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If spirituality supports resiliency, then it's definitely part of our

by Lori Ashcraft, PhD, William A. Anthony, PhD, and
Rev. Laura L. Mancuso, MS, CRC
Issue Date: July-August 2010
Citation: Behavioral Healthcare 2010 July-August;30(7):7-8
Available online at Click on Archives, then July/August 2010

Get ready to squirm in your seats because we need to have a talk with you about spirituality. Spirituality is
a topic we behavioral health types have shied away from: Professionals are taught to avoid it in their
practices, and organizations have concerns about the separation of church and state. Many of the people
who use our services, however, tell us that some form of spirituality plays a key role in their recovery
process. So, since we're all trying to create opportunities for people to recover, we'd better get over
ourselves and figure out how to talk to people about this.

We've asked Rev. Laura Mancuso, a psychiatric rehabilitation counselor and interfaith minister, to help us
discover ways of including spirituality in program planning and initiate conversations with people that will
help them develop spiritual competence.

Laura worked in the public mental health field at the local, state, and national levels for 15 years before her
own journey of health challenges and personal losses culminated in a calling to become ordained. As an
interfaith minister, she strives to honor all faith traditions, as well as the beliefs and life philosophies of
those who do not adhere to any religion.

Laura observes that “spirituality is highly personal, very central to a person's inner life, and oftentimes
inseparable from one's cultural identity. It seems to me that if mental health programs can figure out how to
respect and support the spirituality of the people we serve and the people we employ, we will have figured 1
out how to respect and support their very essence as human beings. That's why spirituality should be
included in programs that intend to be holistic, culturally competent, and recovery-oriented.”
Laura observes that “spirituality is highly personal, very central to a person's inner life, and oftentimes
inseparable from one's cultural identity. It seems to me that if mental health programs can figure out how to
respect and support the spirituality of the people we serve and the people we employ, we will have figured
out how to respect and support their very essence as human beings. That's why spirituality should be
included in programs that intend to be holistic, culturally competent, and recovery-oriented.”

The Joint Commission's Standards and Elements of Performance require healthcare organizations-including
accredited behavioral health organizations-to assess how a person's spiritual outlook may affect his or her
care, treatment, and services. The February 2005 issue of the Joint Commission's newsletter, The Source,
states: “Spirituality can be defined as a complex and multidimensional part of the human experience-our
inner belief system. It helps individuals search for the meaning and purpose of life, and it helps them
experience hope, love, inner peace, comfort, and support.”1

Aren't those things we could all use more of?

Then why is it so hard for mental health programs to “go there”? There are many reasons. Although it's
now shifting (see “Milestones in the recognition of spirituality in mental health wellness and recovery”
below and at, professional training programs warned students
for decades not to discuss religion or spirituality with clients, as it was thought to foster delusions. Publicly-
funded programs must be careful not to promote religion, or to favor one religion over another. Incidents of
discrimination and violence on the basis of religious beliefs create more fear. The drive to improve the
credibility of our interventions through scientific evidence causes us to turn away from concepts and
processes that are more difficult to measure. Given these challenges, the most common response is to avoid
the topic altogether.

The challenge before us is to wade into these murky waters with our eyes and hearts open, meet myths and
misconceptions with facts, and listen to what service recipients have told us over and over: Spirituality is
often a valuable resource in the recovery journey.

Here are a few things to avoid while wading in:

 Avoid proselytizing. Exploring one's spirituality is a very personal experience. Each of us needs to
discover our own way of relating to spiritual issues.

 Programs should not favor one religion over another.

 Service eligibility should not be conditional on expressions of faith or participation in religious


 Humanists, agnostics, atheists, and other secularists should not be excluded - directly, indirectly, or
even subtly.

These are basic premises of welcoming spirituality at non-discriminatory workplaces and service sites.
Following these core practices still leaves a whole lot of room for dialogue about spirituality.

Now that we know what not to do, what can we do to help people develop spiritual strength that supports
their recovery journey?

One approach is to talk about spirituality as one of the three parts of our basic makeup: body, mind, and

spirit. Most of us know how to take care of our bodies, and in our business, we talk a lot about how to
manage our minds. Since we've largely avoided conversations about spirit, we haven't given people much
support to develop competencies in this area.

