Numerous research studies have demonstrated that there is a positive relationship between religiousness and psychological well-being (Koenig, 2001). People who report having strong religious belief and engaging in frequent religious behaviors often report higher levels of satisfaction with life and lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who report infrequent attendance at worship services, sporadic private prayer practices, and doubts in their beliefs. Several researchers have proposed a number of reasons why religious behavior might be related to greater well-being. Likely explanations include the provision of social support, establishment of meaning in life, engagement in healthy lifestyle choices, promotion of positive religious coping styles, and facilitation of positive affect, all of which are believed to be endorsed by and facilitated through religion (Ellison, Boardman, Williams, & Jackson, 2001; Ellison & Levin, 1998; George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000; Seybold & Hill, 2001). Addressing these components in treatment can assist your clients with engaging in value-driven behaviors.
1. Encourage your clients to get more involved in activities at their place of worship or to attend services more regularly. Religious involvement provides access and opportunities to create social networks with people who share similar values, morals, interests, and activities. A large social support network could provide emotional and tangible assistance that may promote better mental health among religious persons. Consider suggesting church-based activities as behavioral activation targets.
2. Encourage your clients to establish a daily practice that includes private prayer or devotional activities. Religious belief provides a view of the world that gives experiences meaning, which yields a sense of purpose, direction in life, and peace of mind for the believer. One study found that participants reported having a greater sense of meaning in life and greater well-being on days that they engaged in religious behaviors (Steger & Frazier, 2005). The findings from this study also suggest that religious individuals feel greater well-being because they derive meaning in life from their religious activities. Consider implementing mindfulness meditations in the form of private religious devotional practices.
3. Focus on client beliefs that prescribe healthy lifestyles. Many religious faiths teach members to respect and care for their bodies. They teach, for example, that the body is the temple of God, or that life and health are gifts that are deserving of gratitude and responsible stewardship. Consider using such client values to guide treatment goals for engaging in increased healthy behaviors.
4. Explore religious coping techniques. Clients may reference their religious beliefs in various ways in attempt to cope with difficult life situations. Some forms of religious coping may be healthy and adaptive, whereas others may be negative and maladaptive. Consider exploring with a client the ways he or she uses religious beliefs to cope, and whether the clients’ current coping patterns are effective.
5. Focus on aspects of religious faith that promote positive emotional experiences, such as hope, gratitude, grace, and forgiveness. Some religious clients may struggle with intense experiences of guilt, shame, or fear of divine punishment. These are areas the client may wish to discuss with a religious leader. In such a case, a referral to a pastor, priest, rabbi, etc. may be appropriate.
Like all other aspects of diversity, religious belief and behavior is an important domain in which psychologists should seek to develop competence. Individuals may express their faith differently from other members in the same religious category or denomination. Thus it is important to discuss each client’s religious values from his or her perspective. It is not necessarily the case that a treatment provider must share the same religious beliefs and values as the client, however it is essential that the provider approach a client’s faith with sensitivity and respect. Doing so with a competent integration of religious activities in treatment has the potential to enhance client well-being and overall treatment outcomes.