One View of Spirituality and Mental Health

By Michelle F Moseley, MS, LCMHC, NCC (she/her)

People are more than the sum of their parts. Various aspects of oneself might contribute to a sense of wholeness. These include, but are not limited to: physical, emotional, vocational, intellectual, relational, and spiritual. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, my role is to come alongside people in their journey to assist them in exploring and integrating aspects of their life, increasing their sense of wellness. Discussion and understanding of mental health issues has increased in our society and discussions of spirituality have been prevalent, but together, the issues of spirituality and mental health can still feel difficult to reconcile at times. 

Consider an individual for whom spirituality is an important aspect of life. They may regularly attend a place of worship to gather with others who share their beliefs. They may read scriptures or other writings that help them grow in their spiritual beliefs. Perhaps they receive a daily email containing a devotional passage or inspiring quote to start the day. Faith plays a large role in their life, yet they feel like it doesn’t quite address some of their lived experience. This may describe you, a family member or other loved one for whom spirituality is important, yet there is a struggle to experience a true sense of overall wellness and peace. 

The devoutly religious person who has been dealing with ongoing sadness for weeks or months, who has lost interest in doing the things they once enjoyed, and does not feel quite settled by meditating on scriptures or sacred writings, may be dealing with clinical depression. This person for whom spiritual life is so important may even experience some shame when reading verses like “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NIV) because they are not experiencing this joy and hope. 

A person who holds strongly to a spiritual belief that worries and concerns should be given up to a higher power may struggle silently when the worries just won’t seem to leave their mind. Someone who has experienced a traumatic experience may feel that this cannot be discussed in the context of their belief system or with their spiritual leaders. Or they may discuss it to receive spiritual guidance and support, but recognize they need something more to help them deal with the effects of the experience. An individual may feel that they are not fully accepted within the belief system they value, and desire to work through that with a supportive professional. Any of these things, and a variety of other concerns, may indicate that someone could benefit from seeking counseling that will address their mental health concerns, while respecting their spiritual beliefs. 

Perhaps you are a leader within a spiritual belief system – pastor, imam, rabbi, deacon, youth leader, or a variety of other roles – and you desire to minister to those under your care in a way that cares for the whole person. You are often the first “line of defense” for mental health concerns because those you lead may come to you for guidance as someone they trust, and you are in a position to notice things that may indicate the need for the support of a licensed mental health professional. To make the best referral for support, the following is important: a basic understanding of mental health symptoms, familiarity with a local provider of mental health services, and assurance that the licensed mental health professional will respect the beliefs of the person you’re referring.