National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from FaithNet NAMI

Four Spiritual Care Tasks

By Chaplain Craig Rennebohm, Seattle Mental Health Chaplaincy

Over the years as chaplain on our county inpatient psychiatric units, I have found myself providing spiritual care in four basic ways. First, I receive the person as a whole and look at the symptoms as one part of their life experience. Together we explore the impact of mental disorder on the soul. Depression, mania, hallucinations and delusions, trauma and anxiety can profoundly alter our faith. Our spiritual capacities may be deeply disturbed or diminished. Together we assess what is of the illness, and what is of authentic spiritual importance to the person.

Linda was convinced that all hope was gone and that God had utterly abandoned her. These were feelings and thoughts consistent with depression, not a sign of too little faith. Her inability to focus on a line of scripture, remember a favorite passage, concentrate on a prayer, leave the house and go to church, were also consistent with a debilitating depression. But Linda was not at fault. She was ill. Just as our spiritual wisdom and traditions help us understand our vulnerability as human beings, the fields of medicine and psychology also shed light on our suffering. A second task of spiritual care is to help a person understand and explain their illness holistically-- from a bio-psycho-social spiritual perspective. Spiritual care attends to the mental and emotional struggles, and assists the individuals in working with mental health providers. We refer and support an individual in building a care team, helping them develop a relationship of trust with medical care and social service providers.

As a person seeks to recover from a serious mental illness, a third task of spiritual care is to help them grow in their faith and develop spiritual practices that support health and well being. An individual who has experienced depression may welcome someone simply checking in regularly with them. They may find encouragement from the support of a small group. This connection to others, having a safe place to share, the welcome and support of an understanding community can be very helpful in the recovery process.

It may not always be easy to find a supportive spiritual home. A fourth spiritual care task is to help individuals and families open the door and educate faith communities about mental illness. Together we have an important role in helping congregations understand mental illness and learn with us what makes for a healthy life.

NAMI FaithNet recognizes the tremendous range of religious traditions and spiritual beliefs in this country. With respect for each person's viewpoint, we recognize that for many, faith is an important factor in recovery and that congregations can be a source of solace and support. As with any acute or chronic disease, mental illness entails human suffering. Spiritual care bears the burden of our suffering. It helps us understand our condition, symptoms and treatment possibilities. Spiritual care collaborates with others on the care team to promote recovery and wellbeing. Spiritual care seeks to offer maximum hope for a life full of purpose and meaning.