The mental health benefits of prayer
From an article by the CPTSD Foundation
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) describes the results of ongoing, inescapable, relational trauma. Unlike Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex PTSD always involves being hurt by another person. These hurts are ongoing, repeated, and often involving a betrayal and loss of safety.
The Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research (CPTSD Foundation) tries to end this cycle of complex relational trauma by providing the safety, life skills, relational education, and reparative experiences a survivor needs, so they can create new habits and experience optimum health in every area of life.
Recently they wrote about prayer and how it can benefit those who live with the aftereffect of severe trauma; complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
In recent years, research has been conducted exploring the positive effects that spirituality, especially prayer, has on mental health. In a booklet, written by Dr. Deborah Cornah and published by UK's Mental Health Foundation, Dr. Cornah reports that literature found in eleven studies, reported on religion, spirituality, and trauma-caused mental health problems such as PTSD.
Two other findings in the same literature found that trauma can deepen a person’s religion and spirituality and help people to cope. The positiveness, coping, readiness to face life questions, and religiousness are often associated with improved mental health and trauma recovery.
This research has prompted further studies across a wide range of disciplines to explore the positive contribution prayer can make to a person’s mental health. It seems that being able to reach out to something greater than ourselves gives believers an anchor to ground themselves so they can absorb and digest traumatic events of the past.
Serotonin is known by many researchers as the “happy” neurotransmitter because it is key to helping to relay signals from one part of the brain to another. Another function of serotonin is how it impacts our mood and contributes to our overall sense of wellbeing. Research has shown that prayer has a direct impact on the brain’s production of serotonin and bathes the neurons in the chemical enhancing lives and melting away stress.
Indeed, prayer has a replenishing effect on serotonin and other important neurotransmitters to create an environment where new brain cells are made and making those who practice it happier and healthier.
In fact, prayer and other religious observances play a significant role in helping those who have experienced trauma and live with mental health consequences. Prayer is a vital way many people use as a means to cope with everyday life and trauma history.
For many survivors, prayer offers a safe haven where they feel protected and ready for any disaster or trauma. A 2001 survey related that after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 90% of Americans turned to prayer or some other religious activity to cope with what they had witnessed. In the following days, many people returned to or began attending places of worship throughout the United States looking for consolation and a better understanding of why the tragedy happened. Indeed, after Hurricane Katrina, 92% of survivors said they prayed and in doing so helped themselves get through their horrendous ordeal.
While many survivors with complex post-traumatic stress disorder find prayer helpful, many find themselves feeling extreme shame and guilt when approaching God. The conundrum is easy to see. A survivor with CPTSD desperately wants to feel safe and thus prays to a higher power but feels utterly unworthy of their higher power’s care and protection. Prayer can help reconnect survivors to their innate spiritual needs only if they can recognize the benevolence of such a being.
At one time, men and women of science would have poo-pooed the notion that prayer can help a person to heal but now the American Psychological Association has considered using prayer and other forms of religious practices as being conducive to good mental health. Indeed, when clients are dealing with serious mental health issues, two-thirds of Americans prefer to see a psychotherapist with spiritual values to one who does not.
Only good can come from merging the need of clients to speak to their therapists about prayer, the willingness of mental health professionals to do so, and the benefits that research is finding for prayer. While praying makes sense to those who are religious, it is a total travesty to those who are not. To them, it seems like a waste of time and energy and that facing life head-on is the best practice. However, one does not need to be religious to see the transformation that praying to something greater than oneself brings to many people. The peace, joy, and comfort of prayer have been proven to increase and aid in both mental and physical health.
Read the full article here.
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