Friday, March 12, 2010

creativity, spirituality and mental health (and the prodigal son)

What is the place of spirituality and creativity in making mental illness more manageable and aiding recovery? Should God-stuff be allowed in the treatment?

That is the question asked by academic and clinician, Kelley Raab Mayo in her new book, Creativity, Spirituality, and Mental Health: Exploring Connections.

As one specific example, she notes how hope is considered essential for healing from mental illness. She then considers imagination, and how it can be fostered by story and then uses the Prodigal Son as a case study. It offers hope, of a different future. It also hopes in the way it allows identification with different characters – those who feel cut off can identify with the younger son, those who grieve lost relationships can identify with the father, those who feel treated unfairly by life can identify with the elder brother. Thus the story reduces a sense of aloneness and offers meaning.

Whlle she sounds a note of caution –

“An approach centred on human depravity and an authoritarian God can take away personal agency rather than promote it. In contrast, a perspective centred on the loving, forgiving divine nature … is wholesome, healing, and entertains a hopeful future. Fostering hope is a core feature of any spiritual intervention.” (79)

– her conclusion is an overwhelming yes. That while drugs and therapy have a place, so do the resources of church attendance, prayer, meditation, dreams and working with sacred texts and these need to be facilitated in our work with those suffering mental illness.

“cultivating a rapprochment between psychiatry and spirituality is essential, I believe, to the future of treatment for mental illness.” (143)

This will include listening, encouraging healthy spirituality and challenging unhealthy spirituality. In so doing, we are taking seriously people as integrated whole and this is a key challenge facing both the church and the current medical profession.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM


  1. Also, many with mental health concerns find in church communities – but not always, I know – the love & acceptance denied else where. Mental health carries with it great stigmas in our communities and many people are frightened of those who suffer with mental health issues. A welcoming and loving God & community can offer a real place of healing (fullest sense of the word)for those who suffer.

    Comment by Chris McLeod — March 12, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  2. Chris – I wonder if your observation is more true of those with severe mental illnesses or milder depressions. I feel concerned about some aspects of how my own denomination (Baptist) typically interacts with those who suffer with bipolar (not the staff, but the wider congregation), although I do see some evidence of growth. I am not sure that we have yet arrived at a robust theology around illness.

    As to the role of hope….I do believe that is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer (and receive)

    Comment by kerry — March 12, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  3. Yes kerry, I think it takes a fairly mature congregation to deal with the more severe mental illnesses and there is alwas the danger that someone will tell a sufferer of bi-polar, for example, that they are demon possessed or something. But having said that, my first church as pastor was very welcoming and caring for those whos suffered with mental illness. It was little church in a economically challenged part of the city with quite a number of doss houses and hostels in the area. Those smaller ‘eccentric’ churches, like this one was, can be perfect for those who find it harder to fit into the mainstream. Though, I want to stress that small & eccentric doens’t necessarily equate with caring and welcoming.

    Comment by Chris McLeod — March 13, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

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