Thursday, July 7, 2011

FAITH IN A POWER-NOT-ONESELF IS THERAPEUTIC

A recent research study from Wayne State University, published in the journal Rehabilitation Psychology, suggests that personal faith in a 'power-not-oneself' (or, if you like, ‘higher power’, but that expression tends to suggest there are higher and lower levels or orders of reality, which is a dubious proposition), is the key to recovery for individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Those with TBI who believe they are close to a 'power-not-oneself' report better emotional and physical rehabilitation success.

TBI can occur by way of an injury to the head through, for example, a fall, a motor accident or an assault. The injury can lead to short or long-term changes in the way the brain works and may affect any one or more of thinking, sensation, language and emotions. (See this YouTube video, as well as this website, for more information on TBI.)

Many people with TBI are known to use religion (that is, organized, institutionalized spirituality with associated beliefs, ethics and formal practices) and spirituality (in the sense of ‘relationship’ in the form of a personal longing to be ‘connected’ with what has been called the ‘largeness of life’, as opposed to formal religious adherence). However, until recently there has been little or no scientific investigation of what elements of religion and spirituality actually affect rehabilitation outcome.

Eighty-eight TBI adult participants with 1 to 20-year-old brain injuries and their ‘significant others’ (SOs) participated in the study carried out by researchers Drs Brigid Waldron-Perrine and Lisa J Rapport. The TBI participants, most of whom were male, African American Christians, were asked to subjectively report their religious and spiritual beliefs and their sense of current physical and mental wellbeing. Their respective SOs reported objectively on the rehabilitation outcomes. A neuropsychological survey of the cognitive abilities of the TBI participants was also carried out.

It was found that a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose in life (so-called ‘existential’ wellbeing) was not a ‘unique predictor’ for any outcome. However, ‘a sense of connection to a higher power’ (so-called ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ wellbeing) was found to be a unique predictor for life satisfaction, distress and functional ability.

Interestingly, it was also found that ‘positive thinking’ alone – that is, without there being any concomitant belief in some ‘power-not-oneself’ – was not enough. (I am sure that I need not remind most readers – but I'll do so anyway – that a ‘power-not-oneself’ is de rigueur for the reason that there is no ‘self’ [anattā] upon which to rely. Hence, we must find a ‘power’ other than ‘self’ in which to take refuge and from which to draw strength.)

I should add that my old mentor, the ‘Father of Positive Thinking’, Norman Vincent Peale (pictured right), in his book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, wrote that positive thinking was, in his words, ‘faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, faith in life, and faith in yourself’. By that definition I don’t think it is all that easy to separate so-called positive thinking from faith or belief in some ‘power-not-oneself’. Mind you, Dr Peale had some fairly 'progressive' views on the nature of God, writing, ‘Think in God in whatever terms [God] is most understandable to you’, with God (who, according to Peale, presided in the unconscious mind) being described variously as 'our deepest desire', 'inward power', ‘the Source’, ‘energy’, 'life', and ‘the life force from which, or from whom all life comes’.

According to the study, participation in public religious activities did not have any significant effect on rehabilitation outcomes. In other words, individual faith is more important for recovery than, for example, church attendance.

The researchers state, ‘Notably, a self-reported individual connection to a higher power was an extremely robust predictor of both subjective and objective outcome.’


RESOURCE: Waldron-Perrine B, Rapport L J, Hanks R A, Lumley M, Meachen S, & Hubbarth P. ‘Religion and spirituality in rehabilitation outcomes among individuals with trauatic brain injury.’ Rehabilitation Psychology, 56(2), May 2011, 107-116. doi: 10.1037/a0023552



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