The Psychology of Spirituality and Religion in Health Care

  • Jan M. A. de VriesEmail author


This chapter explores psychological aspects of spirituality. After an introduction to the psychology of spirituality and religion, the evolutionary psychological basis of transcendent belief is explored. A novel model is proposed based on the idea that ‘believing’ information from trusted sources was advantageous and possibly adaptive in our evolutionary history, which has facilitated the development of spirituality within the human species across the globe. The essential elements of this model are (a) believing as knowledge transmission, (b) believing as motivation or drive and (c) spiritual and religious beliefs as the basis for community (beyond kinship). These factors are further examined in relation to their benefits in health care today.


  1. 1.
    Chiu L, Emblen JD, Van Hofwegen L, Sawatzky R, Meyerhoff H. An integrative review of the concept of spirituality in the health sciences. West J Nurs Res. 2004;26(4):405–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hill PC, Pargament KI. Advances in the conceptualization and measurement of religion and spirituality: implications for physical and mental health research. Psychol Relig Spiritual. 2008;S(1):3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Paloutzian RF, Park CL. Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality. New York: Guilford; 2014.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Van Cappellen P, Toth-Gauthier M, Saroglou V, Fredrickson BL. Religion and well-being: the mediating role of positive emotions. J Happiness Stud. 2016;17(2):485–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Visser A, Garssen B, Vingerhoets A. Spirituality and well-being in cancer patients: a review. Psycho-Oncology. 2010;19(6):565–72.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Clayton-Jones D, Haglund K. The role of spirituality and religiosity in persons living with sickle cell disease: a review of the literature. J Holist Nurs. 2016;34(4):351–60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Unterrainer H-F, Lewis AJ, Fink A. Religious/spiritual well-being, personality and mental health: a review of results and conceptual issues. J Relig Health. 2014;53(2):382–92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Koenig HG. Religion, spirituality, and health: a review and update. Adv Mind Body Med. 2015;29(3):19–26.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Sinclair S, Pereira J, Raffin S. A thematic review of the spirituality literature within palliative care. J Palliat Med. 2006;9(2):464–79.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ogden J. Health psychology. London: McGraw-Hill Education; 2012.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kumar V, Kumar S. Workplace spirituality as a moderator in relation between stress and health: an exploratory empirical assessment. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2014;26(3):344–51.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Martin RV. Spirituality in law enforcement: an exploration of possible correlations of spirituality to burnout and job satisfaction for police officers. Regent University; 2016.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cladder JM. Past-life therapy with difficult phobics. J Regres Ther. 1986;I(2):81–5.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Miner M, Dowson M. Spirituality: perspectives from psychology. In: Spirituality across disciplines: research and practice. Basel: Springer; 2016. p. 165–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Rogers CR. The place of the person in the new world of the behavioral sciences. J Couns Dev. 1961;39(6):442–51.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Maslow AH, Frager R, Fadiman J, McReynolds C, Cox R. Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row; 1970.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Vitz PC. Psychology as religion: the cult of self worship. Grand Rapids: William b. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1977. p. 144.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Rhine J. The relation between parapsychology and general psychology. J Parapsychol. 1949;13:215–24.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Tenhaeff W. Some aspects of parapsychological research in the Netherlands. Int J Neuropsychiatry. 1966;2(5):408.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Boerenkamp HC. Helderziendheid Bekeken. Haarlem: De Toorts; 1988.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Seligman ME, Csikszentmihalyi M. Positive psychology: an introduction. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2000.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Langer EJ, Moldoveanu M. The construct of mindfulness. J Soc Issues. 2000;56(1):1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Reuder ME. A history of Division 36 (psychology of religion). In: Unification through division: histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association, vol. 4. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 1999. p. 91–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Zinnbauer BJ, Pargament KI, Cole B, Rye MS, Butter EM, Belavich TG, et al. Religion and spirituality: unfuzzying the fuzzy. J Sci Study Relig. 1997;36(4):549–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hill PC, Pargament KI, Hood RW, Mccullough ME, Swyers JP, Larson DB, et al. Conceptualizing religion and spirituality: points of commonality, points of departure. J Theory Soc Behav. 2000;30(1):27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Falb MD, Pargament KI. Religion, spirituality, and positive psychology: strengthening well-being. In: Teramoto Pedrotti J, Edwards L, editors. Perspectives on the intersection of multiculturalism and positive psychology. Dordrecht: Springer; 2014. p. 143–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Coyle J. Spirituality and health: towards a framework for exploring the relationship between spirituality and health. J Adv Nurs. 2002;37(6):589–97.