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If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

In their article on religion, spirituality and mental health, Dein et al 1 have made some very important points. As health professionals, we are encouraged to become competent in our understanding of the role of culture and religion in the mental illness phenomenon but at the same time our effort to reach such understanding could be perceived in a negative light.

We seem to restrict our definition of spirituality. In my search for better understanding I have found the following definition by Murray & Zentner 2 very helpful: ‘in every human being there seems to be more a spiritual dimension, a quality that goes beyond religious affiliation that strives for inspiration, reverence, awe, meaning and purpose, even in those who do not believe in God. The spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, strives for answers about the infinite, and comes essentially into focus in times of emotional stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss, bereavement and death’. This has suggested several important implications for my clinical practice; especially, how I can incorporate this meaning in the patients' understanding of their mental illness in relation to their spirituality. The individual patient approach employed by Western-trained psychiatrists and other mental health workers may fall short of what the patient expects in some cases, as a result of our ignorance of this important aspect.

1 Dein, S, Cook, CCH, Powell, A, Eagger, S. Religion, spirituality and mental health. Psychiatrist 2010; 34: 63–4.
2 Murray, RB, Zentner, JP. Nursing Concepts for Health Promotion. Prentice Hall, 1989: 259.