Relevance of Religion and Spirituality to Mental Health

Written by Russell Siler Jones

Russell looking at camera and smilingIn its July 2021 edition, the journal Social Work published research of great significance to ACPE and others involved in training therapists to work with spirituality and religion.

Titled “The Relevance of Religion and Spirituality to Mental Health: A National Survey of Current Clients’ Views,” the research is the work of Holly Oxhandler, Ken Pargament, Michelle Pearce, Cassandra Vieten, and Kelsey Moffatt. They surveyed 989 US adult therapy clients and learned that:

  • 64% believed engaging religious or spiritual practices improved their mental health
  • 60% believed religious and spiritual beliefs helped them cope with their mental health symptoms
  • 48% believed their mental health symptoms would not improve until they were religiously and spiritually healthy
  • 25% believed their mental symptoms were the result of spiritual struggles

The study also found that when religion and spirituality were discussed as part of their therapy,

  • 42% said they (the client) initiated the conversation
  • 25% said their therapist brought it up

And if spirituality and religion were not discussed

  • 9.5% said they wished it had been, while
  • 22.6 said they were glad it had not

This research validates what therapists have known from clinical experience for years: that therapy clients see themselves holistically, they recognize spirituality as part of that wholeness, they value working with therapists who can engage the spiritual dimension of human wholeness, and that therapists who engage spirituality and religion require, at minimum, the sensitivity to assess whether this is an area their clients even want to talk about.

It also validates the investment that ACPE is making to develop its Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy (SIP) Program. The SIP Program offers education, connection, and formation for licensed and pre-licensed mental health professionals (i.e., counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, addiction specialists, and more), as well as graduate students in any of those disciplines, who want to explore the ways spirituality and religion influence their own lives and the lives of their clients.

All three of those words—education, connection, formation—are important. The SIP Program recognizes that high-quality therapists become high-quality therapists over time, and in formative relationships with colleagues and mentors. In addition to offering a 30-hour training for continuing education credit, the SIP Program also offers a post-training certification process and SIP Communities of Practice where connection, learning, and professional formation continue beyond the training and certification process. ACPE’s commitment to helping therapists be in formative connection over time is unique in the therapy market.

ACPE has already begun our own research. Working with Scott Richards, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading researchers in spiritually integrated psychotherapy, ACPE is studying the impact our SIP training makes on participants and their clients. Click here to read more about that effort.

Meanwhile, please read the Relevance of Religion and Spirituality to Mental Health study for yourself. And help us spread the word about ACPE’s SIP Program.

Russell Siler Jones is an ACPE Psychotherapist in Asheville, North Carolina. He can be reached at