Benefits of Prayer on Mental Health

Prayer is a great way to overcome or reduce the impact of most any mental health issue someone has. To help understand the benefits of prayer on mental health and how someone can start praying, I have interviewed therapist Melinda L. Yachnin, MA LCPC.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I have been counseling couples and individuals for over 10 years in private practice and counseling centers in Chicago. I received my Master’s in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University Chicago and am in the process of working towards my Master’s of Divinity. I worked for many years at a large Presbyterian church in Chicago, both as a staff therapist in their counseling center, and at the church as the Director of Small Group Ministry. Over the years I have led several retreats and taught numerous classes on prayer. Currently, I am an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and lead annual contemplative psychotherapy groups in addition to my pastoral counseling practice.”

What are the benefits of prayer on mental health?
“They are considerable, for a number of reasons. One reason is that the focus and intention that comes with a prayer practice helps us be present to the moment we’re in without judgment, and gives us a way to let go of our worries about the future. Another benefit is that prayer points to something beyond ourselves, to something bigger and more mysterious than our current concerns. Mainly, the benefit of prayer is that it puts us into a conversation with God, and into an experience of God’s healing presence.

Can praying be beneficial for any type of mental health issue?
“Not necessarily. There are studies that intercessory prayer (praying for other people) can positively affect health outcomes, but these haven’t been sufficiently validated to be sure of its benefit. Certain mental illnesses need long-term psychiatric support, and it’s not clear how prayer benefits those who are afflicted, other than as a comfort during difficult times.”

How would someone who has never prayed go about in learning how to pray?
“There are certainly books that can help with this, in particular books by Henri Nouwen or Thomas Merton; a particularly good one is called Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster. Meeting with a spiritual director or a pastoral counselor can give you a place to learn, practice, and check back in about how the prayer is going. Participating in a religious congregation is a necessary part of prayer, of course, because it gives you the support and feedback from other people and other perspectives. There is really no right or wrong way to do it, just start!”

What last words would you like to leave for someone that is considering praying to help improve their mental health?
“Prayer is first and foremost a spiritual practice, one that arises from the longing to connect to something bigger than yourself. It is not a cash register (you pray for this or that, in order to get this or that). It is all about a relationship you have with God, in which you both talk and listen. The talking helps to unburden your heart and mind of its troubles; the listening helps you focus on the here-and-now experience of yourself with God, without judgment, with acceptance. Meditative prayer (focusing on your breath, on a mantra, on a sacred image, on a name for God) has all the neurological benefits of meditation, along with the spiritual benefits of connecting to something beyond yourself.”

Thank you Melinda for doing the interview on the benefits of prayer on mental health. For more information on Melinda L. Yachnin or her work you can check out her website on http://www.melindayachnin.com.

Recommended Readings:
How to Keep a Journal to Improve Mental Health
The Effects of Exercise on Mental Health
Tips for Coping with Mental & Physical Disability