What is it about faith that draws so many towards a higher being and a desire to be “enlightened”? Children are much more impressionable when expressions of faith are displayed, whether inwardly and/or outwardly. During this time of year, we hear songs of praise, see images of devotion, and hear the clamoring of religious words being spoken in the halls, synagogues, temples, and churches. Faith is an abundant aspect of life.
THE THERAPEUTIC ENVIRONMENT
Does faith enrich a child’s experience of life? In the field of psychotherapy, counselling, and psychology, faith was historically considered a taboo subject, something we left for parents to embark upon. As a graduate student, I recall having been told countless times that “faith is something that we don’t tread upon,… or if we do, we tread lightly.” Moreover, if a patient desired to speak of their faith; we should walk cautiously through this minefield, always emphasizing the patient’s statue of faith.
If we are to plunge into the life of a person, should we not also be learning about their faith’s values, morals and ethics? Why is it that we resist speaking about faith in our clinical practices? Are we afraid that our own faith might come under scrutiny? Of course, we are not to testify or discuss our faith during therapy.
Ironically, discussions we have with our patients in therapy, have a way of burrowing their way into our conscience mind beyond the therapeutic session. Faith happens to be one of those conversations that I have had countless times with fellow practitioners. I have found practitioners who either do not feel comfortable having such conversations with their patients; or they allow their personal foundations of faith to embark upon the patients; or they have a bitter feelings when discussing faith; or they are completely neutral. If a therapist is wavering on their own foundations of faith, or if they are incapable of allowing the patient’s foundations of faith to be the center piece; they should step aside; referring this patient to someone who maybe unbiased towards faith.
As parents, we are influencing many aspects of our child’s innermost thoughts and world perspectives. We provide an unwritten guide on the basic human theory of life, relationships, religious and nonreligious ideologies. The relationship we have with our child can help them to embrace or reject the faith with which we proclaim. We are at the faith helm of our child’s life, steering our children down paths that we follow, as well as, paths that one day our child may or may not choose to follow.
ARE THERE BENEFITS TO FAITH?
Are there benefits to employing faith in the therapeutic environment? Faith is capable of providing a foundation of support, a source of hope and comfort, and a place of solitude and refuge during troubling times. “… a new study finds that higher levels of religious faith and spirituality were associated with several positive mental health outcomes, including more optimism about life and higher resilience to stress…” (APA, 2000, Online) “It may be that having faith translates into your being more soothed physiologically.” (Goleman, 1995, Online)
Children who rely upon their foundations of faith often have greater coping skills instilled. We know that a children’s basic moral compasses are geared by those that are in their immediate inner-circle: their parents, friends, teachers, and religious leaders. “Children reared in a system of faith often find great solace in formal ceremonial practices during times of stress and uncertainty. Parents can reinforce this coping strategy by reaching out to their faith community and providing opportunities for their children to spend time with others, particularly peers, who share their beliefs. Teachers should be sensitive to a student’s belief system and may expose them to a variety of value building literature and activities.” (NASP, 2011, Online)
The National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, NCCEV are not unlike many other publicly funded centers today; they emphasize a need to employee faith-based strategies in healing one’s psyche. “Help from educators, mental health professionals and faith-based groups can be effective tools for intervention.” (NCCEV, 2011, Online)
“‘Having a strong faith and being embedded in a web of relationships like churchgoing have definite health benefits,’ said Dr. Lisa Berkman, an epidemiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine.” (Goleman, 1995, Online) Can faith act as a source of good, for those who are struggling with psychological challenges?
AN EXAMPLE OF A DIAGNOSTIC BENEFIT
Children with the diagnosis of Autism often require high levels of energy and personal resiliency.
Parents of autistic children are often taxed emotionally, financially, and psychologically. (Konrad, 2010; Tonge, et. al, 2006; Milgram & Atzil, 1988) “…Some of the most commonly used coping strategies in times of distress is religious belief…” (Gupta & Singhal, 2005, p. 70) While autism only accounts for a minuet part of childhood diagnostics; it can be one of the most challenging of diagnoses for parents.
FAITH BEYOND RELIGION
Faith in religious orders is not the answer for everyone, but everyone has a faith. Faith is the ability to completely trust or show an unwavering confidence in another. Our faiths can be placed on a higher deity, upon ourselves, and/or upon the life of another. Children in healthy and nurturing environments most commonly have a faith in their parents: that they will always be protected; that they will be gently guided in life; and that will always be shown a spirit of unconditional love, acceptance, and approval. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “children who have faith and confidence in themselves and their abilities will be more likely to lead happy and productive adult lives.”
Integrating faith and psychology is not a difficult task, rather it is sort of a natural evolution. It is faith that has the ability of employing unconditional trust, therefore allowing our minds to completely relax and reach a higher plateau of peace.
American Psychological Association, APA (2000) Religious faith and spirituality may help people recover from substance abuse, Retrieved December 20, 2011, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/08/faith.aspx
Canadian Mental Health Association, CMHA (2011) Children and self-esteem. Retrieved December 20, 2011, from http://www.cmha.ca/bins/content_page.asp?cid=2-29-68
DuPont, R. L. (2001) The healing power of faith: Science explores medicines’s last great frontier The American Journal of Psychiatry 158:1347-1348
Goleman, D. (1995) Religious faith and social activity hellp to heal, New research finds Retrieved December 20, 2011 from http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/04/us/religious-faith-and-social-activity-help-to-heal-new-research-finds.html
Gupta, A., Singhal, N. (2005) Psychosocial support for families of children with autism. Asian Pacific Disability Rehabilitation Journal 123(16-2):62-83
Konrad, W. (2010) Dealing with the financial burden of autism, Retrieved December 19, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/health/23patient.html?pagewanted=all
Milgram, N. A., Atzil, M. (1988) Parenting stress in raising autistic children. Journal of Autism Development Disorder 18(3), 415-424
National Association of School Psychologists, NASP (2011) How children cope with trauma and ongoing threat: The BASIC Ph model, Retrieved December 19, 2011, from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/ongoingthreat.aspx
National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, NCCEV (2011) Community violence, Retrieved December 19, 2011, from http://www.nccev.org/violence/community.html
Oxman, T. E., Freeman, D. H., & Manheimer, E. D. (1995) Lack of social participation or religious strength and comfort as risk factors for death after cardiac surgery in the elderly. Psychosomatic Medicine 57: 5-15
Tonge, B. J., Brereton, A., Kiomall, M., Mackinnon, A., King, N., & Rinehart, N. J. (2006). Effects on parental mental health of an education and skills training program for parents of young children with autism: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 45(5), 561-569.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA