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Studies at GAMC Indicate Spiritual Practices Linked to Good Health

Human Interest

The results of two research projects conducted concurrently during the past four years at GAMC and Duke University indicate that people who engage in spiritual practices tend to live healthier lives—physically and mentally.

Bruce Nelson, director of chaplains and community services, coordinated the GAMC-site studies in collaboration with Harold Koenig, MD, Duke University professor and one of the nation’s leading researchers in spirituality and medicine.

“There is a tremendous amount of research going on around the world related to spirituality and health,” said Nelson, who first became involved in research projects about 20 years ago at Loma Linda University. “Chaplains are often asked if spiritual care is connected to people’s health outcomes. Is there a physiological impact? Ours were relatively small studies, but the indicators (of a correlation) were definitely positive.”

The first GAMC study focused on the results of cognitive therapy on hospitalized patients with a medical diagnosis and depression. “The study revealed that using cognitive therapy rooted in religious tradition (as opposed to non-religious) was equally effective, and in the cases of people who are very religious, it was more effective,” Nelson said.

The second study involved caregivers of loved ones with particularly demanding diseases. The results found that “spiritual practices tended to help caregivers recover more quickly and completely following intense caregiving episodes,” Nelson explained.