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Religion and Health Research Lab

Faculty Advisor: Vitaliy Voytenko, PsyD

In recent decades, psychology and psychiatry have been undergoing a significant change in their relationship to religion and spirituality. Whereas much of the 20th century was marked by suspicion and outright rejection of religion by the field, contemporary medicine increasingly recognizes the important role of spirituality in overall health and mental health in particular. The body of research literature correlating measures of religion and health and clinical literature discussing spirituality has been growing rapidly in recent years. Religion/spirituality (R/S) has been largely associated with salutary effects on mental health through its plausible enhancement of self-regulation, attachment and connectedness, compassion for oneself and others and provision of emotional comfort and sense of meaning in the midst of suffering. At the same time, R/S can sometimes contribute to mental illness or otherwise interfere with treatment by fostering anxiety, rigid thinking, excessive guilt, and compulsive practices, producing familial strains, and delaying diagnosis and effective mental health care.

The Religion and Health Research Lab—scheduled to launch in August 2017—will focus on studying R/S as both a perpetuating factor contributing to treatment resistance and a protective factor enhancing treatment effectiveness. Given Dr. Voytenko’s interest and clinical expertise in mood disorders, the lab’s initial research project will investigate the role of religious struggle in treatment-resistant depression. Participation in the lab will provide students with exposure to the growing field of spirituality and heath, with an emphasis on mental health. Students will have opportunities for participating in the lab’s ongoing projects and disseminating the findings through professional publications and presentations at national conferences. Lab members will develop dissertation projects at the intersection of religion and health and support each other’s dissertation research.

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