By: Devora Shabtai, Jewish Faith-Based Program Manager, and Jamie Salsberg, Clinical Director

 

The past several weeks have been permeated by a universally felt sense of confusion, fear, and helplessness that, for many, has been unprecedented in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

Amid this period of uncertainty, many exert effort to tap into their inner resources and reservoirs of strength. Some do so through stepping up to take action whether it be getting involved in service work or finding ways to use their individual talents to support others. Others find strength through meaningful time with loved ones, engaging in enjoyable activities, or within the quiet of solitude. 

Yet, in this period of chaos, there is one coping strategy that appears to be somewhat global- that of turning to a Higher Power. This response is not surprising as it has been documented that people have turned to a Higher Power to provide comfort in times of difficulty throughout time.”¹ In fact, research has found that one of the most significant psychological benefits of spirituality/religion is the enhanced ability to cope with distress such as illness.”²  Common spiritual coping strategies involve strengthening the belief that one’s difficult circumstance contains meaning or purpose, surrendering a distressing situation over to a Higher Power, and/or building a spiritual connection with one’s Higher Power or others.

Many studies have identified that several core spiritual beliefs such as faith in a benevolent Higher power not only provides emotional comfort but actually has a positive impact on the very thought processes that could lead to anxiety or depression themselves.³  These protective cognitive effects include increased capacity to tolerate uncertainty, to accept that one is not in control, and/or to feel one’s creator is actively involved in his/her life. It is these positive consequences, in particular, that are thought to lead to greater emotional wellbeing in times of distress or challenge.4

Individuals in treatment for substance use and/or mental health disorders are no strangers to pandemics. Or feeling powerless. 

As it says in the Big Book, with these disorders “there goes annihilation of all the things worthwhile in life.”5 Those who have been ensnared by the viciousness of addiction and mental health disorders have faced the looming threat of destruction to their physical, financial, emotional lives and personal relationships. 

And through this profound challenge, many in recovery, too, have found a renewed sense of hope, clarity, and purpose through turning to a Higher Power: “With few exceptions, our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves”6.

In witnessing the range of spiritual responses to COVID-19 by many individuals across the globe,  it is not surprising that faith (and other components of spiritual connection) often plays a significant role in treatment and recovery from substance use.  For some, this means being able to gain wisdom, purpose, and direction from the teachings and principles of one’s spiritual or religious tradition. For others, this means learning to turn over control and strengthening one’s ability to accept uncertainty through trust in God.  And for others, spending time in prayer and meditation.  

A robust body of research has uncovered that internal spiritual/religious beliefs (in addition to practices) confer significant therapeutic value for those confronting substance use.  A 2001 study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse concluded that “religion and spirituality can play a powerful role in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and in the maintenance of sobriety,”7 and other researchers have similarly stated that  “religious beliefs, practices, and ministries not only provide succor and solace to those in need; they provide tangible, valuable resources that can help prevent and address substance abuse.”8

The recovery process from addiction or mental health disorders is essentially a guided process of achieving surrender, and in turn, helps empower the individual to achieve a newfound sense of wellbeing. 

Taken together, spiritual/religious beliefs have been found to help combat anxiety and depression, and provide purpose and meaning in life, and in turn, promote long-term recovery and mental health. Fortunately, many seeking help have themselves expressed interest in incorporating spirituality into treatment.9

At Transformations, we strongly believe in the power of integrating spirituality and faith into the therapeutic process for those who wish to do so. From groups that incorporate spiritual principles and literature, to individual sessions with therapists experienced in providing spiritually-integrated treatment, our faith-based programs are designed to provide a platform for each client to harness those aspects of spiritual belief or practice that are personally meaningful.  Each client in our faith-based tracks is provided a variety of opportunities to utilize his or her spiritual or religious identity as a tool for increasing resilience and sense of purpose during the treatment period.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen this come to life as clients in our Faith-Based programs have been able to turn to faith as an ally during this uncertain time. As one client so powerfully shared this week during a faith-based group, “being reminded of these ideas helped my refuge in this chaos. I don’t feel so alone.”

Particularly in a time when social distancing has people feeling isolated, connecting to something greater than one’s self can become paramount to emotional safety and security. Even while experiencing physical distance, reigniting one’s connection with and faith in God or a Higher Power can be a means of maintaining well-being despite powerlessness. One especially important component of the recovery process is that it teaches the individual that he or she cannot do this alone. In a time where being physically alone may be necessary for health and safety, finding ways to connect with something larger may mean the difference between isolation and survival.

For more information on our faith-based programs please click HERE

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  1. Pargament, K.I. (1997) The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice.
  2. New York: The Guilford Press.
  3. Pargament K. I., Ano G. G. (2004) ‘Empirical advances in the psychology of religion and
  4. coping’, in Schaie K. W., Krause N., Booth A. (eds), Religious Influences on Health and Well-
  5. Being in the Elderly, New York, Springer.
  6. Rosmarin, D.H., Pirutinsky, S., Auerbach, R.P., Björgvinsson, T., Bigda-Peyton, J., Andersson, G., Pargament, K.I., & Krumrei, E.J. (2011). Incorporating spiritual beliefs into a cognitive model of worry. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 1-10.
  7. ​ Krumrei, E. J., Rosmarin, D. H., & Pirutinsky, S. (2013). Jewish spirituality, depression, and health: An empirical test of a conceptual framework. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20(3), 327-336.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous, p.18
  9. Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 567-68
  10. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). (2001). So help me God: Substance abuse, religion and spirituality, p.ii. 
  11. Grim, B.J., & Grim, M. (2019) Belief, Behavior, and Belonging: How Faith is indispensable in preventing and recovering from substance abuse. Journal Of Religious Health, 58(5): 1713–1750.
  12. 9.Rosmarin DH, Forester BP, Shassian DM, et al: Interest in spiritually integrated psychotherapy among acute psychiatric patients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 83:1149–1153, 2015

 

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