A resource for wellness and recovery
Reprinted from the "Wellness" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 7 (1), pp. 21-22
Working as an occupational therapist in mental health services, I am always on the lookout for resources that my clients can engage in. I look for resources that provide an opportunity for meaningful contribution, balance, routine and connection with others. I have learned —from listening to my clients—that spirituality can be an ever-present resource in the mental health recovery journey.1
Spirituality is a catchword that embraces how we make sense of life, finding hope, mysterious experiences, spiritual or religious activities, and community engagement.2 Culture, religious beliefs, philosophical position and experiential journey of discovery all form the particular way we explain our own personal spirituality.3 For me, spirituality is a mixture of African Ubuntu ideas, Celtic Christianity, a love for Hebrew poetry, and breath meditation.
The best way for me to explain the rich resource of spirituality is to share stories from a research study that asked: What is the meaning of spirituality for individuals living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia?4
A resource for meaningful contribution
Emerald’s* spirituality is expressed through her vibrant creativity. She has written two books and countless poems. Her spiritual muse is an energy that moves her to engage in tasks she wouldn’t ordinarily be motivated to do. Her first book is a novel loosely based on her life. As she writes, she makes sense of her story, crafting new ways for each chapter to begin with hope. She says, “The schizophrenia doesn’t affect my writing, because when I’m writing, I’m outside of the picture. I’m not inside writing about it; I’m always outside of the picture looking down at it.” The world she has created in her novels is laden with symbolic meaning and is an offering for others to also find hope.
A resource for balance
For John,* the spiritual practice of “finding centre” or “centring” is particularly meaningful. Centring is a way for him to establish internal balance, which helps him manage his extreme emotions.
Centring is a practice that can be done alone or in a group. It involves sitting in silence, “waiting upon God.” With mind and body stilled, individuals sit in deep contemplative silence in order to become attuned to their own inward light.
The following is a snippet from our first interview together:
John [after an emotional moment in the interview]: I think I’m okay now. I’ve got to find my centre. You’ve heard that expression? I’ve got to find that centre.
Sharon: Right. How do you go about finding your centre?
John: Well, I think the centre is something that’s your equilibrium. You aren’t too emotional about this or that . . . not too angry, not too melancholy; you see what I mean?
Centring isn’t always easy for John; it has often led to feelings of frustration. There are times when he can’t focus because of poor concentration or side effects from medication. Yet he is dedicated to this practice because it has the potential to offer him the gift of inner balance. John also practices centring within a spiritual community. Together they wait, silently, for inner stillness.
A resource for routine
As a Jew, Bill’s spiritual practice involves, among other things, the ritual of attending an Orthodox synagogue every Friday night and Saturday. This gives Fridays and Saturdays a special significance, compared to the other five days. And it gives his week has a meaningful rhythm—a routine. Each week the rabbis lead the members of the synagogue through the same Hebrew prayer recitation as part of Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the sabbath).
As a new convert to Judaism, Bill can’t understand spoken or written Hebrew. But for him this doesn’t matter. It’s his ability to follow the repetitive pattern of prayer that is important and helpful for him. At times he loses track of the page numbers because rabbis chant the prayers at such a rapid pace. Yet, he says, when in prayer, his mental health is at its best and doesn’t inhibit him in any way from following the prayers.
A good book resource: Coyte, M.E., Gilbert, P. & Nicholls, V. (Eds.). (2007). Spirituality, values and mental health: Jewels for the journey. Philadelphia/London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
A good website: www.spiritofrecovery.ca. People with lived experience share about spirituality resources for recovery. Spirit of Recovery is funded by Vancouver Coastal Health's Consumer Initiative Fund.
A resource for connection with others
While Bill and John have connected with spiritual communities to find routine and balance, Mina* has found friendship. She writes:
My spiritual friend stands by me in a wonderful way—even sitting in on a psychiatrist’s appointment with me when I invite her. She has made it her business to learn from me about my disorder so that she can understand me better. It feels good to have someone interested in what I’m doing and how I’m doing. And she always is that.
An ever-present resource
Meaningful contribution, balance, routine and connection with others can be found through spirituality, a resource that is available 24/7. In moments of loneliness, just the simple act of paying attention to our breath can be a reminder of the gift of life in each moment.
About the author
Sharon is a director of Sanctuary Ministries, which works alongside spiritual communities to improve understanding of mental health recovery journeys. She also assists mental health professionals to integrate spirituality into mental health care. Sharon is adjunct faculty in the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy at UBC
Wilding, C., May, E., & Muir-Cochrane, E. (2005). Experience of spirituality, mental illness and occupation: A life-sustaining phenomenon. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 52(1), 2-9.
Fallot, R.D. (1998). The place of spirituality and religion in mental health services. In R.D. Fallot (Ed.), Spirituality and religion in recovery from mental illness (vol. 80, pp. 3-12). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.
Kroeker, T. (2003). Spirituality in a secular pluralistic culture: Toward an ethic of care. In M.A. McColl (Ed.), Spirituality and occupational therapy (pp. 55-66). Ottawa: Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists Publications ACE.
Smith, S. & Suto, M. (2012). Religious and/or spiritual practices: Extending spiritual freedom to people with schizophrenia. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(2), 7-15.