Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spirituality and Psychiatry

Spirituality and Psychiatry, edited by Chris Cook, Andrew Powell and Andrew Sims, RCPsych Publications, Royal College of Psychiatrists, London 2009 is a truly fascinating compilation of articles encompassing all aspects of the subject.
Spirituality in psychiatry, Assessing spiritual needs, Psychosis, Suicide, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Intellectual disability, Substance misuse, Neuroscience of the Spirit, Spiritual Care in the NHS, The Transpersonal Perspective, Religion and Religious Experience, Pathological Spirituality, and Ageing are a list of the chapter headings. 299 pages of science and wonder.
I've so far only read a couple of these in my own area of special interest and frankly am most impressed by the high level of consideration, erudition and the kind of scientific validation that one expects more from Nature or New England Journal of Medicine magazines than anything as 'flakey' as spirituality.

In a subsection of The Transpersonal Perspective under the heading Philosophy, Physics and Parapsychology there is a delightful quote from Sir James Jeans in 1931, "The universe is more like a great thought than a great machine."

Cook's chapter on 'Substance Misuse' is a truly a gem with a compilation and review of all the major studies of substance abuse and spirituality. Studies of adolescents church attendance versus Bible study, followup studies of treatment results in spirituality based treatment versus not, and all manner of arcane but highly relevant research are explored and discussed. His conclusions are "Spirituality and substance misuse are intimately related...These relationships are borne out by qualitative and quantitative research, which shows that there is an evidence base both for a protective effect of spirituality against the development of substance misuse and also for spirituality as an important variable for study in substance misuse treatment research."

That said I'm looking forward to reading the chapter on "pathological spirituality". The authors throughout the book separate 'spirituality' from religious doctrinal assertions and are very clear about teasing out what can be supported by 'science' from what religious groups from Buddhist to Christian would hold true. The focus principally in the research is on 'behaviour' but there are chapters which indeed wax poetic in discussing the various theories surrounding why spirituality has such profound impact on mental health.

I can't say I've been as excited by a textbook in a long time and actually am taking it on vacation with me so that I can make more progress. The authors are to be highly commended and I look forward in future to the Canadian psychiatrists following suit. I think we'd still have much more to say about the spirituality of wilderness for one.

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