Religious beliefs can protect psychological well-being during stressful experiences

Perceptions of social support and hope help heart surgery patients recover

New Orleans -- According to a recent study, faith-based positive religious resources can protect psychological well-being through enhanced hope and perceived social support during stressful experiences, like undergoing cardiac surgery. Furthermore, having negative religious thoughts and struggles may hinder recovery. These results will be presented at the 114th annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Although the connection between religiosity and health-related well-being has been studied for years, recent research found that the connection between religion and well-being is more complex than past studies suggested. Lead author Amy L. Ai, PhD, of the University of Washington and coauthor Crystal Park, PhD, of the University of Connecticut, sought to better understand the mechanisms through which religious coping styles operate by studying the postoperative adjustment of 309 cardiac patients at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

The researchers found that perceived social support and hope contributed to less depression and anxiety for postoperative patients who used positive religious coping styles in their every day lives. "The contribution of social support to hope suggests that those who perceive more support at this critical moment may feel more hopeful about their recovery," said Dr. Ai. Acts of positive religious coping include religious forgiveness, seeking spiritual support, collaborative religious coping (fellowship with others who share the same beliefs), spiritual connection, religious purification and thoughts of religious benevolence.

Negative coping styles are associated with the inability of patients to protect their psychological well-being against the distress of depression and anxiety that tend to predict poor postoperative recovery in the literature. This relationship is related to poor mental health at both preoperative and postoperative times, indicating ongoing faith-based struggles. Negative coping patterns consist of spiritual discontent, thoughts of punishing God, insecurity, demonic thoughts, interpersonal religious discontent, religious doubt, and discontented spiritual relations.

"These pathways appear to be key in understanding how religious coping styles may be helpful or harmful to a person's ability to handle stressful situations. These findings imply that health and mental health professionals should be more attentive to faith factors as inspirational or motivational springboards in some contexts," said Dr. Ai.

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Presentation: "Psychosocial mediation of religious coping styles: A study of short-term adjustment following cardiac surgery," Amy Ai, PhD, University of Washington, and Crystal Park, PhD, University of Connecticut

Session 1262 - Paper Session: Coping and Religion, 2:00 2:50 PM, Thursday, August 10, Morial Convention Center, Level 2, Meeting Room 240

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office

Dr. Amy L. Ai can be contacted by phone during and after the convention at 206-221-7781 or by e-mail at ala1@u.washington.edu.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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