Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion

Living Edition
| Editors: David A. Leeming

Spiritual Health

  • Benson A. MulemiEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27771-9_9222-1

Spiritual health refers to an individual’s subjective experience of psychic well-being. This state of psychosomatic well-being is an important dimension of the comprehensive concept of health. Spiritual health is therefore the nonphysical aspect of integrated human health. Spiritual wellness complements mental (or psychological), social, and physical aspects of integrated and holistic models of health. The spiritual component of health incorporates an intersubjective experience of peace. Perceived interconnectedness with the social worlds, nature and the environment, and the invisible supernatural spheres of life further defines the essence of spiritual health. Cross-cultural religious practices, expressions of faith, and transcendental rituals abound in individual quests for spiritual wellness and health in general. This entails investment of time and emotional energy in activities that participants associate with the promotion or restoration of both psychosocial and psychosomatic equilibrium. The concept of spiritual health is as intricate and nuanced as its constituent terms: spirit, spiritual, spirituality, and health. The intricacy and nuances in the meaning of spiritual health manifest in cultural constructions of psychic well-being and human wholeness. Universal beliefs about the unity of the body, mind, and spirit define holistic perspectives on health in general (Young 1984) and spiritual health in particular.

Spiritual–Nonspiritual Aspects of Spiritual Health

Beliefs about intricate interactions and relationships among religious and secular aspirations shape the elements of spiritual health. Religious and secular intellectual convictions further define personal and collective experience of psychosomatic and psychosocial well-being. Cross-cultural discourse on spiritual health in this regard revolves around quests for mundane positive personality standards, socioreligious virtues, harmony with the environment and the supernatural world, social capital, inner peace, courage, and wisdom. Spiritual health in this sense coincides with individual concerns about connectivity with self, community, the environment, and God (Fisher et al. 2000). These concerns define both the religious and nonspiritual continuum of health shaped by social, physical, psychological, and existential realities.

Secular and religious spiritualities are complementary in processes aimed at either promoting or restoring health. The meaning of the term “spirit” demonstrates the dual nature of spirituality. The term is derived from two Latin words: spiritus (which means “breath, courage, vigor, or soul”) and spirare (which means “to breathe”) (Chantrell 2002, p. 487). The spirit is therefore the invisible force that both religious and mundane machinations influence in pursuit of either sustenance or augmentation of human vitality. The outcome of both religious and nonreligious psychic processes that affect health include happiness, peace of mind, and general psychosocial and psychosomatic or embodied well-being.

Spirituality and Embodied Health

Religion underscores the spirit as the fountain of human existence and strength. Religious, theological, and philosophical systems of belief and thought in past and modern cultures have characterized the spirit and spiritual entities as superior to corporeal beings. Traditional and world religions associate spiritual beings and the spiritual world with capricious transcendent energy that either diminishes or strengthens human vitality. Therefore, cross-cultural health beliefs and rituals aim to influence spiritual power for protection and regeneration of psychosomatic fitness. Health and illness behaviors may include magico-religious practices to harness health-promoting power in the universe. This accounts for universal therapeutic practices in which participants hope to harness the transcendent power for the enhancement of individual and collective well-being. Religious and pseudoreligious practices may contribute to psychosomatic well-being by altering emotions, moods, and status of psychological coping with perceived adversity.

Secular and religious rituals also improve or protect health by contributing to the potential of positive personality adjustments. As an example, personal or collective agency and perceived self-esteem have consequences for psychosocial and psychosomatic equilibrium and a comprehensive state of well-being. Spirituality is therefore an aspect of health-seeking behavior, particularly in pursuit of meaning, hope, psychosocial comfort, and inner peace. Health and illness behaviors connect spirituality to both religious and secular sources of well-being. Spiritual health in this sense may manifest in personality and emotional dispositions. The individual moods that degenerate into personality disorders call for psychotherapy, which perfectly entails spiritual health matters. Psychotherapy harnesses the therapeutic effects of secular and religious spirituality resources such as music, art, meditation, and appreciation of nature.

