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Poor health associated with negative spiritual beliefs

By Al Weir, MD | November 05, 2015

Excerpted from "Negative spiritual beliefs associated with more pain and worse physical, mental health," ScienceDaily. September 23, 2015 — Individuals who blame karma for their poor health have more pain and worse physical and mental health, according to a new study from University of Missouri researchers. Targeted interventions to counteract negative spiritual beliefs could help some individuals decrease pain and improve their overall health, the researchers said.

"In general, the more religious or spiritual you are, the healthier you are, which makes sense," said Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. "But for some individuals, even if they have even the smallest degree of negative spirituality -- basically, when individuals believe they're ill because they've done something wrong and God is punishing them -- their health is worse."

Johnstone and his colleagues studied nearly 200 individuals to find out how their spiritual beliefs affected their health outcomes. The researchers divided the individuals into two groups: a negative spirituality group that consisted of those who reported feeling abandoned or punished by a higher power, and a no negative spirituality group that consisted of people who didn't feel abandoned or punished by a higher power. Those in the negative spirituality group reported significantly worse pain as well as worse physical and mental health while those with positive spirituality reported better mental health. However, even if individuals reported positive spiritual beliefs, having any degree of negative spiritual belief contributed to poorer health outcomes, the researchers found.


Dr. Al WeirOncologist and CMDA President Elect Al Weir, MD: “Patients who feel that their illness is a result of abandonment or punishment by God experience worse pain, worse mental health and worse physical health. Makes sense. Guilt hurts. A loss of relationship with our Father hurts. But Jesus said, ‘I’ve fixed that.’

“I have recently come to more fully understand that grace not only saves us from our sins, it bathes us throughout our lives in all that we do as His followers. When we mess up, grace wins. When we mess up badly, grace wins. When we really mess up badly, grace wins. The cross says that neither our mistakes nor our sins will ever separate us from our Father—who will never abandon us. Christ on the cross cried ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ so that His followers would never have to cry the same, whatever this broken world brings our way (Matthew 27:46b, NIV 2011). We need to carry this grace-truth to some of our patients who may be missing the arms of God when they need Him the most.”


Whispers: A Daily Devotional for Healthcare Professionals and Their Patients by Al Weir, MD
Weekly Devotions by Al Weir, MD
Spiritual Assessment in Clinical Care – Part 2: The LORD’s LAP by Walt Larimore, MD

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