Spirituality and Mental Health

By John Swinton.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
ISBN 1 85302 804 5

Spirituality is a slippery concept. Yoking it
to mental health care might, at first, seem even more obscure and a
far cry from the daily preoccupations of psychiatric services. But
Swinton makes two cogent arguments that underpin this book. First,
that while organised religions may be declining, the search for
hope, meaning, purpose and the transcendental remains undiminished.
Second, while new admissions to psychiatric units may be asked to
give their religion, what it means to them is unlikely to be

For many psychiatrists, the concept of
spirituality is unacceptable because it remains impervious to any
measurement. Evoking the writing of “anti-psychiatrists” Laing and
Cooper, Swinton devotes a chapter to depression, which he defines
as a “profoundly spiritual experience”. There is a helpful review
of the literature that has explored the interface between mental
health and spirituality, and some useful case studies examining the
links more closely. What is not considered are those situations
where mental illness reflects itself in an over-preoccupation with
the religious.

This is a provocative book and of interest to
all those who feel that “disease” is helped by more than
psychotropic drugs.

Chris Hanvey is director of operations
at Barnardo’s and an approved social worker.

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