Deseret News National reported a study in which the health outcomes of those with positive beliefs about God were compared to those with more negative beliefs and found some striking differences. Reporter Kelsey Dallas wrote:
Researchers behind the study, published this past summer, concluded that caretakers should try to intervene to help patients gain a more positive spiritual outlook to guard them against harmful physical and mental health consequences. However, experts who have studied how people cope with negative spiritual beliefs said shifting someone’s spirituality is a difficult process, which can’t be undertaken lightly.
“If someone believes God is judging them and you talk about a benevolent God, you’re spitting in the wind, because they’re looking for an answer to why God is judging them and you’re telling them they’re supported,” said Jim Ellor, a professor of social work at Baylor University who has been active in chaplaincy ministry for more than 35 years.
“You have to put yourself into a patient’s head and try to help them find what will heal them, rather than reacting with your own sense of what will help,” he added.
Researchers suggested two strategies to help others deal struggling with negative spiritual beliefs, depending on how far the distress is rooted. If one feels judged because of a particular event in their life, reframing the event and helping him or her talk through it can help to relieve the distress. However if the pain is rooted in a system of belief about the world or themselves, it can be much harder to make a breakthrough. They also recommend letting the patient guide discussion of their beliefs and follow their lead rather than be prescriptive, and also to normalize their fears or anger.
Some highlights from the article:
“If someone believes God is judging them and you talk about a benevolent God, you’re spitting in the wind, because they’re looking for an answer to why God is judging them and you’re telling them they’re supported”
Although the urge to confront and correct someone’s negative feelings toward God is noble, it can further damage mental well-being, Ellor said. As he learned when he went through a non-medical crisis, responding poorly to someone’s spiritual pain leads to more hurt feelings and anger. …“Unfortunately, some groups see other people’s tragedies as a moment for conversion”.
…when health care professionals are aware of the kind of spiritual concerns patients bring to their hospital room and respond meaningfully, “they can do a lot of good” and pave the way, along with chaplains, for people to find spiritual healing, [Ellor] noted.
With an empathetic, patient-centered approach, caretakers “can help people (address their negative spiritual beliefs) and see something different, albeit not over night”