Next month we will wade deeper into this subject and explore more approaches to supporting this
important aspect of recovery. In the meantime, here are some ideas that can create an opening for a
supportive, recovery-based conversation about developing spiritual competencies:

 A good place to start is just listening to what people have to say about spiritual issues. As simple as
this may sound, it's a step many of us haven't yet taken since we have not been open to having this

 We can ask how people understand the words “spirituality” and “religion,” and if they view them as
distinct. Listen deeply to what they say.

 We can ask what gives their lives purpose and meaning. For example, the following questions were
developed for use by physicians: “What do you hold on to during difficult times?” “What sustains
you and keeps you going?” “What aspects of your spirituality or spiritual practices do you find most
helpful to you personally?” “Is there anything I can do to help you access the resources that usually
help you?”2

 If people express interest in gaining spiritual competencies, we can describe some practices that
many others have found helpful, such as: prayer, meditation, contemplation, reading inspirational
books, journal writing, spending time in nature, taking part in religious services, or volunteering
services to others.

 We can show interest in and provide support for their spiritual findings and encourage them to stay
with practices that support their recovery, and to let go of those that don't.

Spirituality is different from religion. It has less to do with organized approaches and is more
individualized. But since there is a strong connection between the two, let's look at what the national polls
reliably indicate about religion. They say that religion is an important facet in the lives of the vast majority
of Americans. In 2009, Newsweek stated that polls since 1992 have consistently found 85 percent of
Americans say religion is “very important” or “fairly important” in their lives.3 Research also indicates that
faith, religion, and spirituality play important roles in coping with stress, trauma, and illness.4,5

Why would we assume that people with psychiatric conditions are any different? Anything that can support
the resiliency of the people we serve should definitely be our business. We must move beyond our
ambivalence about including spirituality in mental health programs if we intend to provide holistic,
culturally competent, and recovery-oriented services.

Lori Ashcraft, PhD, directs the Recovery Opportunity Center at Recovery Innovations,
Inc. in Phoenix. She is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's editorial board. William
A. Anthony, PhD, is director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston
University. Rev. Laura L. Mancuso, MS, CRC, serves the mental health community in
California as an interfaith chaplain, and was director of the California Mental Health and
Spirituality Initiative from 2008-2010.
Citation: Behavioral Healthcare 2010 July-August;30(7):7-8

1. The Joint Commission. The Source, February 2005, 3(2), p.7.
2. Anandarajah, Gowri and Hight, Ellen. “Spirituality and Medical Practice: Using the H.O.P.E. as a
Practical Tool for Spiritual Assessment.” American Family Physician, 63(1), January 2001, pp. 81-
89. Available at:
3. Stone, Daniel. “One Nation Under God?” Newsweek, September 20, 2009. Available at:
4. Lukoff, David. “Spirituality in the Recovery from Persistent Mental Disorders.” Southern Medical
Journal, 100(6), June 2007. Available at:
5. Peteet, John “Selected Annotated Bibliography on Spirituality and Mental Health.” Southern
Medical Journal, 100(6), June 2007. Available at:

More tools for transformation:

Spirituality and recovery from mental illness
In the July/August issue of Behavioral Healthcare, columnists Lori Ashcraft and William Anthony, with co-
author Rev. Laura Mancuso, suggest integrating spirituality into treatment to promote recovery from mental

Spirituality has been known to strengthen recovery for many individuals with mental illness for years, but it has
also been widely ignored by professionals in the field. However, the tides are changing on spirituality and
recovery, and the evolution of spirituality as a vital component of recovery from mental illness is documented in
the following timeline:

• 1988 – Pathways to Promise ( is founded in St Louis, Mo. by 14

faith groups and mental health organizations to provide resources and technical assistance to
faith communities in reaching out to those with mental illnesses and their families.

• 1991 – David Lukoff, PhD, Francis Lu, MD, and Robert Turner, MD, submit a proposal for a
new diagnosis, “Psychoreligious or Psychospiritual Problem,” to the American Psychiatric
Association’s Task Force developing the DSM-IV, in order to improve the manual’s cultural
sensitivity. The proposal is endorsed by the APA’s Committee on Religion and Psychiatry and
the NIMH Workgroup on Culture and Diagnosis.

