There is a place for religion in mental health therapy, Allen E. Bergin says.
The Stanford-educated psychotherapist has been studying, writing and researching the efficacy of religious approaches in therapy for about two decades.In the early 1980s, he submitted a paper to the American Psychological Association. They refused to print it. But times have changed, he says, and last summer that same association printed Bergin's 352-page book "A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy," co-written with P. Scott Richards.
This week, Bergin told the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP) that the theistic approach will one day become a recognized mental health orientation.
He calls it "theistic realism," a movement now taking place among religious mental health therapists.
Though the approach is in its infancy, Bergin says spiritually based therapy can undergo scientific investigation. There is a need for more testing of the efficacy and safety of spiritual interventions, he said, and researchers should embrace all they already know while allowing for new discoveries.
The Brigham Young University professor says that, like other therapies, theistic realism is based on assumptions: God exists, humans are creations of God, there are spiritual occurrences.
Religiosity is related to physical health, according to the research he and his colleagues have conducted. The mental health benefits of religion include a sense of well-being, self-esteem, marital satisfaction, family cohesion, ability to cope with stress and confidence.
Devoutly religious people have a lower rate of alcohol and drug abuse, premarital sex, teen pregnancy and suicide, he says.
"It doesn't mean bad things don't happen in religious communities," Bergin says. "They do."
But he says research shows religiosity increases bonding between parents and their children while decreasing the risks of alcohol, drug abuse and family aggression.
Bergin and Richards' research found that self-help and spiritual therapy are more effective in people with less severe disorders, like moderate anxiety or depression. They were less effective in those with more severe disorders, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorders, which require intensive therapies and/or the use of medication.