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International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. Vol 13 2. Our recovery is marked by an ever-deepening acceptance of our limitations. Researchers are taking great strides towards understanding recovery, but there still remains the need to further investigate and define this concept Yanos, Primavera et al. Gene Deegan , for example, more specifically talks about recovery as a unique and complex path with recurring themes such as reclaiming hope and a positive self identity, not labeling oneself, managing symptoms, having good support systems and finding meaning and purpose in life.

The change was due in part to the use of psychotherapy, but more to the advent of greatly improved anti-psychotic medication. During this period, the notion of anti-psychiatry emerged which, according to Goffman , questioned the existence of institutions as a place and means of treatment for the mentally ill and instead looked in depth at the actual experience of psychosis. Szasz challenged mental illness as not a verifiable disease but simply legal fiction, a euphemism for problems in day-to-day living.

It was argued that institutionalisation, aside from the high cost involved, also exacerbated such negative symptoms as social withdrawal, poverty of speech and underactivity as well as loss of dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence Watkins This belief had its limitations, however, and for many suffering mental illness, medication was the only relief from distressing symptoms and recovery, by any definition, was not seen as part of their future.

Mental Illness and Scientific Understanding The Medieval Christian Church, which promoted a fearful and dogmatic belief in the power of God and the wrath towards those who sin, became less influential in the era of the domination of intellectual thought. New theories based on reason and the material world became the predominant perspective for most philosophers. The Age of Enlightenment, during the eighteenth century, saw the rise of empiricism, the foundation of a new scientific and technological age Kramnick The central dogma of the scientific world was Naturalism.

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With this theory there was no room for mystical or religious explanations of any kind. Fundamentally it was believed that everything had a natural cause, nothing was left to chance. Furthermore, everything could be reduced to smaller parts and man and the universe worked like a machine. Descartes believed, for example, that the body was separate from the mind, which was the seat of the soul Hart Matter was the only reality and whatever existed was physical. Knowledge was limited to observable evidence and only sense experience could be regarded as the truth.

Scientists were therefore regarded as objective observers who could verify facts and thus understand reality. Although empiricism can lead to an explanation of the universe, it leaves no room for spiritual experiences that are often invisible and private and therefore cannot be empirically observed or replicated. The influence of these scientific beliefs on medicine has generally remained steadfast over the last hundred years with the biomedical model dominating the health care system.

Within the field of psychiatry, the medical model encourages the belief that a physiological problem, that is, a chemical imbalance in the brain, can explain why mental illness occurs.


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As a result, mental illness can be diagnosed according to certain symptoms and the appropriate medication prescribed Turner, Both Western and Eastern world religions oppose the reductionist belief systems of the scientific world. These religions not only believe that there is a Supreme Being or Beings, but they also hold that we require this spiritual belief for our optimum fulfillment as human beings.

Some writers would now talk about spirituality more broadly. He sees religion as part of this broad spiritual umbrella: some people continue to participate in religious traditions using particular symbols and rituals that are meaningful for them. Spirituality in this sense might be expressed through meditation or prayer, as part of a religious tradition, but equally through valuing the spiritual in daily life through experiencing nature or music, for example.


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  • Bouma xiv suggests that what has changed is "the religious and spiritual have moved out from the control of both the state and such formal organisations as the church. No longer strictly controlled, the forms taken by the religious and spiritual become increasingly varied. The aim of this paper is to discuss the role of spirituality in the process of recovery from mental illness from the perspective of consumers who have suffered and recovered from mental illness.

    A broad understanding of spirituality was used which allowed the participants to define spirituality for themselves. It demonstrates that recovery from mental illness often incorporates a strong spiritual component and argues that mental health workers who ignore this are working within a limited framework that discourages an holistic approach to management of mental illness. It also demonstrates that what spirituality is will vary considerably for each individual: for some including connection to a religious tradition for others a variety of expressions of the human spirit.

    Methodology The study was based on a qualitative phenomenological research design. Through the exploration of human feelings, attitudes and experiences, as described by a small number of participants, this study was an investigative journey that reached into the personal realm of mental illness and discovered a deeper understanding of holistic well being and overall recovery.

    The Participants Six participants, three men and three women , were selected for their extensive experience with mental illness and their recovery process.

