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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"It's a gift to be free" : the experience of spirituality and/or religion for individuals living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia Smith, Sharon


Research on spirituality and/or religion in health care has in the past neglected people diagnosed with persistent mental illness. Furthermore, little research has attempted to explore the intersection of spiritual experience and psychotic-like experience. Occupational therapists, who also work in psychiatric practice settings, incorporate the concept of spirituality into their theoretical models but continue to debate over its definition and application. The concept of spirituality within multicultural, pluralistic health care settings remains vague, limiting utilization. Accordingly this qualitative research project, using hermeneutic phenomenology through the lens of symbolic interactionism, was designed to explore the meaning (the language and significance) of spirituality for people living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Nine co-researchers/participants, living in the Vancouver area (British Columbia), were interviewed using a three-phase semi-structured interview process. The data were analysed using both descriptive and interpretive phenomenological methods. During the analysis, neurobiological, psychological and sociological lenses were utilized to enrich the experiential constructs of the phenomenon of spirituality. The co-researchers/participants in this study spoke about their spirituality using the language of spiritual and/or religious practices, spiritual and/or religious principles, spiritual and/or religious choices (agency), psychotic-like spiritual and/or religious experiences, and spiritual and/or religious roles. By applying the theory of symbolic interactionism to the data, the findings also highlight how the co-researchers/participants utilized complex social processes to navigate possible invalidating responses to their spiritual and/or religious ideas and actions. These findings are contextualised at the convergence of experiences of spirituality and mental health challenges. As such, this research explores the co-researchers/participants’ views of an intersection that has perplexed mental health professionals and researchers. The significance of the various dimensions of spirituality and/or religion is that they may provide individuals living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia with additional hope-inspiring discourse and practice that is both humanizing and empowering. Mental health professionals, specifically occupational therapists, can facilitate these individuals’ engagement in spiritual and/or religious practices and with spiritual and/or religious principles. In doing so, individuals living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia can have greater opportunity to freely exercise their spiritual and/or religious agency.

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