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Spirituality and Health SIG Update

Amy Wachholtz, PhD, UMass Medical School/UMass Memorial Medical Center

There are many questions about the role of religion and spirituality in health. While participation in religious organizations is decreasing (following the general pattern of decreased participation in community activities), private spiritual practices such as prayer have increased in recent years. Using data from the 1999 CDC National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), Ni and colleagues (Ni, Simile, & Hardy, 2002) found that 13.7% of individuals had prayed for their own health. Using updated NHIS data, recent prayer for personal health concerns was 43% in 2002 and 49% in 2007 (Wachholtz & Sambamoorthi, 2011). Interestingly, increases in prayer over time cut across all demographics, including gender, ethnicity, income status, education level, and health insurance status. Previous research has indicated that spirituality and religion can have a powerful impact on mental and physical health status and there have been a number of potential physiological pathways outlined for this influence (Seybold, 2007). Prayer is a powerful resource that can have both positive and negative effects on the individual. Unfortunately, these effects are under-addressed in both research and clinical settings. With almost half of the US regularly using prayer to address their personal health concerns, these are important research questions..

The Spirituality and Health SIG brings together researchers from a wide variety of disciplines and topic areas who are interested in learning more about how spirituality affects health. At the 2011 SBM Annual Meeting, we had an exciting group of investigators join us at our breakfast meeting and our lunchtime lecture honoring Dr. Gail Ironson. As the Chair-elect for the Spirituality and Health SIG, I am enthusiastic about working with both established investigators and researchers who are just delving into this area. The Spirituality and Health SIG aims to develop our understanding of the links between spirituality and health. By using well thought out empirical research to assess the relationship of spirituality to health, we can produce high quality, empirically validated interventions that can translate into clinical practice.


Ni, H., Simile, C., & Hardy, A. M. (2002). Utilization of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by United States Adults: Results from the 1999 National Health Interview Survey. Medical Care, 40(4), 353-358.

Seybold, K. (2007). Physiological mechanisms involved in religiosity/spirituality and health. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(4), 303-309.

Wachholtz, A., & Sambamoorthi, U. (2011). National Trends in Prayer Use as a Coping Mechanism for Health concerns: Changes From 2002 to 2007. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 3(2), 67-77.