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Tarakeshwar N, Stanton J, Pargament KI. Religion: an overlooked dimension in cross-cultural psychology. J Cross-Cult Psychol. 2003;34(4):377–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Heine SJ. Cultural psychology: third international student edition. New York: WW Norton & Company; 2015.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Allport GW. The individual and his religion: a psychological interpretation. Oxford: Macmillan; 1950.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Fowler JW, Levin RW. Stages of faith the psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. Int J Philos Relig. 1984;15(1):89–92.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Fallot RD. Spirituality and religion in psychiatric rehabilitation and recovery from mental illness. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2001;13(2):110–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Spilka B, Hood RW, Hunsberger B, Gorsuch R. The psychology of religion: an empirical approach. 3rd ed. New York: Guilford; 2003.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Galen L. Overlapping mental magisteria: implications of experimental psychology for a theory of religious belief as misattribution. Method Theory Study Relig. 2017;29(3):221–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Spilka BE, McIntosh DN. The psychology of religion: theoretical approaches. Boulder: Westview Press; 1997.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    McNamara P. The neuroscience of religious experience. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Fingelkurts AA, Fingelkurts AA. Is our brain hardwired to produce God, or is our brain hardwired to perceive God? A systematic review on the role of the brain in mediating religious experience. Cogn Process. 2009;10(4):293–326.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    van Elk M, Zwaan R. Predictive processing and situation models: constructing and reconstructing religious experience. Relig Brain Behav. 2017;7(1):85–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Gaulin SJ, McBurney DH. Psychology: an evolutionary approach. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall; 2001.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Buss DM. Evolutionary psychology: the new science of the mind. Boston: Allyn & Bacon; 1999.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Tooby J, Cosmides L. The past explains the present: emotional adaptations and the structure of ancestral environments. Ethol Sociobiol. 1990;11(4):375–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Buss DM, editor. The handbook of evolutionary psychology, volume 1: foundation. Hoboken: Wiley; 2015.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Kirkpatrick LA. Attachment, evolution, and the psychology of religion. New York: Guilford; 2005.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Kirkpatrick LA. Religion is not an adaptation. In: McNamara P, editor. Where men and god meet: how brain and evolutionary studies alter our understanding of religion, vol. 1. Santa Barbara: Praeger; 2006. p. 159–79.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Flannelly KJ. Belief in god as an attachment figure and mental health. In: Religious beliefs, evolutionary psychiatry, and mental health in America. Cham: Springer; 2017. p. 211–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Sosis R. The adaptationist-byproduct debate on the evolution of religion: five misunderstandings of the adaptationist program. J Cogn Cult. 2009;9(3):315–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Sosis R, Alcorta C. Signaling, solidarity, and the sacred: the evolution of religious behavior. Evol Anthropol Issues News Rev. 2003;12(6):264–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Baddeley A. The magical number seven: still magic after all these years? Psychol Rev. 1994;101(2):353–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Fiske ST. Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination at the seam between the centuries: evolution, culture, mind, and brain. Eur J Soc Psychol. 2000;30(3):299–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Bering J. The belief instinct: the psychology of souls, destiny, and the meaning of life. New York: Norton & Company; 2012.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Mogenson GJ, Jones DL, Yim CY. From motivation to action: functional interface between the limbic system and the motor system. Prog Neurobiol. 1980;14(2):69–97.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Jones WE. The goods and the motivation of believing. Epistemic Value. 2009;10:139–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Bulbulia J. The cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion. Biol Philos. 2004;19(5):655–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Beauregard M. Mind does really matter: evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect. Prog Neurobiol. 2007;81(4):218–36.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Bensing JM, Verheul W. The silent healer: the role of communication in placebo effects. Patient Educ Couns. 2010;80(3):293–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Boozang KM. The therapeutic placebo: the case for patient deception. Fla Law Rev. 2002;54:687.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Enck P, Benedetti F, Schedlowski M. New insights into the placebo and nocebo responses. Neuron. 2008;59(2):195–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Wager TD, Atlas LY. The neuroscience of placebo effects: connecting context, learning and health. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2015;16(7):403–18.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Koenig HG. Religion, spirituality, and health: the research and clinical implications. ISRN Psychiatry. 2012;2012:278730.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 60.
