Research – Religion & Spirituality Help Blood Pressure

May 24, 2006

Blood Pressure.gif

This research study is significant and stirs many additional questions for further study.  It makes sense to me that we study hypertension in the African-American community because they have a greater tendency that other groups to have problems with high blood pressure.  I wonder what it is about their "religious activities" that contributes to their inner serenity.  "Peace that passes all understanding?"  Opportunities for emotional outlet?  Greater sense of community?  Perhaps additional research could sort out these things.  I also wonder about the outcome if similar studies were run on Caucasians, on Asians, etc.  I would like to think that anyone who practices the tenets of Christianity in the context of a vital personal relationship with God ought to be healthier in many ways including hypertension.  For now, here's the news release:

The American Society for Hypertension has just issued the following news release:

A study of more than five thousand African Americans found that individuals who were involved with or participated in religious activities had significantly lower blood pressure than those who were not, despite being more likely to be classified as hypertensive, having higher levels of body mass index (BMI), and lower levels of medication adherence.

The findings, presented today in New York City at the 21st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension (ASH 2006), are from the Jackson Heart Study, the largest exclusively African American study sample ever used to ascertain associations among religion, spirituality and blood pressure.

"Cardiovascular health disparities among African Americans are widely recognized, and hypertension is the most prominent risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease in African Americans," said study author Sharon Wyatt, RN, PhD, from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. "Our findings show that the integration of religion and spirituality – attending church and praying – may buffer individuals exposed to stress and delay the deleterious effects of hypertension. These practices can be useful for individuals to incorporate into their daily lives."

The Jackson Heart Study followed 5,302 participants to evaluate the effects of religion and spirituality on both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Religion and spirituality were assessed with several questionnaires that examined organized religious activities (church attendance, watching religious television), non-organized religious activities (private prayer, meditation), religious coping (integration of religious beliefs into decision-making during times of stress), and daily spiritual experiences (interaction with God). The religion items were self-administered; other questionnaires were interviewer administered with some collected during the home induction interview in the participant's home (personal and family health history, socioeconomic status, smoking, physical activity, and health care access). Statistical analyses were conducted using measures of association and linear regression to examine the effects of each religious variable on blood pressure. Potential confounding and explanatory variables including selected demographic (age, gender, socioeconomic status), sociocultural (racism, social support), psychological (depression, stress), and physiological (cortisol) were included in the statistical models.

Female gender, lower socioeconomic status, increasing age, and lower levels of cortisol were associated with more religious activities. Higher levels of religious participation were related to higher levels of body mass index (BMI) and lower levels of medication adherence. Contrary to the original hypotheses, those with more religious activities and participation were more likely to be classified as hypertensive. However, those with more religious activities had significantly lower diastolic blood pressure in an uncontrolled model, and significantly lower systolic blood pressure in a controlled model.

Previous literature involving religion and spirituality has noted a protective, or buffering effect on health outcomes. These findings support the buffering effect of religion and spirituality on blood pressure.

About the American Society of Hypertension

The American Society of Hypertension (ASH) is the largest US organization devoted exclusively to hypertension and related cardiovascular diseases. ASH is committed to alerting physicians, allied health professionals and the public about new medical options, facts, research findings and treatment choices designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Integration of Psychology and Christianity in the UK

May 14, 2006

fraser.jpgToday I discovered the Psychology and Christianity Project at Cambridge University, UK, which contains a wealth of information on the integration of Psychology and Christianity. The project is lead by Dr. Fraser Watts, who has avery impressive resume, and is well published in the field. I have added the project as a link on my sidebar to keep up with their development. To access the treasure of resources he has gathered, go to the site and click on Links. I am pleased to see that they have included Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) on their list of websites! I will definitely be pursuing a relationship with them in the future; the possiblities for collaboration are exciting.

