Breaking Down Barriers: Religion and Mental Health

For some time now, the cultural competency movement has been moved to build inclusive health care settings, addressing issues around linguistic and ethnic bias and gender among others. Religion sometimes gets mentioned but then glossed over. Ever heard the old adage – if you want to get along with people, don’t talk about religion and politics? Well that’s been true in the cultural competency movement too.
 
So it comes as no surprise that addressing religion in mental health care settings has been extremely challenging. According to a recent article on the research of Bronwyn Clark, a Massey University doctoral student, studies have shown that “a therapist’s understanding of a client’s deeply held religious or spiritual views and values [are] crucial in developing effective treatment.”
 
However, her anecdotal evidence indicates that therapists do not ask their clients about their religious beliefs. Clark is currently surveying New Zealanders who have sought care from mental health providers to “evaluate the degree to which their spiritual beliefs were discussed or understood by counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists.” She will use this information to create a model that will allow therapists to incorporate a client’s religious views into their treatment plan.
                                                                          
Like Tanenbaum, Clark is driven to make patients’ religious identities part of the conversation of providing care because religious identity contributes to the decisions patients make. This is especially true in mental health care settings. As Clark notes, "to ignore or neglect [religion] creates major limitations to therapy…spiritual and religious concerns are intimately connected with mental health."
 
If you are like Bronwyn Clark and you are wondering what you can do as a mental health professional to be more competent on these issues, Tanenbaum offers a variety of resources. These include webinars, trainings and our newest resource, The Medical Manual for Religio-Cultural Competence: Caring for Religiously Diverse Populations.