    Kosfeld M. Trust in the brain. EMBO Rep. 2007;8(1S):S44–S7.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Emmons RA. The psychology of ultimate concerns: motivation and spirituality in personality. New York: Guilford; 1999.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Zika S, Chamberlain K. On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-being. Br J Psychol. 1992;83(1):133–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. 63.
    Park J, Baumeister RF. Meaning in life and adjustment to daily stressors. J Posit Psychol. 2017;12(4):333–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    Steger MF, Frazier P. Meaning in life: one link in the chain from religiousness to well-being. J Couns Psychol. 2005;52(4):574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Phelps AC, Maciejewski PK, Nilsson M, et al. Religious coping and use of intensive life-prolonging care near death in patients with advanced cancer. JAMA. 2009;301(11):1140–7.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. 66.
    Krause N. Longitudinal study of social support and meaning in life. Psychol Aging. 2007;22(3):456.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. 67.
    Steger MF, Oishi S, Kashdan TB. Meaning in life across the life span: levels and correlates of meaning in life from emerging adulthood to older adulthood. J Posit Psychol. 2009;4(1):43–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. 68.
    Moos RH, Schaefer JA. The crisis of physical illness. In: Coping with physical illness. Boston: Springer; 1984. p. 3–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. 69.
    de Vries J, Timmins F. Understanding psychology for nursing students. London: Sage; 2017.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Karekla M, Constantinou M. Religious coping and cancer: proposing an acceptance and commitment therapy approach. Cogn Behav Pract. 2010;17(4):371–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357–68.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 72.
    Edwards MJ, Holden RR. Coping, meaning in life, and suicidal manifestations: examining gender differences. J Clin Psychol. 2001;57(12):1517–34.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. 73.
    Hall J, Taylor M. Birth and spirituality. In: Normal childbirth: evidence and debate. New York: Elsevier; 2004. p. 41–56.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Aronson E. The theory of cognitive dissonance: a current perspective. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 1969;4:1–34.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Cooper J. Cognitive dissonance: 50 years of a classic theory. London: Sage; 2007.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    Festinger L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford: Stanford university press; 1957.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    DeHaven MJ, Hunter IB, Wilder L, Walton JW, Berry J. Health programs in faith-based organizations: are they effective? Am J Public Health. 2004;94(6):1030–6.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. 78.
    Aronson E. The social animal. 9th ed. New York: Worth; 2004.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Nooney J, Woodrum E. Religious coping and church-based social support as predictors of mental health outcomes: testing a conceptual model. J Sci Study Relig. 2002;41(2):359–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. 80.
    Cooper CL, Quick JC. The handbook of stress and health: a guide to research and practice. Hoboken: Wiley; 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. 81.
    Uchino BN, Cacioppo JT, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. The relationship between social support and physiological processes: a review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychol Bull. 1996;119(3):488.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. 82.
    Thoits PA. Stress and health: major findings and policy implications. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51(1_suppl):S41–53.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. 83.
    Wang X, Cai L, Qian J, Peng J. Social support moderates stress effects on depression. Int J Ment Heal Syst. 2014;8(1):41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. 84.
    Winkelman M. Shamanism. In: Encyclopedia of medical anthropology. New York: Springer; 2004. p. 145–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. 85.
    Candy B, Jones L, Varagunam M, Speck P, Tookman A, King M. Spiritual and religious interventions for well-being of adults in the terminal phase of disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;5:CD007544.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    Nilsson U. The anxiety-and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review. AORN J. 2008;87(4):780–807.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. 87.
    Humphreys K, Blodgett JC, Wagner TH. Estimating the efficacy of alcoholics anonymous without self-selection bias: an instrumental variables re-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014;38(11):2688–94.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. 88.
    Pierce LL, Steiner V, Havens H, Tormoehlen K. Spirituality expressed by caregivers of stroke survivors. West J Nurs Res. 2008;30(5):606–19.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Nursing and MidwiferyTrinity College DublinDublinIreland

Personalised recommendations