    Healing Of The Soul: The Role Of Spirituality In Recovery From Mental Illness

    They were contacted through their case managers, who made the details of the project available to appropriate clients, who could then notify the case manager if they wished to participate. Three suffered from bi-polar disorder, one from schizophrenia, one from atypical psychosis and one from a varying number of different diagnoses. Each participant had been involved with psychiatric services over a period of a decade or longer.

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    All six participants had, with varying degrees of success, traversed the hazardous highs and lows of mental illness on their very personal journey of recovery. Their ages ranged from 31 to 58 years and they resided in a large regional area in Australia.

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    It should be noted that three participants relapsed during the duration of the study and were hospitalized for short lengths of time. Due to this, participants did not complete the third and final round of interviews until they felt emotionally stable and able to cope with requirements of the study.

    Each was asked whether they wanted to continue with the interviews and all were positive. The relapse was not an unusual situation given the unpredictable nature of mental illness. The participants agreed, however, that although they suffered some setback, their overall recovery was still positive and they were moving forward with their lives.

    Data Collection The use of semi-structured, in-depth interviews enabled the collection of rich, perceptive and sensitive data. Each participant was interviewed three times, each interview focusing on a different aspect of recovery and culminating in a subjective description of their personal understanding of achieving recovery from mental illness. Having three interviews allowed the participants time to reflect on previous interviews and to deepen and extend their responses if they so wished. Data analysis began with the scrutiny of the descriptions contained in the transcribed data.

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    Significant statements, relevant to the phenomenon, were extracted from the main body of the data. This gathering of statements was the first requirement of the analysis procedure described by Colaizzi. These were then grouped into aggregate areas of meaning and highlighted as such. Each meaning was further reflected upon and a group of themes emerged.

    An exhaustive description of the investigated topic was extracted from the results so far, and the fundamental structure of recovery was articulated. Once this analysis was complete, the six interviewees were presented with the themes for further discussion and any new information was worked into the final product of the research.

    A concept map assisted in visualizing and developing the themes that resulted from the research. By working on an intuitive level and continually checking, the data was pulled apart and scrutinized to find the meaning behind the facts. Reliability, Validity and Limitations of the Research Method Prior to the interview, a practising psychiatrist was asked to check the structure of the interviews and make recommendations that would enhance the overall process of the research.

    Before the third interview took place, the general themes that had emerged in prior interviews were checked with the interviewees and with research supervisors. The final round of interviews included questions based on the findings so far and the emergent themes. Due to the nature of the methodology used, this research is limited in its application to the general community.

    This research is qualitative rather than quantitative and therefore reliability and validity are demonstrated through the richness of the data and the processes used to increase trustworthiness. Findings Participants explored a number of themes, including the journey of recovery, physical and material losses and gains, relationships with family, friends and health workers and self-help strategies for recovery. This paper reports on one of these themes — the reflection of the participants on the role of spirituality in their recovery process.

    Personal concepts of spirituality All participants reported a degree of faith and a belief in a higher or Supreme Being, most often recognised as God. Each discussed their own personal concept of spirituality and described God as all loving, powerful, forgiving and compassionate.

    Participants ranged in their belief from practising and non-practising Christianity to a non-religious but personal spirituality. In all cases this spirituality was perceived as a positive aspect of their current life, even though spiritual experiences related to their religious upbringing were, for the most part, negative. Some even held that prior religious experiences were at least partly responsible for their mental illness. These views were in clear contrast with their current understanding of, and affinity with, their spirituality.

    Every participant agreed that they had developed a self-affirming, significant personal belief in spirituality that provided hope and a positive outcome from their suffering.

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    Some attributed their recovery to heightened spiritual awareness:. In the second psychosis I actually gained through the help of my father…and his beliefs, I actually gained a sort of private spiritual belief of my own. I guess I could even say that without that I probably would still be quite unwell.

    Relationship to religious experience. Two felt their religion had played a part in their illness. However, unlike their earlier experiences with religion, participants regarded their spiritual beliefs as now being free from guilt, shame, sin, judgment, and the church:. I sort of gained this belief of a higher being as being God, even if it was a sort of a light in the sky as appeared, but someone up there…space, cosmos…. Closely linked with the idea of spirituality was the notion of the soul and its relationship with mental illness.

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    Some described the soul as an earthly connection; the body being the tool through which soul and spirit were connected. Another described it similarly:. I think the soul is more of your carnal nature, like your earthly sort of nature.