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Combating Mental Illness with Religious Intervention

By UM News

Combating Mental Illness with Religious Intervention

By UM News
A pilot study will examine whether integrating religious interventions into an existing mental illness treatment—and offering the therapy at a religious institution—will help keep participants engaged and on the road to wellness
mental illness and religion

Can depression, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses be combatted using both established psychotherapeutic treatments and religious interventions? A new pilot study led by Amy Weisman de Mamani, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, will test that hypothesis with help from a three-year, $25,000 John Templeton Foundation grant.

Weisman de Mamani’s expertise focuses on family, religious, and other socio-cultural factors that influence the course and outcome of mental illness. Her pilot study is entitled “A culturally informed, religiously based, cognitive behavioral, mental health treatment offered in religious institutions and other community settings.”  

Her proposal suggests taking two different groups—one for individuals with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and another for individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, and other normative issues—and conducting the treatment sessions at UM and at Coral Gables United Church of Christ.

According to the proposal, participants will be free to choose the most suitable site for their personal needs. Those meeting at the church will also interact with the senior pastor, who will sit in on some treatment sessions and provide feedback to Weisman de Mamani and her team on ways to enhance the sessions.

“Overall, we want to see if offering psychotherapies in religious institutions will help retain religious individuals in treatment longer,” said Weisman de Mamani. “Though we found the intervention being tested to be highly effective in reducing psychiatric symptoms in our earlier research, we also observed that more religious individuals were more likely to drop out of therapy prematurely. Thus, by better integrating religion into the treatment and offering one arm at a church, our hope is that we will better engage religious clients in therapy and retain them longer, which should ultimately be linked to a better outcome.”

Amy Weisman de Mamani, Dept. of Psychology

Weisman de Mamani says the treatment itself is completely non-denominational and participants actually draw on their own religious beliefs and practices, such as thinking about religious scriptures, to help them through the sessions and to cope with a particular mental issue.

“As a pilot program offered in a Christian church, we expect that the majority of participants will be Christian. But in the future, we hope to continue the study in other religious institutions, such as a mosque or a synagogue,” said Weisman de Mamani. “For those who are religious, we are really just tapping into clients’ religious values, beliefs, and behaviors to make the treatment more relevant and to help keep them engaged with society and with meaningful, healthy behaviors.”

In her proposal, Weisman de Mamani states that “collaborating with mental health practitioners, religious leaders, and educators will allow researchers to develop a model that could easily be implemented in a range of religious and community mental health centers around the country and integrate spirituality into mainstream psychotherapy practices.”

The pilot study will not exclude participants from any religion nor dictate which beliefs and practices participants choose to draw from in therapy. During the therapy sessions, participants will pose their own religious solutions and discuss these with the therapists, religious leaders, and other group participants.

Weisman de Mamani is the author of many previous studies that focus on religion and mental illness. Her current project is an extension of an earlier study entitled “Does religiosity predict attrition from a culturally-informed family treatment for schizophrenia that targets religious coping?” It was recently published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.  


October 12, 2017