expand it into an article for this website. It’s on aspects of mental health treatment and recovery from addiction that can lead to happiness and well-being. Note that all of the practitioners’ names are also links to articles about their work.
Basically, there are three main approaches nowadays to treating addiction and mental and emotional ailments:
- Takes the medical approach
- Dwells on history
- Looks at symptoms
- Treats with pharmaceutical drugs
- Searches for strengths and passions
- Processes old hurts and life challenges
- Offers tools to work with day-to-day challenges
- Helps with moving forward in life
- Gradually forges a connection between the conscious mind and the higher self, which is everyone’s built-in, boundless source of knowledge, inner peace, and healing
- Promotes prayer, meditation, singing, chanting, drumming… or my favorite: the 12-step program, which, when worked every day…
- Offers a proven path to healing and almost a guarantee of spiritual awakening
- Forges a wholesome connection to other people and to a Higher Power
- Promotes service to others as the greatest form of love
- Includes a huge network of recovery churches and 12-step meetings (such as AA), all anchored in this model
The Psychiatric Approach
Psychiatrists in the US are medical doctors, so their treatment of patients is broadened by the wonders of modern medical technologies and at the same time limited by the constraints of the medical establishment.
On one hand, they can treat patients using mental and physical exams, CAT scans and MRIs and PET scans, blood tests, psychotherapeutic sessions, and pharmaceutical drugs.
On the other hand, they are discouraged from taking a comprehensive approach to a patient’s well-being… as many doctors admit:
- Modern Western Medicine is based on a narrow “scientific” model, and ignores and rejects therapies and entire medical systems that don’t fit this model… Doctors see the human body as a machine with separate parts that can be treated independently rather than as an integrated whole. In addition the mind and body are also seen as separate independent entities and emotions are often ignored… We look for a magic bullet instead of all the possible factors that make up the total load which are causing the underlying imbalance. There is no understanding of the total load…. — Dr Frank Lipman
- In medical school I learned to focus on disease rather than health, pathology rather than the person, parts rather than the whole, an ulcer rather than an ulcerated life. — Elliott Dacher MD
- Like many of the nation’s 48,000 psychiatrists, Dr. (Donald) Levin, in large part because of changes in how much insurance will pay, no longer provides talk therapy, the form of psychiatry popularized by Sigmund Freud that dominated the profession for decades. Instead, he prescribes medication, usually after a brief consultation with each patient. “I had to train myself not to get too interested in their problems,” he said, “and not to get sidetracked trying to be a semi-therapist.” —Dr Donald Levin, in a NY Times interview
Long story short, most psychiatrists today here in the States have been squeezed by the medical industry into a neat little box of prescribing drugs, and doing little else.
So, many professionals are looking outside the box. Some are finding, for example, that their medications work better when supplemented with spiritual practices.
- A study out of Rush University Medical Center led by chaplain and assistant professor Patricia Murphy, PhD brings new findings that suggest spirituality can act synergistically with medication to produce better patient outcomes… Researchers looked to see if hope was a contributing factor but found that hope had no impact on patient outcomes. Belief in a caring higher power alone seemed to increase chances of improvement. What this study shows is that medication and spirituality can work together to produce stronger results than medication alone. — Ruth Buczinski, PhD
- When illness threatens the health, and possibly the life of an individual, that person is likely to come to the physician with both physical symptoms and spiritual issues in mind. An article in the Journal of Religion and Health claims that through these two channels, medicine and religion, humans grapple with common issues of infirmity, suffering, loneliness, despair, and death, while searching for hope, meaning, and personal value in the crisis of illness… — Thomas R. McCormick, D.Min.
- Research shows that religious and spiritual beliefs and practices help prevent many physical and mental illnesses, reducing both symptom severity and relapse rate, speeding up and enhancing recovery, as well as rendering distress and disability easier to endure…. — Dr Larry Culliford
- Addiction professionals are finding that spiritual beliefs and practices, the 12-Step program in particular, can play a big role in clients’ recovery. From Columbia University: More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God or some other greater power; adults and adolescents who attend religious services regularly are less likely to use illicit drugs, tobacco, or alcohol; adolescents who don’t attend religious services are four times more likely to use illicit drugs and three times more likely to binge drink as those that regularly attend services; and adults who don’t attend religious services are five times more likely to use illicit drugs and seven times more likely to binge drink than adults who regularly attend services. — Alternatives In Treatment addiction recovery center
The Spiritual Approach
While spirituality and religion often get tossed into the same bowl, most of us familiar with this website make a distinction:
- Spirituality involves connecting our conscious, day-to-day mind with our higher self… the ‘soul’ at the center of our being, which is a part of that higher power we call God or Allah or Brahma or the Source… while
- All of the various religious paths contain a spiritual component that can help us move in that direction toward oneness.