Religious systems across cultures highlight the manifestation of spiritual vitality in the perceived status of corporeal thriving. Spiritual health therefore facilitates the perception of embodiment of spirituality at different levels of success in human social, physical, and overall biological functions. This perspective on the spirit and the body goes beyond the traditional abstraction of religious and ecclesiastical matters of the human soul’s mystical existence. The comprehensive perspective on spirituality and health incorporates all facets of human daily life activities and experiences (Schneiders 1986; Muldoon and King 1995, p. 335; Fisher et al. 2000, p. 133). Individual and shared spirituality characterize daily interactions and livelihood activities. Religious and nonreligious spirituality values and principles shape the levels of human success in all dimensions of health.

Spiritual Dimension of Health

Systems of belief and thought in indigenous and modern societies link mental disorders to disturbed spirituality. The disorder results from disruption in the intricate interactions among the spirit, soul, and material elements of nature. Psychological disorder and biographic and livelihood disruptions result in deviations from the perceived optimal capacity to function or health in general. Existential experiences manifest in prevailing spirituality. This distinguishes local experiences of psychic life-force and the soul from material realities of human nature. Religious and secular rituals enable people to muster sociopsychological vigor through practices that can sustain, protect, and restore health. The intensity of spirituality agency varies with religious, socioeconomic, and cultural realities. In this regard, spiritual health and associated activities involve a continuum of sacred realities, religious and humanistic virtues, social philosophies of life and society, and an array of magico-religious beliefs.

People advertently or unwittingly engage in ceremonial activities and behaviors that enhance the psychic foundation of health. Spiritually oriented health and illness behaviors in this sense are twofold. First, people engage in self-responsibility, piety, and everyday psychosocial and psychosomatic activities. The second set of behaviors includes physical movements, therapeutic communications, dedication to a work ethic, performing arts, adoration of nature, and play. Spirituality is embedded in deliberate and unwitting health-seeking behaviors, which engender the desired state of well-being. Spiritual health is therefore an important aspect of the multifaceted quality of life. It is defined by personalities perceived to be well adjusted and experiencing health prosperity.

The spiritual aspect of health, or spiritual health per se, is as multidimensional as the concept of health in general. The spiritual dimensions both relate to and interact with other aspects of health. Desires for personal fulfillment, values and beliefs about fulfillment in life, quests for wholeness, and recognition of sources of spiritual power and authentic well-being – particularly God – constitute the key spiritual aspects that complement health (Hjelm 2010). These aspects materialize in the perceived harmony among the body, the mind (or intellect), and the soul. The complex interactions among these elements of spirituality characterize the intricacy of health in general and spiritual health per se (Dorfman 1994). A comprehensive description of spiritual health thus entails affirmation of life in a relationship with God, self, community, and the environment that nurtures and celebrates wholeness (National Interfaith Coalition on Aging 1975, p. 280).

The perspectives on spiritual health as a holistic concept are consistent with comprehensive health per se. The World Health Organization (WHO 1948) has provided a comprehensive definition of health, which includes spiritual health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Spiritual and other features of health are intricately entwined among themselves. The spiritual health aspects in the broader scheme of health entail vitality, gusto for life, and a positive or optimal state of being (Dunn 1961). Consequently, many cultures construe spiritual health as the life-force that flows through biological and physical entities.

Cross-cultural systems of belief and thought also associate both spiritual and corporeal vitality with nutritional supplies and body and psychic exercises. Spiritual health behaviors may also include quests for psychologically rewarding beliefs and modes of knowing and positive thinking. In this sense, spiritual health includes at least five intersecting and interacting dimensions: the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions (Hjelm 2010, p. v). The universal ideas of peace, joy, compassion, love, and a sense of duty and responsibility to society comprise part of the reality of spiritual and physical body health in human experience (Luo and Hill 2010). The spiritual dimension of health is therefore the most overarching component of health, which provides a context for the other dimensions (Hjelm 2010). The spiritual dimension provides the means through which physical, mental, emotional, social, and vocational dimensions interact with one another (Bensley 1991; Eberst 1984).

