Spirituality as a whole has become even more prevalent in the field of psychology over the past several years as evidenced by the number of Christian counseling centers that have opened around the country. The professionals working in these settings offer what some say is the perfect combination of treatment, psychology based on Christian values and beliefs. Here the psychological principles and ethics are used with various aspects of religious values and beliefs interwoven into the treatment plans. Patients are often counseled on how spirituality can help them through their difficult situations. In these settings, professionals strive to find a balance between psychology and religion, a challenging task at times. Psychology is based on various principles, theories and ethics while religion is based mostly on faith. Psychological issues are proven in a scientific way while a good part of religion is based on belief in the unseen. While many people don't question their faith, it can be difficult to intermingle what can be physically seen with what cannot. This causes many people to question the place of spirituality in psychology.
Because faith is often questioned, it has become necessary to receive proof. This proof often comes in the form of answers that are a direct result of the testing of ideas (Myers). When ideas are tested and found to be correct, faith is easier to maintain; however, then they do not survive the test, faith can become a very shaky prospect. When this principle is applied to psychology, the outcome can change on a regular basis. Different situations call for different ideas which may or may not prove to work. Also, what works in one situation may prove impossible in another. The key to understanding where spirituality fits in is knowing how to apply it to each individual situation and idea and make determinations and assessments based on the information that is gathered and the particular values that are relevant to the end result.
To better understand where religion fits into the psychological realm, let's take a closer look at the human attributes that make up each. Where religion is concerned there is the theological wisdom. This deals with the acceptance of divine love in order to enable individuals to accept themselves. Psychological wisdom, however, deals with self-esteem, optimism and personal control (Myers). The ability to use the two together to make important decisions will provide the freedom to use what we know, admit what we don't and search for the answers. Because we are both the creatures and creators of our own social world, people and situations matter (Myers). While ultimate control lies beyond us, we carry responsibility for making important decisions that have a lasting effect on us as well as others.
Psychologists face these dilemmas everyday. They must make important decisions that will directly effect their patients. Each decision is made on an individual basis and is dependent on each specific situation and its own set of circumstances. Each decision will carry with it a separate set of ethical issues and dilemmas and the solution will remain unique to each. Religion is said to heal people while medicine was designed to do the same. The two often work in different contexts, but it can be argued that medicine was discovered because of ideas and values based on religious beliefs. Because of this, it is believed in many situations the two are used together to come up with treatment plans that will be both effective and long lasting.
In many ways, people who have great faith have found the insights and critical analyses of psychology to be supportive of the understanding they possess of human nature. Their assumption that religion is conducive to happiness and good health is also attributed in great part to psychology. The science of psychology offers principles that can be applied to the construction of messages that will prove both memorable and persuasive. Here the tasks of peacemaking and reconciliation are promoted in a way that offers solutions that will provide the means by which others can achieve happiness by establishing healthy relationships (Myers). While the science may challenge our way of thinking, the same can be said of religion. Faith is often questioned in an effort to find answers. This has proven to be helpful in many situations where the answer wasn't clearly defined. Here, the science of psychology is used along with the religious beliefs to find solutions to problems that seemingly have no immediate or clear resolution. Still, faith is not always a negative aspect of psychology.
A strong value and belief system can help a psychologist working as a professional in the field deal with situations where the traditional psychological theories aren't showing a definite answer. Here the process is reversed because religion is used to clarify a particular set of circumstances based on the lack of information that can be gathered at a given time. There are also times where one can support the other. Religious beliefs are often used to support the reasoning behind many ethical situations whereas psychology is often used to prove various religion based ideas. This is where the two can be used in tandem to come up with a truly unique solution that will work.
It has also been argued that faith plays an important role in a psychologist's ability to use the information found in the code of ethics and psychological practices that are present everyday. This is based on the belief that people who possess strong faith are better able to understand the science of psychology because they can use the two together to come up with answers that are suited to each new set of circumstances. Here psychologists are not heavily relying on either faith or science, but instead are using them both to gain a better understanding of the situation as a whole. Those who believe in the contents of the code of ethics understand its importance and why it must play a role in psychology on a daily basis (Kafka). Those who possess strong religious beliefs usually strive to use them everyday when making ethical decisions and are often working toward an outcome built on both science and faith. Still there is a very important line between when to use the science of psychology and when to rely on the beliefs and values that often assist many in making daily life decisions.
When it comes to the co-mingling of psychology and spirituality, each has its own place. The scientific aspects of psychology are necessary in order to solve a wide range of problems and provide successful treatment to those in need. Still, spirituality can play a very important role in the rehabilitation of patients by making it easier to understand the psychological ramifications and why they exist. Spirituality and science can be used both during and after treatment. During treatment, religious beliefs may guide both the psychologist and patient toward making the right decisions and understanding difficult situations along the way. After treatment, religion can continue to help the patient as he or she moves onward through life while the scientific aspect may still remain present in the form of ongoing counseling or use of medication.
Psychologists can use both in their profession to make difficult decisions and deal with hard to solve problems. Aspects of each can be relied upon to provide the means by which to draw important conclusions that may help throughout the entire treatment process. Evidence has also shown that psychologists who know their profession but also possess strong religious beliefs are able to help their patients throughout treatment by passing on various virtues that promote positive thinking (Myers).
The end results of melding together both science and spirituality have been studied for a number of years. Some argue psychology should remain only a science while others feel the intertwining of science with religion can only serve to improve the overall outcome of treatment situations. The argument is also made that science as a whole has strong ties to religion and the two often give cause for the questioning of each other. Science can often prove what religion cannot and religion was the basis for the need to know, thus people began studying the how and why of scientific matters (Myers).
Some have explained the boundaries between psychology and religion by bringing up a few points that express how one relates to the other. One point is the correlation of scientific ideas presented in everyday human nature to religion and being able to site the information to show how it is all related. Another important point is the link between religion, prejudice, altruism and overall well-being (Myers).
When dealing with various psychological situations, it is just as important to realize the importance of the science as it is the religion. This is often difficult to do because of the differing beliefs and values possessed by each professional working in the field. Because of this, it is necessary for each to make decisions based on the psychological code of ethics along with the specific circumstances of each given situation. For those who are religious, spirituality will most likely play a role in the decision making process in a professional setting because it very likely does in any other. Those who utilize spirituality in day-to-day situations often rely on it to guide them in their professions. Though the psychological code of ethics may not have been created based specifically around the religious beliefs and values directly associated with spirituality, there are many similarities between ethical dilemmas and resolutions and those of a moral nature.
Correlations have also been reported between faith and subjective well-being. One example of this can be found in a National Opinion Research Center survey of 42,00 Americans that was conducted after 1972. Here 26 percent who never attended religious services reported being very happy while 47 percent of those participating in spiritual services on a regular basis, sometimes more than weekly reported also being very happy (Myers). Though this does not sho3w a direct link between religion and well-being, it does indicate that many people seek spirituality in various aspects of their lives. Whether the science of psychology and spirituality should be co-mingled in a professional setting can be a bit subjective as it is dependent upon the differing situations and those directly involved in the treatment processes. While there are correlations between the ethical code used by psychological professionals everywhere and the morality associated with religion, the two remain separate and can be called upon in any given situation where they may be deemed necessary or important. The code of ethics is used every day in the psychological setting, but whether or not spirituality is involved may be up to each professional working in the field.
Code of Ethics: Understanding the Professional Conduct of Psychologists.
Myers, David G. Psychological Science Meets the World of Faith. Taken from http://psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1861.
For more information, please contact Dr. Joseph Coleman at [email protected] or via phone at (504) 621-0966 (504).