Many counselors and coaches shy away from discussing the importance of spirituality regarding mental health, but it is one of the most compelling aspects of treatment. As discussed in a previous article, belief systems significantly improve one’s mental health and well-being by offering a sense of meaning and purpose. Engaging in prayer and meditation can help people of all faiths to achieve peace and balance by appealing to something greater than themselves.
As with the word “religion,” prayers are often associated with a more structured or formal environment, but it can be far richer and more meaningful than most people understand. Both prayer and meditation can help those with mental health issues or PTSD find a sense of calm and assurance they might not otherwise experience.
How Prayers and Meditation are Similar
Prayer and meditation both embrace a spiritual mindset. Most people pray or meditate in solitude and silence, choosing quiet or reverent places or natural environments. Both activities create an oasis of peace designed to escape life’s stressors and try to limit any and all distractions around them.
Differences Between Prayer and Meditation
However, prayer and meditation are two distinctly different activities.
The most obvious difference is that prayer is an active activity, typically entered into with a goal in mind. Individuals engaged in prayer speak with a deity they have a relationship with and offer praise or thanks while presenting needs or desires. They often ask for assistance with an expectation of a response.
In contrast, meditation does not attempt to find outside answers as prayer does. Instead, meditation offers the opportunity to create calm from the inside out, focusing less on responses from a higher power, and instead calling upon one’s own consciousness for understanding.
While both practices offer many benefits for mental health, the rest of this article will focus on how prayer can help an individual seeking relief from mental trauma and distress.
The Science of Prayer
While prayer is an act of faith and belief, there is solid science to back up its tangible benefits. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that assists the brain in relaying signals, and it also influences our mood, easing feelings of stress and promoting a sense of overall well-being. Studies have shown that prayer has a measurable impact on the brain’s production of serotonin and inspires happiness in those who pray. Even those who do not believe in a higher power often acknowledge the impact prayer has on people in their life who practice it.
Prayers play a meaningful role in helping trauma survivors learn to cope with daily life. It represents a safe place, a sanctuary where they can feel protected and ready for what may come. Experts cite the significant number of people who returned to prayer after both 9/11 (91%) and Hurricane Katrina. (92%).
While at one time, scientists and researchers would have dismissed a scientific reason to utilize prayer to treat PTSD and trauma, the American Psychological Association has recognized prayer as being conducive to stable mental health. In fact, when facing serious mental health concerns, two-thirds of Americans would prefer to see a mental health professional with spiritual emphasis than one who does not.
Mental health professionals are now much more likely to integrate spiritual concepts such as prayer with their clients. While most therapists (70%) still refrain from bringing up prayer, it may be time to consider that the proven benefits of prayer – including a sense of belonging and purpose – may offer comfort and peace to individuals suffering from anxiety and trauma.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder often feel scared, lonely, and hypervigilant. Prayers can alter their perspective by allowing the patient to lay their fear and worry at someone else’s feet. Praying about a situation also nudges them to face their situation and cope with it instead of burying their feelings.
While saying prayers is not right for everyone, those inclined toward the practice often see an evident transformation when they pray.
Finding a certified mental health counselor who understands the power of prayer and meditation can positively impact your life and recovery regardless of your belief system.
Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health professional in Sarasota and serves Sarasota and Manatee County clients.