Religious Resources, Spiritual Struggles, and Mental Health in a Nationwide Sample of PCUSA Clergy

Abstract

A growing body of research explores patterns and correlates of mental health among clergy and other religious professionals. Our study augments this work by distinguishing between religious resources (i.e., support from church members, positive religious coping practices), and spiritual struggles (i.e., troubled relations with God, negative interactions with members, chronic religious doubts). We also explore several conceptual models of the interplay between these positive and negative religious domains and stressful life events. After reviewing theory and research on religious resources, spiritual struggles, and mental health, we test relevant hypotheses using data on a nationwide sample of ordained clergy members in the Presbyterian Church (USA). At least some support is found for all main effects hypotheses. Religious resources predict well-being more strongly, while spiritual struggles are more closely linked with psychological distress. There is some evidence that stressful life events erode mental health by fostering an elevated sense of spiritual disarray and struggle. We find limited support for the stress-buffering role of religious resources, and limited evidence for a stress-exacerbating effect of spiritual struggle. Study limitations are identified, along with a number of implications and promising directions for future research.

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Aknowledgements

An earlier version of this study was presented at the 2004 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Kansas City, Missouri. The authors thank Karissa Horton, Keith Wulff, and the anonymous reviewers for their input on the piece. However, the authors are solely responsible for errors of fact or interpretation that occur in the study.

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Correspondence to Christopher G. Ellison.

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Ellison, C.G., Roalson, L.A., Guillory, J.M. et al. Religious Resources, Spiritual Struggles, and Mental Health in a Nationwide Sample of PCUSA Clergy. Pastoral Psychol 59, 287–304 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-009-0239-1

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Stress
  • Coping
  • Mental health
  • Clergy