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Why Spirituality in the Counseling Office

Does how you are feeling spiritually really affect your physical and emotional health? When is the last time you took a physical, emotional, and spiritual check up? Lately, everywhere I look attention is being given to spirituality. What is all the hype about? It appears more research is being done and more evidence is pointing towards the need to care for yourself spiritually.

Did you know (see sources below*):
1. Prayer and meditation boost serotonin levels (produce relaxation and a sense of well-being. Arousing spiritual practices, such as those common in the Pentecostal faith, boost norepinephrine and dopamine (alertness and energy).
2. Church/service attendance promotes longer life and church going promotes healthy habits.
3. People who forgive easily tend to enjoy greater psychological well-being and have less depression than those who hold grudges.
4. Evidence indicates that the sense of hope, meaning and spiritual support clients gain from discussing religious issues and drawing upon spiritual resources helps them cope better with their situations.
5. Meditation boosts the immune system. Brain scans suggest that meditation rewires the brain to reduce stress.
6. Mindfulness helped chronically depressed patients by reducing their relapse rate by one half.

There are numerous other articles and research about spirituality and how it affects spiritual and emotional health. Just to mention a few recently published:

• The January 2003 American Psychologist it reads "Health and Religious Beliefs." Articles include "Spirituality, Religion, and Health: An Emerging Research Field," "Religion and Spirituality: Linkages to Physical Health," and "Religiosity/Spirituality and Health: A Critical Review of the Evidence for Biological Pathways."
• The December 2003 Monitor On Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, reads "Spirituality and Mental Health: In Practice, On Campus, And In Research." Some of the articles in that issue are "The Secret of the 12 Steps," and "Team Spirit In Doctoral Research."
• Family Circle's January 2004 cover presents "The Soothing Power of Prayer: Pray Away Stress."

Quite frequently conferences for those in the field of psychology have trainings and sessions geared towards spirituality. For example, the most recent brochure received from the New England Educational Institute in Pittsfield, MA, list one of their symposiums on Spirituality and Psychology: Care of Self, Spirit, and Soul."

Prayer, meditation, and spirituality is not about crystals, not about the New Age Movement, or about mysticism. In this case it is about therapeutic spiritual self care. There is no wonder prayer and meditation work, the Bible tell us what to think on, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think (meditate) on these things." (Philippians 4:8, Holy Bible, KJV).

Numerous clients today present looking for more; they indicate feelings of emptiness that go deeper than depression and indicating a desire to have a support system that goes beyond their normal circle of individuals. Then there are those that have a relationship with God, but still want a therapist that is willing to help them cope with the loss of a loved one, balance other situations that life brings, or to help put things in perspective from a spiritual perspective. And yet others want to understand the impact their religious beliefs are having on their current circumstances.

So, why spirituality in the counseling office? Overall, polls, research, and journal articles point towards the benefits of promoting care of clients emotionally, physically, and spiritually. How you care for yourself spiritually really can affect how you are physically and emotionally? I encourage you to locate and read the articles in the listed publications. It appears research is pointing to what your church has told you all along. A relationship with God can promote better physical health and healing, less depression and stress, less dependency on chemical substances, better self-esteem, engender hope, add to coping skills, and overall healthier life choices.

Prayer requires no great or eloquent words. Prayer is a simple conversation with God. Prayer is not for form or fashion, it is not for an outside show to others, it is for the one offering the prayers benefit. Prayer and meditation is calming for the brain.

Suggestions for meditation(relaxation) as spiritual self care:
• Choose a quiet place without distractions.
• Read a scripture or inspirational passage.
• Focus on a word or phrase.
• Close eyes to further shut out distractions.
• Gradually start with 10 minutes per time working way up to longer, perhaps 30 minutes.

*Sources:
1. Excerpt from Natural Prozac by Dr. Joel Robertson. The author in the book indicates "Most individual spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation...boost serotonin levels. On the other hand, emotional preaching, singing, and arousing spiritual practices, such as those common in the Pentecostal faith, boost norepinephrine and dopamine."(p160)
2. The November 10, 2003 issue of NEWSWEEK magazine reads "God And Health, Is Religion Good Medicine? Why Science Is Starting To Believe." Sources Andrew Newberg, M.S., University of PA; American Psychologist Journal; Rick Rogers, UC Boulder; William Strawbridge, USCF.
3. The November 10, 2003 issue of NEWSWEEK magazine reads "God And Health, Is Religion Good Medicine? Why Science Is Starting To Believe." Sources Andrew Newberg, M.S., University of PA; American Psychologist Journal; Rick Rogers, UC Boulder; William Strawbridge, USCF. And Neal Krause, U of M; Dr. Herbert Benson, Mind/Body Medical Institute.
4. The December 2003 Monitor On Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, reads "Spirituality and Mental Health: In Practice, On Campus, And In Research." (Religion and Spirituality In The Treatment Room)
5. The August 2003 issue of Time Magazine, "The Science of Meditation." Source, Dr. Gregg Jacobs, Harvard Medical School, author of Ancestral Mind.
6. Source, research by John Teasdale of Cambridge University. Also in the August 2003 issue of Time Magazine, "The Science of Meditation."


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