Psychology and religion
I was interested to read Ann Wood’s description of her experience as a member of a spirituality group at a rehabilitation unit (‘People first, science second’, June 2015), not the least because articles in The Psychologist that deal with religion are almost as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth [although see tinyurl.com/psychreli]. Whilst there are academic journals in our field that specialise in religion, this dearth of articles suggests that psychologists prefer to keep religion very much in the background. However, Ann Wood’s informative contribution illustrates how rewarding it can be to participate in the sort of group that she describes, even after her initial reservations.
One of the vocational guidance tests I used to administer to young people had the profiles of psychologists and the clergy next to each other in rank order. Invariably, when I came to give feedback and reported that the test had shown the best matches were with the profiles of psychologists and the clergy, the reaction from the parents was something like: ‘Our little Johnny a clergyman – with the way he behaves, you must be joking!’ I then had to try and explain that both these professions were concerned with helping people, enhancing their wellbeing, and life satisfaction. The only real difference is that the clergy base their approach on spiritual beliefs, and psychologists on evidence-based theory and practice.
Is it possible to have a foot in both camps? Do psychologists have to have personal a religious faith in order to consider that a client’s difficulties might have a spiritual basis? Likewise, should clergy involved in pastoral counselling accept that there are times when the help they are able to offer is inadequate, and that a consultation with a psychologist would be advisable? Even more interesting are the questions ‘Can both these roles be fulfilled by the same person?’ and ‘Would it then be professionally acceptable for one person to operate in this way?’ No doubt the current climate of political correctness, human rights and fear of litigation would act as discouragements.
Likewise, there can be resistance from both to investigating spiritual and religious topics using the tools of the scientific method. Those with strong religious convictions may say that everything contained in holy books should be accepted as inerrant. In the other camp, the secularists will say that all can be explained rationally and nothing is supernatural. In my first book The Gospel Miracles: What Really Happened? (Resource Publications, 2014) I examined 35 miracles with an open mind and without any pre-suppositions. The findings will no doubt please neither the religious conservatives nor the secularists, but only those who value an honest attempt to arrive at the truth. I am continuing this unbiased inquiry in my second book Suicide, Euthanasia, and Despair: Can the Bible Help?, and my next will be on whether a religious faith can enhance mental and physical wellness in the third age.
Whatever our inner convictions may be, the fact that the lives of many people are influenced by their spiritual beliefs and religious convictions means that these must be taken account of by all in the helping professions, and not ignored. I look forward to seeing more contributions to The Psychologist on matters
of religious faith.
Dr Michael Lowis
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