Most serious spiritual or religious practitioners know that life’s problems and challenges are best handled when we accept a Higher Power into our lives, our minds, and our hearts… but there are practitioners at the fringes of orthodox religion and spirituality, just as there are practitioners at the fringes of orthodox science and medicine.
Just as there are medical doctors who deny the value of spiritual and religious beliefs, there are many in religion and spirituality who deny the value of medicine. They believe that God can heal all ills… and any ills that are not healed by God are not meant to be healed.
The fringe element includes many Christian Scientists, along with some evangelists, saints, monks, gurus, and others who accept God as the ultimate reality and the ultimate source of power, and who make a concerted effort to detach from some (if not most) aspects of the material world.
But if you move back from the fringes of science and religion, there’s a noticeable migration toward common ground.
After all, it’s fair to say that religions have as much mental illness, and probably as much addiction and alcoholism, as any other segment of society… and most people who are immersed in religious and spiritual living are open to medical treatment when the need arises.
- One might wonder why we can’t just read enough Scripture or pray enough. Why can’t that cure us? Because the reality is that in some cases, there are physical, chemical, or physiological issues. Yes, prayer can help, and yes, God does still heal in miraculous ways. But more often than not, more prayer and more faith are not the only remedy for mental illness. Medicine is still needed. — Ed Stetzer, Evangelist
- Psychiatric medications are not curative, and, for less extreme symptoms, medications should be used only in conjunction with psychotherapy or rigorous spiritual direction. For the most part, the use of psychiatric medication primarily supports the secular scientific error that you can “feel better” without having to alter your lifestyle to assume moral responsibility for your life. Real spiritual purification, however, demands a total change of lifestyle, turning from worldly attachments to embrace a moral and virtuous life through complete dying to self in Christ. — Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D, Catholic
- The preservation of human well-being and health has been prescribed by Allah, and with modern advances in pharmaceutical industry, most diseases can be cured. The question is whether Muslims should continue to consume medicines designed to safeguard life without (knowing whether they are) Halal-certified pharmaceutical products (Halal meaning “permissible by religious doctrine… for example containing no alcohol or tainted meat products). — Mahvash Hussain-Gambles
- The Hindu system of medicine is known as Ayruveda, which means “knowledge of life.” Indian medicine mixes religion with secular medicine, and involves observation of the patient as well as the patient’s natural environment. More than 80 percent of people in India rely on herbal remedies as the principal means of preventing and curing illnesses. While modern medicine is preoccupied with the treatment of disease and concerned very little about prevention, Ayruvedic medicine is a holistic system with great emphasis on prevention. Diagnosis according to Ayruveda is based on finding out the root cause of a disease, which is not always inside the body. — Sonal Bhungalia, Tara Kelly, Stephanie Van De Keift, Margaret Young
The Therapeutic Approach
Therapy provides a bridge between psychiatry and spirituality, and does a great deal more. Psychiatrists usually share their patients with psychologists, counselors, social workers, members of the clergy, and other types of psychotherapists.
Therapy is sometimes called “the talking cure,” and it can wear many masks. There’s individual, group, family, or child therapy. There’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), or interpersonal therapy. There’s psychoanalysis or humanistic therapy, such as gestalt or existential therapy.
The purpose of therapy is to remove mental blocks by helping patients face any faulty reasoning that has taken root in their lives and by helping them understand the causes and effects of the flaws.
Causes can include hormonal, environmental, family-related, and spiritual influences.
Effects can include depression, grief, eating disorders, phobias and obsessions, self-harm, addictions, anxiety, abuse or trauma, identity confusion, relationship breakdown and feeling lonely and abandoned.
In recent years, lots of young people studying to become therapists are writing theses on the value of religious and spiritual beliefs in the practice of medicine.
A few examples:
- This study offers support for the integration of spirituality and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Educational programs should provide training in integrative treatment in an effort to provide potential benefits to specific patient populations in the clinical setting. Clinicians who do not consider the client’s belief system or identity when designing a treatment protocol are doing a disservice to the client…. While this study was designed to be used with a Christian population, it provides a basic framework that could be adapted to other religions and faiths. — Jennifer Good
- Interventions such as prayer, Scripture, presence and active listening, as well as referral, can improve patient outcomes and should regularly be integrated into patients’ plans of care. — Jessika Gore
- To provide quality and proficient holistic nursing care, nurses must care for and minister to the spirit of the patient. — Jessica Gillespie
- This thesis is primarily concerned with spirituality rather than religion… The essence of mystical experience is unity, and entire spiritual systems have been built around this concept… Spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency (awakening of the kundalini, shamanic crisis, unitive consciousness, psychic opening, past-life experience, near-death experience… can be) signs of transitional, personal growth, rather than symptoms of psychopathology, and need to be differentiated accordingly… Mainstream psychiatry currently makes no distinction…. — Monica Goretzki