Religion and Mental Health

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Does too much religion cause people to go insane?

For many years, theorists and practitioners in the field of psychology and psychiatry viewed religion as a negative factor in mental health. Much of this can be traced back to Sigmund Freud, the man who gave psychology a vocabulary. Freud believed religion was an expression of underlying psychological neuroses and distress. Other writers in the field suspected that people with strong religious beliefs were superstitious, irrational, guilt-ridden, and less able to cope with life than less religious people.

Most of those early writings were not based on empirical research but were based on the writer’s own experience in life and in clinical practice. For example, Freud was of Jewish descent and was raised in the heavily Roman Catholic town of Freiburg, Moravia. He acknowledged that his Jewish heritage, as well as the anti-Semitism he frequently encountered, had shaped his own personality. This, no doubt, impacted his worldview, including his view of the causes of mental illness.

In recent years, empirical research has shown many of these theories to be incorrect. In fact, currently, there is a significant body of empirical, peer-reviewed literature showing that religious faith and mental health are positively linked. A number of studies have examined the mental health of people who view God as warm, caring, helpful, and dependable, and found these individuals to be less lonely, depressed, or anxious than people who believe God to be cold and nonresponsive, or those who hold no religious beliefs at all.

It only makes sense that those who trust that there is someone greater than self to solve one’s problems or help one through a very difficult time will come through a stressful situation more easily. You might also be interested in knowing that there is a growing body of scientific research on the efficacy of prayer.

In 2007, David R. Hodge, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Services at Arizona State University, conducted a comprehensive analysis of 17 major studies on the effects of intercessory prayer (prayer that is offered for the benefit of another person) among people with psychological or medical problems. All of the studies examined used intercessory prayer as a treatment in practice settings. He found a positive effect. Hodge’s work was featured in the March 2007, issue of Research on Social Work Practice. He noted that his study was important because it is a compilation (meta-analysis) of 17 studies and not just one study with a single conclusion.

I think we can safely say today that being religious, particularly if you practice the teachings of Jesus and His early followers, is likely to increase your potential for sound mental health. Though psychology, psychiatry, and other mental health professions over the past one hundred years may have looked condescendingly upon those with a strong faith in God, the Apostle Paul had it right nineteen hundred years prior to Freud. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7, KJV).

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

Example: 9075434113