Indian cultural life is awash with religious rituals and spiritual practices that constantly remind us that there is ‘life’ beyond what appears on the surface.. Almost every month, there is a religious festival with temple visits, prayers and so on. You turn the TV on and there is a host of channels dedicated to religion and spirituality.
Often, trauma survivors are turned off by the rigid rituals of religion. They may also subconsciously associate their abuse with the religious culture they grew up with. Some may be drawn to a new spiritual practice (for instance, Buddhist) after a trauma as a result.
There is, however, increasing evidence of a positive association between a spiritual practice and lower levels of depression amongst adults, children and young people. It also shows that belief in a transcendent being is associated with reduced depressive symptoms.
Research has examined the relationship between spirituality and anxiety or stress. This demonstrated reduced levels of anxiety in a number of populations, including medical patients in later life, women with breast cancer, middle aged people with cardiac problems and those recovering from spinal surgery.
There is an emerging literature examining the association between spirituality and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One review found 11 studies that reported links between religion, spirituality, and trauma-based mental health problems. A review of these 11 studies produced three main findings.
First, these studies show that religion and spirituality are usually, although not always, beneficial to people in dealing with the aftermath of trauma.
Second, they show that traumatic experiences can lead to a deepening of religion or spirituality during recovery.
Third, that positive religious coping, religious openness, readiness to face existential questions, religious participation, and intrinsic religiousness are typically associated with improved post-traumatic recovery.
These benefits seem to depend to some extent on the way in which spirituality is expressed. For example, increased mental health problems are often found amongst those with a strict religious upbringing. Strict religious codes affecting women’s rights (for example) may accentuate a trauma. Such societies also tend to be hierarchical and patriarchal - conditions that may permit child abuse to go unattended.
Some also find that their religious or spiritual beliefs are not understood or explored within mental health services. For many, clinicians either ignore an individual’s spiritual life completely or treat their spiritual experiences as nothing more than manifestations of psychopathology. Yet, these could be an important source of perspective and strength in one’s recovery.
With your therapist, explore your beliefs and attitudes about religion and spirituality. See how they can be used to form a base for your recovery and your coping.