John Weaver, Psy.D.
An Overview of Integrated Mental Health – Part 5
This will be a multipart blog, so keep watching for the subsequent updates.
Although the framework of the biopsychosocial model was established around 1977 in the approach to psychological health, I think there is another aspect of psychological health that has been overlooked. It is the spiritual dimension.
Spirituality, as I refer to it in this blog, is a broader concept than adherence to a set of religious beliefs. It is the willingness to acknowledge that I am a part of something larger than myself. It is the discovery of a sense of purpose and meaning for my life, and it provides a framework for the development of moral and ethical thoughts and actions. Specific religions may provide a framework for spirituality, that an individual can utilize as a guide toward developing a sense of purpose and moral principles, but there are individuals from many different religious traditions and those who disavow any religion who still see themselves as a part of something bigger, that gives life meaning, and results in strong moral and ethical action.
Since the earliest times of recorded human history there has been a spiritual dimension that defined human communities. It has been present in virtually all societies from small tribes to advanced civilizations. It could be argued that it is a vestige of a primitive mind attempting to explain the working of the planet (and the universe) through myth and fantasy. It could also be argued that its universality and persistence in the human community is best understood as a stable and important dimension of human functioning. For me, spirituality is that stable and important dimension of human functioning that pulls together the biopsychosocial model and completes the factors that comprise effective psychological health.
In Western society, there has been a split between science and religion for the past 500 years.
Christendom had a lock on Western European society at the time. It was able to wield significant control over what could be taught and what was considered to be heretical. This control was exercised to invalidate other religious belief systems, but it also prevented the early scientists from being able to study human beings.
Then in 1641, a philosopher named Rene Descartes proposed that the domain of science included the human body while religion controlled the domain of the soul. This split, often named Cartesian Dualism, allowed science to progress but also created a lasting conflict between science and religion in the West. Although this was originally a conflict between Western scientists and Western Christendom, it has expanded to an animosity between science and all religious belief.
While there are historical circumstances that led to this split, it has had results that are mixed (as has been true in most of our discussion above). The origins of the split certainly arise from both science and religion in conflict about who would be in control – which is one of the problems discussed in the section on Social.
This resulted in those who aligned with science failing to appreciate the contribution of the spiritual and those who aligned with religion failing to understand the value of science. This conflictual relationship continues to characterize the worldview of many people alive today.
Religion, 500 years ago, was a unitary entity in Western Europe. It is not that way any longer (although some religious groups still try to assert that they have the one, true religion). Science is also not a unitary entity (although some scientists still try to speak as if they can speak for all scientists). There is a backlash, among conservative evangelical Christian groups, that attacks the underpinnings of science that is currently happening. However, there is much more awareness that there are multiple religions, which dramatically weakens the claims of conservative evangelicals.
In this writing, the core of spirituality is understood to be a recognition that humans are a part of something greater than themselves. This does not imply an evangelical Christian definition of God. (Most of the arguments put forward by a “scientist” who disputes the notion of God is a rejection of this evangelical Christian concept. The ways of understanding “something greater” is actually quite varied among the many different religious groups.)
Empirical research suggests that seeing oneself as connected to “something greater” than yourself can be an essential component of effective human functioning. Although it might be given many different names, and is often shrouded in mythical language, if appears to be a component of life that is nearly universally accepted by humans. Even atheists (who are often rejecting the evangelical Christian formula of what is considered God) usually are identifying something that is greater than self as a guidance for life.
It is this component, in addition to the biological, psychological, and social, that seems to provide stability to human functioning. The establishment of a direction, purpose, and set of values reduced the sensation of randomness and provides meaning for the actions and decisions an individual makes. Direction, purpose, and values give stability to an individual, who must make thousands of choices each day.
Of course, many choices are not made with thoughtful analysis for how this decision fits with a greater overall purpose. But to the extent that a thoughtful choice is made, it results in more consistent outcomes for that individual.
The question that arises is what is that “something greater” that guides a person’s decision making? An individual whose “something greater” is making money or acquiring power will make different choices that an individual whose “something greater” is promoting well-being for other humans.
In this sense, the spirituality that an individual adopts is far from a neutral choice and it can make a significant difference in a person’s life outcomes.