Religion and Coping
Have you noticed, in life, that when you are thinking about/working on something, circumstances seem to present themselves with that theme? The unimportant example would be how you see a million cars on the road exactly like your own new one. On a more serious note, I have been thinking a lot about spirituality and faith the last few weeks, and have found myself in many conversations with patients about this theme. I don't think I usually raised the topic, but it has been stunning how frequently it has come up. Just as there are said to be no atheists in fox holes, I doubt there are many people with a cancer diagnoses who have not thought about life's central existential issues.
As an aside: I probably have been thinking about this because I was completely taken by a book I just read: Breakfast with Budda by Roland Merolla. It is not about Buddhism, but, rather, about life. Read it.
Some years ago, one of the major insurance companies required that their clients complete a questionnaire about coping prior to the approval of any mental health visits and then several more times during the therapy. I received an alarmed hone call from an insurance case manager who said: "All of your patients are thinking about death. Are you assessing for suicidality?" Of course, all my patients were thinking about death. How can you be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and not do so? In fact, the suicide rate is lower among cancer patients than in the general population.
My overall observation has been that people who have some kind of belief system, whatever it may be, have a slightly easier time with cancer (and, probably, other dire life circumstances) than others. Here is the abstract from a recent study by Gall and colleagues in Ottawa:
The trajectory of religious coping across time in response to the diagnosis of breast cancer
Terry Lynn Gall 1 *, Manal Guirguis-Younger 1, Claire Charbonneau 1, Peggy Florack 2
1Saint Paul University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
2Women's Breast Health Centre, Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, ON, Canada
email: Terry Lynn Gall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
*Correspondence to Terry Lynn Gall, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Objectives: This study investigates the mobilization of religious coping in women's response to breast cancer.
Methods: Ninety-three breast cancer patients and 160 women with a benign diagnosis participated. Breast cancer patients were assessed on their use of religious coping strategies and their level of emotional distress and well-being at pre-diagnosis, 1 week presurgery, and 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years post-surgery.
Results: In general, breast cancer patients used religious strategies more frequently than women with a benign diagnosis; however, the patterns of use were similar across time for the majority of strategies. Results showed that religious coping strategies are mobilized early on in the process of adjustment to breast cancer. Breast cancer patients' use of support or comfort-related strategies peaked around surgery and then declined, while the use of strategies that reflected more a process of meaning-making remained elevated or increased into the long-term. Positive and negative forms of religious coping were predictive of concurrent distress and emotional well-being. As well, there was evidence that the mobilization of religious coping was predictive of changes in distress and well-being across time. For example, women's increased use of active surrender coping from 1 to 6 months post-surgery was related to a concomitant decrease in emotional distress and increase in emotional well-being.
Conclusions: Notably the nature of the relationship between religious coping and emotional adjustment depended on the type of religious coping strategy as well as the specific time of assessment. Specificity of information in the use of religious coping can allow health-care professionals to better identify resources and address potential points of difficulty during the process of women's adjustment to breast cancer. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Published Online: 12 Feb 2009
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.