National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from FaithNet NAMI

Building Bridges between Faith and Science

By Nathan Caruso

All too often science and spirituality are seen as mutually exclusive, and for religious or spiritual individuals living with mental illness, this antiquated view can hinder recovery.

Since the "Age of Enlightenment," body, mind and spirit have been separated, each relegated to treatment under a certain profession. Physicians get the body, psychiatrists or psychologists, the mind, and clergy, the spirit.

So how does this affect a religious or spiritual person living with mental illness? Well, it can be very difficult on both ends of the spectrum, whether one turns to religious leaders or mental health professionals.

Many people turn first to their spiritual leaders, but too often clergy are undereducated on the subject of mental health and are resistant to recommending therapy or the possibility of medication. On the other hand, psychoanalysts may ignore an individual's faith completely when discussing and providing treatment.

Both want the best for the person in recovery, but because historically their professions have been at odds, it may be difficult for them to see the value gained from the other's expertise. For many individuals living with mental illness, the answer is not just science or just spirituality, but a combination of the two.

Dr. Nancy Kehoe, psychologist, religious leader and author of Wrestling with Our Inner Angels, has worked at bridging the gap between spiritual care and mental health care and treating the "whole individual" for more than 25 years and recently shared her experiences at NAMI's 2010 national convention in Washington, D.C.

Nancy first realized that the spiritual needs of patients were often unattended while working in a day treatment program for people with major mental illnesses in Cambridge, MA.

Kehoe later created a "spiritual issues" group, where patients could discuss what their beliefs mean to them personally and how their faith aids or hinders them in recovery. It was a great success and has since been replicated across the country.

These groups are not designed for spiritual practice; they are not designed to recruit anyone to a particular religion-the group is simply a safe place for people living with mental illness to discuss the role faith plays in their individual recovery. They can be initiated anywhere, from inpatient programs, to day treatment programs or even just as a community support group.

Trained facilitators help group members to sift through the intertwined layers of faith and mental illness, allowing each individual to utilize the parts of their faith that do not conflict with their identity as a recovery tool, while still providing necessary medical expertise.

These programs have made great strides in incorporating faith and spirituality into the mental health profession, for more information please visit