The notion of “spirituality” might sound too flimsy for serious scientific research. But that very attitude has led psychologists to ignore the subject for far too long—and at a cost to those who have suffered trauma.
A growing body of evidence suggests that a spiritual outlook can be a major asset in coping with trauma. Psychologists have found that both spirituality and religion provide some of the key elements—a strong social support group, the opportunity to infer meaning, and a focus on empathy—that are invaluable in recovering from traumatic events.
Donald Meichenbaum, co-founder of the cognitive behavior therapy school of psychotherapy and professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, defines spirituality as “an attempt to seek meaning, purpose and a direction of life in relation to a higher power, universal spirit or God. Spirituality reflects a search for the sacred.” He tells Quartz that an ability to help others is itself a sign of recovery from trauma, and spirituality’s focus on forgiveness and empathy can help trauma victims reach this stage.
Empathy also leads to social comparison he adds, and the recognition that even a seriously traumatic event could have been worse. “Empathy permits one to find benefits,” he says. “We lost everything we posses but we came out alive.”
Harold Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center, tells Quartz that building a personal narrative, aided by the healthy perspectives of religion or spirituality, is also important.Read More: Quartz