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Spiritual Care: Cracking Mental Health’s “Incurable” Barrier

Spiritual Care: Cracking Mental Health's "Incurable" Barrier
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Spiritual Care:  Cracking Mental Health's

The state of Virginia is mobilizing to improve the delivery of mental health services. At the same time, and much more quietly, a new model of treatment is also emerging among the field’s professional ranks—the model of spiritual care. Consider:

  • Before the year 2000, spiritual care was not generally considered proven or scientific, though a few studies suggested some potential.
  • Since 2000, a surge of major studies have concluded that some form of spiritual care is definitely an effective element of professional treatment, and it is now widely used in professional practice as an adjunct to traditional treatment.
  • Most recently in 2011, in fact, spiritual care was officially endorsed as a necessary element of treatment by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency overseeing the practice of mental health.

What, exactly, is spiritual care? It’s not necessarily religious, as in organized religion. Researchers and practitioners commonly define spiritual care more secularly--as any of a wide variety of appeals to a power outside of one’s self that can be transformative within.

Research is still trying to measure the potential of spiritual care. Could it crack what traditional mental health practice has long considered incurable? Might it have the potential to completely heal cases believed to be only partially recoverable?

Among today’s mental health professionals, it’s an open debate at best. Many remain convinced that chemical imbalances, biological complexities and severe environmental influences put complete cure out of reach. Perhaps, though, we haven’t tested spiritual treatment enough yet to be certain of that.

The traditional model of mental health treatment has been “reductionist.” That is, it’s pharmaceutical treatment targets a part of the human physique, such as the brain. The spiritual care model is “holistic,” targeting the whole person, turning on a different axis of medical assumptions. Are we too quick, perhaps, to assume that all models—however different—have the same limits to their results?

We shouldn’t be, considering what we learned from the four-minute mile breakthrough. Before 1954, running a mile under four minutes was considered physically impossible. The best runners, using traditional training models, had tried repeatedly and failed. Roger Bannister adopted a non-traditional training model and broke the barrier. Top runners quickly followed form and now break four minutes routinely.

Similarly, the mental illness “incurable” barrier has been broken by a non-traditional approach to treatment. Spiritual care has recorded complete cures.

Consider three cases: diagnosed bi-polar disorder (click bi-polar disorder), dementia (click dementia), and depression (click depression). All of these cases illustrate the effects of the Christian Science model of spiritual treatment. It’s a model based on the Bible, particularly the works and teachings of Christ Jesus, and discovered, practiced and taught by nineteenth-century Christian theologian and health researcher Mary Baker Eddy.1

You may know of cures brought about by spiritual treatment of another name or tradition. Given 1) the rise in mental illness and its devastating impact on individuals, families and communities, and 2) the limited permanent solutions offered by the reductionist model, it seems reasonable to explore spiritual approaches more deeply. Those suffering with “incurable” or only “partially curable” diagnoses, as well as those of us working to help, stand to benefit immensely.

1See Mary Baker Eddy’s writings for details about this model of spiritual care.

Originally published January 27, 2015. This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this post are the author's. Registered users are welcome to post on Patch.

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