• 1994 - Religious or Spiritual Problem V Code V62.89 (Other Conditions That May Be a Focus
of Clinical Attention) is added to DSM-IV: “Examples include distressing experiences that
involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or
questioning of other spiritual values which may not necessarily be related to an organized church
or religious institution.”

• 1994 – Essay by Sally Clay entitled “The Wounded Prophet”

( describes the role of spirituality in her recovery.

• 1997 – Issue of The Journal of the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill, edited by Dan
Weisburd, is devoted to spirituality.

• 1998 - Roger D. Fallot edits “Spirituality and Religion in Recovery from Mental Illness,” New
Directions for Mental Health Services, Number 80, Winter 1998 (Jossey-Bass).

• 1998 - NAMI Faith-Net is founded in California by Dr. Gunnar Christiansen for outreach to
religious organizations, then later expanded nationally (

• 1999 – The First National Summit of Mental Health Consumers and Survivors in Portland, Ore.
by the National Mental Health Consumer Self-Help Clearinghouse. Working session co-
facilitated by Jay Mahler and by Andrea Schmook results in a consensus that the four values
most important to recovery are: hope, responsibility, spirituality, and empowerment

• 2001 – “Culture, Race, & Ethnicity Supplement” to the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental
Health identifies spirituality and religion as key protective/resiliency factors in racial and ethnic
minority communities (

• 2001 – Mental Health Ministries is founded by Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder to provide

educational resources to help erase the stigma of mental illness in faith communities and develop
caring congregations for persons living with a mental illness and their families

• 2002 – Pathways to Recovery: A Strengths Recovery Self-Help Workbook by Priscilla Ridgway

et al explores eight key components of recovery including spirituality

• 2002 – Federal Center for Mental Health Services convenes a dialogue between mental health
consumers and members of faith-based organizations resulting in a report entitled “Building
Bridges: Mental Health Consumers and Members of Faith-Based and Community Organizations
in Dialogue” (

• 2005 – American Psychiatric Association Assembly and Board of Trustees approves a Position
Statement on “Use of the Concept of Recovery” which states that “the APA endorses and
strongly affirms the application of the concept of recovery ... best results come when patients feel
that treatment decisions are made in ways that suit their cultural, spiritual, and personal ideals.”
(, Position Statement #200504)

• 2005 – Caring Congregations Curriculum developed by Rev. Barbara Meyers, a Unitarian

Universalist minister in recovery, to educate congregations about how to be more intentionally
supportive of people with mental disorders and their families

• 2007 - Spring 2007 issue of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal co-edited by Zlatka
Russinova & Andrea Blanch, devoted to spirituality and recovery, describes spirituality as a
“new frontier for recovery-oriented mental health systems.”

• 2008 – Establishment of the California Mental Health & Spirituality Initiative with voluntary
financial contributions from 53 of the 59 county behavioral health authorities. One year later,
two statewide conferences on Mental Health & Spirituality are attended by over 1,100 people

• 2009 - Spirituality is identified as a key domain for quality of life in the revision of the USPRA
Core Principles & Values for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

• 2009 – SAMHSA holds a Listening Session on the role of “Religion & Spirituality in Trauma-
Informed Mental Health Care” in Annapolis, Md. (

• 2009 – NAMI STAR (Support, Technical Assistance and Resource) Center conducts a
workshop on “Multicultural Competence, Intense Spiritual Experiences, and Mental Health” in
Walnut Creek, Calif. The STAR Center is funded by SAMHSA to assist consumer-operated and
consumer-helper programs in meeting the needs of under-served populations

• 2010 – The SAMHSA 10x10 Wellness Campaign to increase life expectancy of persons with
mental health problems by 10 years over the next 10 years identifies spirituality as one of eight
dimensions of wellness (

Compiled by Lori A. Ashcraft, PhD, William A. Anthony, PhD, and Rev. Laura Mancuso, MS,

Citation: Behavioral Healthcare 2010 July-August; 30(7):7-8


Help staff reunite “the mystical and the measurable” in themselves
and in consumers

by Lori Ashcraft, PhD, William A. Anthony, PhD, and

Rev. Laura L. Mancuso, MS, CRC
Issue Date: September 2010
Citation: Behavioral Healthcare 2010 September; 30(8):10-13
Available online at Click on Archives, then September 2010

In the July/August 2010 issue of Behavioral Healthcare, we began a conversation about the important role of
spirituality in the recovery process. With the help of co-author Rev. Laura Mancuso, a psychiatric rehabilitation
counselor and interfaith minister, we discussed factors that help and hinder the use of spirituality in the recovery
process and traced its 20-plus year emergence as a wellness and recovery resource. In so doing, we sought to
show that attending to the body, mind, and spirit of service recipients is not a new or fleeting fad, but an integral
part of high-quality mental healthcare that consumers and family members have long sought.

