Religion and spirituality have generally received little favorable attention
from psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. That clinical psychologists in
particular have as a group a very low level of religiosity is a well known quirk
in the field. But there are now signs that religion and spirituality are being
given a second reading by mental health clinicians.
have always been exceptions such as Carl Jung, whose turn to religious history
and mythology led to his analytical psychology being called at times a religious
psychology. However, the reconsideration of religion and spirituality in the
mental health field owes perhaps less to figures such as Carl Jung and more to
the increasing sensitivity to multiculturalism in the clinical community.
primary figure in the unfavorable view of religion and spirituality is the
psychoanalytic movement. Fueled by the Freudian claim that religion is a form of
wish fulfillment, psychoanalysis has a very long history of either ignoring
spirituality or making it symptomatic of poor mental health. This tendency
extended to psychiatry at a more general level by using some religious phenomena
as illustrations of symptoms of mental illness.
What could be more
surprising, then, to learn that even within psychoanalysis, the value of
religion and spirituality is being reconsidered?
Psychoanalytic figures such
as William Parsons is leading the way in his book, The Enigma of the Oceanic
Feeling, by arguing forcefully for interpreting certain types of religious
experiences as being personally transformative for the experient. And more
recently, Randall Sorenson, in Minding Spirituality, has documented the
treatment that religion has received from psychoanalysis since its inception.
Arguing that religion and science are not mutually exclusive, he makes way for
the idea that psychoanalysis can form a working relationship with religious
education and, at the very least, analysts can show a more hospitable welcoming
for the religious concerns of the patients they treat. In doing so, they follow
the lead that pastoral psychology established years ago.
Perhaps this is a
period in which patients will see even more mainstream clinicians being tolerant
to discuss religious well-being. If not, then at least religious patients may
now begin to benefit from knowing that one of the most important factors in
their lives is not simply dismissed as being just another part of their problem.