Religion and mental health: Towards a cognitive-behavioural framework


Mersey Forensic Psychology Service, 36 Rodney Street, Liverpool, L1 9AA, UK.


Purpose: Religion is frequently ignored within the clinical domain. Yet when examined, empirical evidence indicates that specific aspects of religiosity are correlated with mental health. The established associations between religious dimensions and mental health could be mediated by cognitive-behavioural mechanisms. This paper proposes a preliminary conceptual framework in which two types of cognitive and behavioural mechanisms are described, (1) generic mental models that provide a basis for guiding appraisals of life events and (2) self-regulation of thinking processes (metacognitive control).

Method: A critical analysis of extant literature was employed to examine support for each of the mechanisms.

Discussion: Evidence supports the idea that a religious framework can serve as a generic mental model that influences appraisals and affects well-being. The benefits derived depend on the salience of the framework, level of certainty with which attributions can be accepted, and the content of the information. Evidence for the self-regulation mechanism is weaker. Although consistent with this supposition, it requires further empirical evaluation.

Conclusion: The relationships between religious variables and mental health may depend on cognitive-behavioural mechanisms. Developments in this area might encourage clinicians to consider further the ways in which religious variables might be utilized and assessed in therapy. However, there is a need for further efforts to incorporate religious and spiritual factors in the clinical arena.