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Secular Health and Sacred Belief?

A Study of Religion and Mental Illness in Modern Irish Society

Áine Lorié

Social exclusion is one of the most significant problems facing individuals with mental illness in contemporary Ireland. In the era of the growing secular medical-industrial complex and its alienating effects, it is important to strengthen confidence in mental health services that promote social inclusion, specifically for stigmatised groups. As mainstream facilities remain attached to a biomedical framework, religious outlets operating in the voluntary sector may serve as an alternative option.
This book examines religion’s therapeutic potential, concentrating on aspects of Catholicism as manifestations of Max Weber’s prosocial concept of ‘brotherliness’. This line of enquiry is approached both on a macro level, looking at institutional religion, and on a micro level, looking at personal beliefs. The author examines such issues as the power of the institutional church in disseminating collectively orientated ideas; the public response to mental illness in Ireland over the past two centuries; the tendency within the field of psychology to pathologise belief systems and instrumentalise religious coping; and processes of secularisation, socialisation and ritualisation, which can either assist in or hinder the subjective adaptation of religious ideas. The theoretical arguments are contextualised by in-depth interviews with members of the «peerled» mental health group GROW.


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Chapter 2 Secular and Profane Treatment


Although the primary intent of this book is to uncover the brotherly ef fects that religion may have on those with mental health problems in contem- porary Irish society, it would be imprudent to overlook coexisting, non- religious options. I intend to concentrate on the field of psychology, though not entirely excluding psychiatry, as the former remains more orientated to expressive therapy and is not exclusively medical in its treatment options. Furthermore, the voluntary group GROW, to be considered later in the book, is greatly inf luenced by a psychological framework. This chapter is intended as a general overview of the field of psychology, from a sociologi- cal perspective, for the purposes of understanding this discipline’s strengths and limitations in its social context. Psychology and the (Western) Biomedical Model In exploring psychology’s theoretical foundation and the (Western) bio- medical framework it would be helpful to review how this conceptual development came to pass. Moreover, we should question how this idea of rationalism, within this scientific vocation, has come to triumph. Modern Psychology (Behaviourism and Cognitivism) For much of the twentieth century the behaviouristic model governed North American and Western European psychology (Zimbardo et al 1995: 9–10). Founded in 1913 by John B. Watson, behaviourism was unquestionably 74 Chapter 2 more theoretically rigid in terms of focusing on tangible and material sci- ence as opposed to its psychoanalytic counterpart. Gradually, as Carlson, Martin and Buskit (1997: 24) note, behaviourism came to be thought of as the study of the relationship...

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