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Research on Religious Experience & Coping Strategies

The research is now completed. Thank you very much for your interest in the research.

Results Summary

Dear participants,

During the past year you participated in my research on religious experience and coping strategies. This research was part of my degree requirements at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, San Francisco Bay Area Campus. Thank you very much for your interest and participation in this research. At that time, you requested for a summary of the group results. That is my purpose in writing to you today.

The goals of this research were (a) to examine how followers of Buddhism and Western religions in the United States respond to and cope with life stressors, as well as (b) to examine how these aspects of their experience relate to attitudes toward seeking mental health services. This research included questionnaires measuring coping strategies, beliefs about effectiveness of religious coping strategies, and attitude toward seeking professional psychological help.

A total of 210 people participated in this research. One of my interests was to compare coping between Buddhists and followers of Western religions. Buddhists were found to score higher than followers of Western religions on nonattachment, that is, letting go of painful feelings. This result is consistent with the view that nonattachment is a feature that can be developed through practicing Buddhism. On the other hand, followers of Western religions were found to report using more escape-avoidance coping than Buddhists. That is, followers of Western religions reported being more likely to attempt to withdraw from stressful situation through distraction and wishful thinking to reduce emotional impact than Buddhists. This difference may reflect the Buddhist view of the world, in which suffering is an inevitable part of life. Contrary to expectation, overall this research found few differences in coping between Buddhists and followers of Western religions. One possible explanation is that the majority of Buddhist participants had converted to Buddhism rather than practiced it from childhood. These participants are likely to have had a Western upbringing, in which they would have learned and practiced Western approaches to coping.

In previous research, people who believe that religious coping can help them were found to report being more likely to seek religious help rather than professional help. For this reason, I expected to find that the stronger people’s beliefs about religious coping the less positive their attitudes would be toward seeking psychotherapy. Unexpectedly, in both groups studied no association was found between beliefs about effectiveness of religious coping and attitudes toward seeking psychotherapy. Perhaps this finding is not surprising considering that about a half of all participants, independent of group, reported having received psychotherapy in their lives. On the other hand, among followers of Western religions, I found that people who reported that they tend to minimize the importance of problems or that they try to see the positive side of situations reported lower motivation to seek professional help. Additionally, among followers of Western religions, positive correlations were found between beliefs about religious coping and a number of coping strategies. Thus, the present findings suggest the value of encouraging both religious and non-religious positive aspects of coping, as suitable to the belief system of the particular follower of a Western religion. In this way, these findings may be relevant to the work of mental health professions who serve followers of Western religions and to religious counselors in their work with such clients.

Again, thank you for taking part in this research. I hope that you found the experience of participating in this research to be interesting.

Sincerely yours,

Kanako Kunitomi