Healthcare’s spiritual history

One could easily call this “the return” of spirituality to mental healthcare, as the two were united long before
they were at odds. Christina Puchalski, MD, founder of the George Washington University Institute on

Spirituality and Health (, notes that there was a powerful relationship between spirituality and
healthcare in this country until the 19th century. Before then, most healthcare services were provided by
religious organizations who emphasized altruism, service, compassion, and the relief of suffering. Puchalski
maintains that healthcare's drive for “quick fixes” and cures caused us to lose sight of the need for compassion,
as well as the need to address spiritual and existential distress with the same urgency and focus as we do for
physical pain. And, as we seek evidence-based practices, we must recognize that science can take us only so far.
“Healing involves an appreciation of mystery,” she asserts, since science alone has not eliminated suffering.i

If they started out together, what led to the current divide between mental health and spirituality? Sigmund
Freud famously viewed religious belief as an infantile, neurotic illusion. And, the remarkable scientific
achievements of the last century have led Americans in particular to see science as a potential solution to all of
our problems. Psychiatry and psychology, already considered “softer” sciences than their medical counterparts,
joined in shunning the mystical in favor of the measurable, and instructed trainees to avoid discussing
spirituality or religion altogether.

A model for reintegration

In her recent book, Wrestling With Our Inner Angels, Roman Catholic nun and clinical psychologist Nancy
Kehoe describes how she instinctively downplayed her role as a member of the Sacred Heart religious order
when she started working as a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School. She heeded the
admonition of Hungarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz that theists were automatically suspect within the mental
health field: “If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.ii

When she finally gathered the courage to propose the formation of a group focused on religious and spiritual
beliefs in a day treatment program, her idea was met with stunned silence, followed by a series of objections
from fellow staff: Some participants might try to convert others; religious delusions might be affirmed; staff
might be asked to explain their own religious views; program funding could be threatened; and more. But with
the help of a determined program director, the group was eventually approved.

From the beginning, Dr. Kehoe required participants to “respect every other member and be able to tolerate
differences in beliefs.” As the group's leader, she never inquired about participants’ psychiatric diagnoses,
considering them irrelevant, noting, “Perhaps unconsciously, this came from my own experience of being
stereotyped as a nun.iii

Dr. Kehoe went on to lead spiritual beliefs and values groups at several other locations for 27 years, and the
initial fears never came to fruition. She says, “With a track record of 3,224 group sessions, I can attest to the
fact that no client has ever become more delusional because of the group, no client has tried to convert others in
the community, and no client has resisted working with a therapist of a different belief. Clients with different
religious beliefs have not split the community. These 27 years have uncovered a rich inner terrain, one that had
been hidden from mental health providers but has been a source of strength and resilience for the clients.iii

That's an impressive body of experience that attests to the value of spirituality in mental health services, and
how Dr. Kehoe succeeded in this delicate area is almost as important as what she did. First, she approached the
topic with humility, an open mind, and an open heart. Second, she moved slowly and thoughtfully when
introducing a new spirituality activity into a mental health program. Last, she set clear guidelines about respect
and tolerance for diversity by all involved.

If you're interested in this approach, there's no reason to start from scratch. As we researched this topic, we
discovered pockets of innovation in community-based and publicly-funded programs across the country. Some
of these programs have done wonderful work for decades with little fanfare and perhaps prefer it that way,

given the controversial nature of spirituality within the mental health system. We hope that starting the
conversation with you, right here, will motivate you to share lessons learned or find out why spirituality is
excluded from the wellness and recovery resources offered at your organization.

