Psychiatry. 1997 Fall; 60(3): 211-23.
Spiritual recovery movements and contemporary medical care.
NYU School of Medicine, NY 10016, USA.
When confronted by the threat of illness, general medical and psychiatric patients may turn to treatments that have a spiritual orientation but lack empirical validation. This article examines the nature of contemporary movements that offer these treatments and their impact on medical care. A typology of spiritually oriented recovery movements is presented, including those associated with established religions, holistic medicine, or programs for self-liberation. Possible mechanisms for their behavioral and physiologic impact on health status are discussed. The psychological appeal of these treatments is analyzed in light of the way sick people may attribute meaning to illness and may then become engaged into a spiritual recovery movement, achieve a sense of self-efficacy through affiliation, and finally comply with putative "healing" practices. Although some spiritual recovery movements provide hope in the face of illness and even offer therapeutic benefits, they may also discourage patients from getting appropriate medical treatment and promote harmful regimens. Options are discussed for mental health professionals' response to the spiritual orientation of their patients and options for future research.