Leeds pioneers faith-based therapy

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Leeds University researchers pioneer treatment which incorporates religion as central to its practice.

Research by the University of Leeds has produced a new form of therapy which actively embraces Muslim patients’ religious belief as part of their treatment, contrary to traditional practice and despite resistance from some practitioners.

The new treatment is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is widely used by the NHS, called ‘behavioural activation’. Although the religion-based treatment has met resistance from practitioners, it is “showing some individual signs of success”.

The programme encourages patients to reconnect with Islam by challenging the idea that mental illness results from, or creates a break with, faith. It uses passages from the Quran to show patients that mental health problems can affect anyone, regardless of how strong their faith is.

Richard Garland, who runs the Touchstone Mental Health Charity responsible for implementing the new therapy, commented: “What has been produced here is a type of therapy that takes full account of this particular faith and links it to people’s value framework. It’s a very practical application of someone’s belief system.”

Although the NHS has an obligation to provide culturally appropriate care, religion is often not considered to be a part of a person’s culture, despite its potential to be a valuable tool and the fact that faith sensitive therapies have proven effective when tested elsewhere around the world.

Lead researcher Dr Ghazala Mir, of the University of Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, highlighted the particular importance of her research and the NHS project it has led to for Muslims struggling with their mental health: “not only is there under-referral [amongst the Muslim population] but the outcomes for people who do actually get referred are not as good as the general population.”

NHS data suggests that Muslim patients are prone to more severe forms of depression and have longer recovery times.

The new form of treatment may also go some way to combatting the stigma surrounding mental health, which some see as an additional barrier for Muslims seeking help. According to Dr Mir: “This stigma does involve the idea that maybe if you need treatment, there might be something wrong with your faith identity in the first place,” she says.

Samira exemplifies the merits of the new approach, and now sees religion as vital to her recovery from depression. She said: “I’m happy that I can live my life with my religion and that I’ve got the support of teachings from the Quran.”

It is hoped that behavioural activation will become increasingly available across the UK in the future.

Sarah Berry

(Image: BBC)

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