Initiating a recovery-focused spirituality program

If you find yourself at the beginning stages of exploration, here are some places to start:

Designate a space for contemplation. If outdoors, create a pleasing environment with comfortable places to sit
close to nature. Consider adding a permanent or removable labyrinth if space allows. For indoor spaces, equip
the room with supplies to soothe each of the senses: soft lighting and inviting colors; cozy places to sit or
recline; relaxing music; pure essential oils for aromatherapy; candles; and materials for making art or journal

Focus on the body-mind-spirit wellness of staff. Ask them how they take care of their own well-being and what
nourishes their spirit. We've learned the hard way that we cannot transform our programs and systems in spite
of our staff-rather, we need to engage them first, listening to and validating their experiences, while also clearly
articulating our organizational values and strategic direction.

Consider objections to including spirituality in programming. Use a problem-solving approach by asking

questions like, “How might we overcome that issue?” “What would help?” and “If you were receiving services
here, what would you like to see happen?”

Learn about the cultural, spiritual, and religious characteristics of the people you serve, or desire to serve. Ask
to be introduced to respected spiritual leaders in the local community. Bring a gift and do more listening than
talking. Find out how they approach mental health issues and how you may support them in what they do. Look
for areas in which your resources can complement theirs. For example, we know that people tend to turn to their
faith communities for help with emerging mental health problems before looking to professionals for help. So
how can your program establish itself as the go-to resource for individuals or families whose needs exceed the
level of support provided there?

Promote diversity. Expose service providers and recipients to authentic sharing by individuals from diverse
cultural, religious, and spiritual backgrounds. In doing so, keep in mind that no one person can speak for an
entire group-for example, no single Christian can represent the views of all Christians.

Remember that spiritual strength comes in all shapes and sizes. Many people are deeply comforted by time
spent in nature, for example, even if “God-talk” is meaningless to them. Include presentations by individuals
who are atheist, humanist, and/or secular.

Make a list of dos and don'ts. Develop an organizational policy on the ethics of including spirituality in
programming, and communicate it clearly to your staff.

Encourage self-exploration. As with other aspects of cultural competency, express the expectation to employees
that we all need to become aware of our own sensitivities and biases regarding spirituality and religion.

Create an organizational culture in which it's safe and customary for staff to inquire about the wishes,
preferences, and experiences of those they serve regarding spirituality and religion. Provide examples of
neutral and helpful questions from established spiritual assessment instruments-such as the Pargament Meaning
Scale or the FICA Spiritual History Tool-to help them open a dialogue.iv v

Include spirituality as a topic for self-help groups. This can enable individuals to share daily spiritual practices
that have been helpful during troubled times. Include resources from diverse cultural, religious, and spiritual
perspectives. Offer the opportunity for people to write a spiritual autobiography or draw a spiritual life vii

It is the recovery vision and its focus on people's meaning and purpose that can help bridge the divide that some
still believe exists between spirituality and mental health. When our field of practice and research turns from an
almost singular focus on pathology and symptoms toward an emphasis on recovery, resilience, and health, our
field of interest will expand and spirituality can assume its rightful place as a source of healing and growth.

Lori Ashcraft, PhD, directs the Recovery Opportunity Center at Recovery Innovations, Inc. in
Phoenix. She is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's editorial board. William A.
Anthony, PhD, is director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University.
Rev. Laura L. Mancuso, MS, CRC, serves the mental health community in California as an
interfaith chaplain, and was director of the California Mental Health and Spirituality Initiative
from 2008-2010.
Citation: Behavioral Healthcare 2010 September; 30(8):10-13

Puchalski C. Presentation to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Psychiatric Grand Rounds. Santa Barbara,
California : January 13, 2010.
Szasz TS. The Second Sin. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1973.
Kehoe N. Wrestling With Our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness and the Journey to Wholeness. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.
Pargament KI. Multidimensional measurements of religiousness/spirituality: Use in Health Research.
Kalamazoo, MI: Fetzer Institute, 1999.
FICA Spiritual History Tool. The George Washington Institute on Spirituality and Health.
Wakefield D. The Story of Your Life: Writing a Spiritual Autobiography. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
Hodge DR. Spiritual life maps: A Client-centered pictorial instrument for spiritual assessment, planning, and
intervention. Social Work 2005; 50:77-87.