Domains and Manifestations of Spiritual Health

Spiritual health is connected to metaphysical energy, which is manifested in people’s subjective experiences of social, physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Traditional and world religions associate the metaphysical power that underpins domains of health with God and other spiritual agents. Cross-cultural and interreligious perspectives on spiritual health draw on the extent of perceived harmonious coexistence of people within at least four domains (Fisher 1998, p. 191).

The first domain of spiritual health entail introspection and intrapersonal reflections. Spiritual health in this regard is the subjective experience of psychological well-being – that is, personal emotional and cognitive evaluations of fitness (Diener et al. 2000). Introspection directs personal attention to oneself in the pursuit of meaning, purpose, and values in life. The first outcome of these psychological processes entails an increased sense of self-awareness and longing for improved self-esteem and identity. The second consequence of the introspection process involve variations in moods and emotional reactions. Perceived personal fulfillment and satisfaction with life in general and with specific life conditions further shape the intrapersonal domain of spiritual health (Betton 2004). From the perspective of the personal domain, the status of spiritual health manifests in personality traits such as neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Ramanaiah et al. 2001).

The second domain of spiritual health is the communal domain. The manifestation of this domain includes the quality and depth of interpersonal relationships. The aims of religious and social values, in this regard, are to improve and maintain well-being through conducive interpersonal relationships. The communal domain of spiritual health draws on universal socioreligious doctrines of morality or virtue, which include notions of love, justice, hope, and faith in humanity (Fisher 1998, p. 191; Seligman 2002, p. 133). Universal and traditional religions underscore the aforementioned virtues, which enhance psychological well-being. More specifically, the pursuit of spirituality and transcendence, wisdom and knowledge, courage, and temperance is an important aspect of mental well-being. Spirituality in this sense supports psychological well-being manifested in perceived personal composure. Spiritual health also draws on the secular communal spirituality of humanistic values.

In the third place, the environmental domain of spiritual health complements the communal domain. The environmental domain facilitates health-promoting aspirations for human relationships. The environmental domain of spiritual health draws on beliefs and practices concerned with the care of biotic and nonbiotic elements that affect human life (Fisher 1998). Both religious and secular environmental practices in this regard manifest people’s desire to create an appropriate life-sustaining symbiosis between human beings and nature.

The fourth domain of spiritual health is the transcendental domain. It serves as the mindful and/or unconscious mainspring of the other domains of spiritual health. The hallmark of this domain is the universal magico-religious pursuit of connectedness of self with the Supreme Being and other spiritual agents. Spiritual health behavior in this domain manifests in the intensity of faith toward, adoration of, and worship of the source of mystery in the universe (Seligman 2002, p. 133). Transcendental beliefs and practices contribute to mental health through the ensuing sense of inner peace. This derives from the ability to transcend oneself, which translates into the subjective experience of fulfillment.


Spiritual health entails the subjective experience of psychosocial and psychosomatic well-being. Perceived harmony with oneself, fellow human beings, the environment, and transcendent forces characterize cross-cultural notions and experiences of spiritual health. Harmony is achieved through practices intended to maintain people’s connection with each other and with the spiritual and the social worlds for individual or collective well-being. Spiritual health therefore derives from activities on the secular–religious spirituality continuum. Both religious and secular spirituality engender spiritual health. Spirituality promotes health through activities and psychological approaches that foster balance in the unity of the body, mind, and soul. Health behavior in this sense may include attendance at religious services, philanthropy, adoring nature, listening to and reading inspirational and virtuous discourse, meditation, prayer, and enjoyment of the arts (Turner et al. 1992).

See Also


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Sciences & Development StudiesThe Catholic University of Eastern AfricaNairobiKenya