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Community mental health professionals’ perspectives on incorporating spirituality in their care of clients with serious mental illness Clark, Nancy

Abstract

Spirituality has emerged as an important component of mental health care. A growing amount of empirical evidence and theoretical development exists on the effects of spirituality and positive mental health outcomes. Consumer perspectives as well as Canadian mental health policies advocate for the inclusion of psychological and social health determinants such as spirituality in order to decrease the mortality and morbidity associated with serious mental illness (SMI). Multidisciplinary teams of professionals in the community provide the majority of mental health services. Despite these initiatives, little is known about how mental health professionals incorporate spirituality in community practice settings. The purpose of this research study is to explore the perspectives of community mental health professionals' (CMHP) in relation to the incorporation of spirituality in their professional practice. An interpretive descriptive research design using constant comparative method, and inductive content analysis has been used to uncover the perspectives of CMHP about incorporating spirituality in their care of clients living with SMI. Three focus group interviews were also conducted with CMHP (n=22) to explore multidisciplinary points of view. Findings of this study reveal that CMHP understanding of spirituality as well as their experiences of working within a multidisciplinary team influenced the incorporation of spirituality. CMHP understood spirituality to be an important aspect of life, personally and for their clients. The significance of spirituality was defined by three main attributes. These include, connection, religious and cultural beliefs, meaning and purpose. These attributes were viewed to either positively or negatively affect their client's mental health. Additional resources for coping, encouragement of health behaviors, and prevention of risk behaviors such as suicide were associated with positive mental health outcomes. Negative mental health outcomes were associated with client's increased anxiety related to their spiritual and or religious expectations, past traumatic experiences and avoidance of medical treatment. Participants experienced three main challenges to incorporating spirituality. These included boundaries of their professional role, the lack of team support and the dominance of biomedical frameworks. Focus group discussions served as a model for education and allowed a place for CMHP to share their experiences about incorporating spirituality.

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