Prayer and Mental Health

Is Prayer Good for Your Mental Health?

Written by: Michael Hart
In the early years of psychology, particularly during the era of Freud, prayer and other
spiritual disciplines were viewed negatively and were largely scoffed at by those in the field of mental health.
Freud, in his well known work, The Future of an Illusion, described religion as a “universal
obsessional neurosis” and a “psychopathologic phenomena.” However, in the last decade there has been a plethora of studies that have proved Freud wrong; these studies show that spiritual disciplines are not liabilities but assets
where emotional welbeing is concerned.

In one such study In 2008, Claire Hollywell and Jan Walker critically analyzed 26 published
studies on the use of personal prayer, and came to the following positive conclusions about prayer:
1. “Prayer, measured by frequency, is usually associated with lower levels of depression and
The study showed that people who prayed and had existing faith in God, tended to have lower levels of
depression and anxiety than those who did not make use of prayer.
2. “Prayer is a coping action that mediates between religious faith and welbeing.”
Researchers found that prayer was an effective coping mechanism and that religious people who
used prayer when faced with adversity such as failing health, coped better than those who did not make use of
3. “Prayer takes different forms, some beneficial, others possibly not: (a) Devotional prayers that take the form of an intimate dialogue with a supportive God are associated with improved optimism, welbeing and function.(b) Prayers that involve only pleas for help in extremis may, in the absence of a pre-existing faith, be associated with increased distress and possibly poorer function.”
The study found that prayers that were devotional,   and involved intimate conversations with God about one’s circumstances, seemed to lead to improved wellbeing and better coping.However researchers also concluded that people who did not have preexisting faith in God, and used prayer as a plea when highly stressful events entered their lives, did not benefit from prayer and tended to become even more distressed.
From the above scientific research by Hollywell and Walker, one can conclude that
devotional prayer is an effective coping mechanism when used by those with “pre-existing faith” towards God, and that there is strong evidence that devotional prayer can and should be used by people of faith when faced with the challenges of life.
Hollywell, Claire and Walker, Jan.(2008). Private Prayer as a Suitable Intervention for
Hospitalized Patient: A Critical Review of the Literature. Journal of Clinical Nursing. Vol. 18



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