Psychological Approaches in Relation to Spirituality and Religion

Several issues are explored here:

  • • The utility of specifically religious/spiritually-based approaches (for example the 12-step approach to alcohol problems)
  • • The use of therapeutic approaches that have a religious or spiritual root that has been 'secularised' (for example mindfulness-based approaches that have been developed from Buddhist tradition)
  • • Secular therapies that have been adapted for a particular religious group
  • • General or focused support from faith groups to supplement other sources of help.

Of course, things aren't really this simple but we will use these headings to facilitate discussion.

Specific Religious/Spiritually-Based Approaches

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous 12-step Approach to Alcohol Misuse or Addiction

Alcoholics anonymous provides effective help for alcoholics (30). It has its roots in the Oxford Group of Christians in the mid-1930s, and its 12-step programme contains specific references to God or 'a Power Greater than ourselves', though for many years it has emphasised that it does not require members to subscribe to any particular beliefs. It is worth quoting the 12 steps for anyone not familiar with them to show how religious (and spiritual) they are in tone. Their 12 'traditions' (in effect their governing document) also make specific reference to a God of love as the ultimate authority (31).

Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps (6)

  • 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • 6. We're entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  • 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  • 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

An interesting analysis by Rudy and Greil (32) examined the apparent contradiction between the seemingly religious nature of the 12 steps and the organisation and its insistence that it is not religious (though according to Rudy and Greil it did admit to being spiritual). They concluded that it is an identity change organisation which encapsulated its members and created an atmosphere of 'institutionalised awe' for the power of the group. They argued that a tension between sacred and secular was essential to its functioning and classified it as a 'quasi-religion.'

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