The Meeting of Spirituality and Mental Health


Furthermore, both the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Royal College of Psychiatrists encourage us to consider spirituality in our mental health assessments. In the DSM-5 Cultural Formulation Interview, clinicians are urged to fully evaluate those aspects of people’s backgrounds or identities that could impact their symptomology either for better or worse — specifically including their faith or religion. The document guides clinicians on how to conduct a psychiatric interview inclusive of all culturally relevant topics.

In addition, The Royal College of Psychiatrists offers helpful questions to ask that will usually reveal a person’s main spiritual concerns and practices such as: “Would you say you are spiritual or religious in any way? Please tell me how.” Or, “What gives you hope?” Or, “What keeps you going in difficult times?” Being open-minded and patient is essential, as exploring spiritual issues can be therapeutic in itself.

Ultimately, an awareness of the spiritual beliefs of our patient is not enough. We must then find ways to incorporate their beliefs into their healing process. According to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Practice Parameter for Cultural Competence in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Practice, clinicians should evaluate and incorporate cultural strengths (including values, beliefs, and attitudes) in their treatment interventions to enhance the child’s and family’s participation in treatment and its effectiveness.

In fact, most surveys on this topic show that patients and families welcome discussion about their cultural and spiritual beliefs. Therefore, while psychologists continue to develop and evaluate spiritually integrated approaches to treatment, we can start by encouraging our patients to remember their spirituality as they attempt to reach their treatment goals. 

We must strive to never ignore an individual’s spiritual life or treat their spiritual experiences as mere manifestations of psychopathology. Instead, by asking patients about their spiritual and religious needs throughout their care, we may help them to better understand the value and importance of their spiritual lives which could ultimately help them to benefit from the positive effects of spirituality on mental health.

Melissa Vallas, MD, is lead psychiatrist at Children’s System of Care, Alameda County (California) Behavioral Health Care Services Agency. Her personal website is


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