I found two reviews of Dr. Watts' book, Theology and Psychology:  The first review is by C. R. Albright and appears in IngentaConnect. The second review is by Gavin d'Costa of the Univeristy of Bristol. Read the rest of this entry »

Cross Cultural Research

May 11, 2006

worldmap.gifI'd like to see more studies on how quality of life is impacted by spirituality, religion and personal beliefs across cultural boundaries. It helps us tap into the universal aspects of spiritual issues and human nature. Here's one that I just pulled off an announcement from CAPS headquarters.
A cross-cultural study of spirituality, religion, and personal beliefs as components of quality of life
This paper reported on an international study in 18 countries (n=5087) that observed how spirituality, religion and personal beliefs (SRPB) related to quality of life (QoL). SRPB was assessed using the World Health Organization QoL Instrument (WHOQOL). Eight additional facets were included to more fully investigate the association between SRPB and QoL. The facets addressed issues such as inner peace, faith, hope, optimism, spiritual connection along with physical, social, psychological and environmental domains. According to the hierarchal regression analysis, all of the domains contributed to overall QoL. People who reported poor health held lower scores for QoL as compared to general population of study. Gender comparisons showed that women reported greater feelings of spiritual connection and faith then men. Those with less education reported greater faith but were less hopeful. It was suggested that SRPB should be more routinely addressed in assessment of QoL, as it can make a substantial difference in QoL, particularly for those who report very poor health or are at the end of their life. ( WHOQOL SRPB Group, March 2006, Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 62, (6), pp. 1486-1497).

The Social Psychology Network contains a lot of useful cultural psychology links arranged by subtopics. It's worth a visit.

Overwhelmed Is Simply Overloaded

May 10, 2006

overload-your-trailer.jpgThe more I think about what it is to be overwhelmed (in preparation for next Tuesday’s lecture), the more I come back to the simple concept of “overload.” I can handle only so much at one time. When I’m overloaded for an extended time, something breaks down. Basically, I need to learn to manage those things that are within my control (by saying “no,’ by reducing social obligations, by using time management techniques). But some things are beyond my control, like accidents, like aging, or like stormy weather). Some things can shrink my capacity to handle situations (again, the aging process), but I like to think that I can also expand my capacity to handle things. I guess that’s where efficiency comes in. I need to learn to prioritize tasks and then discipline myself to attack the highest priorities first. Even without changing my capacity, I need to learn to get help. Delegation seems to be a key to handle more without getting overloaded. I’ve enjoyed getting some pictures to visualize the problem. I only wish the solutions were as easy to picture.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Things I Learned

May 6, 2006


OCD - handwashing.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I spent a day listening to Sue Vitek (MA, MSW, LCSW-R) present a sobering and enlightening workshop on OCD (She wrote the workbook). She was representing Cross Country Education which is a well organized source of continuing education. Here are several new insights I learned:

1. As recently as 1970, OCD was considered both extremely rare and untreatable. The realization that anti-depressant medication could help treat it was a breakthrough. The biological nature of OCD involves the deficiency of the neurotransmitter, serotonin.

2. Sue says that the very best source of information on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is The OC Foundation in New Haven, CT.

3. Treatment involves doing the opposite of what makes sense. “If you’re worried about the thoughts, think about them more.” “Anticipation is always worse than the actual experience.” “Insight therapy” to discover the “cause” of the anxiety through talking does not help. What does work is Cognitive Behavior Therapy. That is, (a) Exposure-Response-Prevention Exercises, (b) Subjective Units of Distress Levels, (3) Hierarchy developed collaboratively (I call this creeping up on it), and (4) actual fear activation leading to systematic desensitization. So it’s very much hands-on, guided therapy. Medication typically involves an SSRI (e.g. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil) in combination with a benzodiazepine (e.g. Klonopin).

4. A common misunderstanding is that “just because something doesn’t happen all the time doesn’t mean it can be controlled.” So a teacher or family member may say, “You went all last week without that tic, so I know you can stop it.” How demeaning to the person who actually can't help it!

5. The aspect of OCD that mixes with religion is referred to as “Scrupulosity.” This involves a feeling of personal responsibility for making sure that all things are fair and honest, like test-taking, buying, selling and competing.

6. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder is different that OCD. OCPD is ego-syntonic. That is, the person is comfortable with the obsessive behavior while he/she is doing it. OCD is ego-dystonic. That is, the person is very distresses, sometime disgusted with himself, while engaging in the behavior.

The only thing that was left unclear was how to locate a trained therapist in the Dallas area. I’ll continue my search for this.

This was well-worth the time (six hours) and the money. Now, when I think of OCD treatment, I’ll associate it with Sue Vitek. When I get another brochure from Cross Country Education, I’ll most likely open it and check my calendar.


Love, Justice, Righteousness and Counseling!

May 5, 2006

justice.jpgSometimes I ponder what values I hold most central in my life. I think of things like family, honor, health, effectiveness in the community and other things that are good, but somehow selfish. What resonates with God’s character is when we value lovingkindness, justice and righteousness most central, because He “delights in these things” (Jeremiah 9:24). While I can quickly agree that these are godly traits, they seem elusively abstract. So I ask, “How can I work these attitudes into my life?” and “How do these things look when I practice them?” and “How do these three concepts fit together.

    I studied the words. Interestingly, in the Old Testament, “justice” (Hebrew mishpat) and “righteousness” (Hebrew tsaddiq) are virtual synonyms. They carry the notion of “straightness” in the physical sense. Their meaning develops into a standard of reference, like using just balances, weights and measures fairly. So, since I am God’s child, I should deal justly and fairly (straight) with others I encounter, reflecting the character of my heavenly Father. But these exacting standards of a holy God could be harsh. I could never measure up. I will always be found lacking if judged by God's high standards. But in Psalm 51:5, the idea of God’s righteousness goes beyond the basis of his exacting punishment. David, following his sin with Bathsheba, says that he will rejoice in God’s righteousness. This is redemptive, not judgmental. One of my students pointed out that both justice and righteousness come out from God’s holiness and they need not be contradictory (i.e. one punitive and the other forgiving). For me, then, when I act justly, I don’t have to be judgmental. And when I act righteously, I need not be simply forgiving as though no wrong had been done. It is the third concept, love (Hebrew hesed) that ties them together. I can graciously call something wrong or offensive and still pursue restoration, growth and harmony through love.

    This evening, I was reading and essay by Richard John Neuhaus in which he reflects on Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, issued in late January. It appeared in the latest issue of First Things, my latest subscription that contains a lot of challenging thoughts. In the article, he quotes the Pope as saying that God’s passion “turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” That really bothers me. His love and justice as well as his righteousness are totally consistent with his holiness in my mind. The Pope is referenced as saying that justice is the “alien” or “left-hand” rule of God . . . while love is the “proper” or “right-hand” rule of God. I don’t think God can contradict himself or be inconsistent with himself. I see my goal as pursuing congruence, that is, keeping all my parts lined up consistently — my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, my discernment of wrong and my grace.

    So what does this have to do with counseling? When an individuals are out of sorts with themselves or when a couple is out of sorts with each other, they tend to be adversarial, oppositional, and litigious. They need grace. What will be the source of grace that will soften their interface and promote healing and growth? I think a good counselor needs to be an instrument of grace. A counselor can soften the interface of warring factions and bring peace and harmony and understanding. I think that if I devote my energies to this goal, I won’t have much time to be judgmental.


Dealing with Anger

May 3, 2006

les carter in doorway.jpgI just received another weekly e-mail from my long-time friend (I no longer use the word "old") and colleague, Dr. Les Carter. When I was writing my doctoral dissertion in the 1980's, he loaned me his copy, his ONLY copy, of his completed dissertaion for me to learn the format. He was a couple of years ahead of me and knew that I didn't follow directions well from manuals. He has a nack for talking about deeply personal issues in a very understandable way. His theoretical roots go deep, but he delivers concepts in a very palatable way. I often refer people to his book, The Anger Workbook, because it actually helps people with their anger management issues. He can deal with very tough issues, yet he is a very sensitive and tender-hearted guy. You can tell this from his e-mail this week in which he is challenging us to be more sensitive to others and reminding us that everything we do impacts others in some way. Here's an actual sample that you can sign up for on his web-site. Read the rest of this entry »