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Sunday 21st July 2019

Spiritual retreat helps heart patients

2nd August 2011

US researchers say patients with depression linked to severe heart problems can benefit from a spiritual retreat.


A team at the University of Michigan Health System found that attending a non-denominational spiritual retreat helped the patients feel less depressed and more hopeful about the future.

Participants in the study attended a four-day retreat which offered drumming, journal writing, outdoor activities and meditation, but that was not linked to any particular spiritual or religious tradition.

Heart patients who took part reported an immediate improvement in tests measuring depression and hopefulness.

The boost to mental health appeared not to have worn off three months, and even six months, later.

The randomised clinical trial was designed to test an intervention to raise hope in acute coronary syndrome patients, who have usually suffered chest pain and heart attack.

Patients respond differently, previous research shows, to an uncertain future, depending on how hopeful they feel.

University of Michigan integrative medicine expert and family medicine professor Sara Warber said the spiritual retreat - known as Medicine for the Earth - showed that such activities could jumpstart a person's feeling of well-being.

The study lead author said psycho-spiritual well-being such as that offered by such activities might be of particular interest to patients who do not want to take antidepressants.

Depression symptoms often accompany coronary heart disease and heart attack.

Publishing their study results in Explore: the Journal of Science and Healing, the researchers compared the retreat group to two other groups, one of which had received standard cardiac care, and the other of which had taken part in a programme of nutrition, physical exercise and stress management.

When the groups were assessed using standard mental and physical benchmarks, the spiritual retreat group was found to have moved from a baseline score of 12 on the Beck Depression Inventory, indicating mild to moderate depression, to an improved score of 6 immediately afterward, a 50% reduction.

In three- and six-month follow-ups, their scores remained that low, according to the article, "Healing the Heart: A Randomised Pilot Study of a Spiritual Retreat for Depression in Acute Coronary Syndrome Patients."

Meanwhile, the group that had attended the lifestyle programme saw its scores fall from 11 to 7 on the Beck inventory and remain there half a year later. The lifestyle group saw their scores drop from 11 to 7 and remain there.

The standard cardiac care control group's score started at 8 and went down to 6.

However, the spiritual retreat showed the biggest results in the measurements of how hopeful participants felt, both immediately afterwards and six months later.

People who attended the Medicine for the Earth programme saw their scores rise from around 36 to above 40, compared with scores that remained between 35 and 38 for the other two groups.

Warber said the study highlighted the importance of spiritual and psychological well-being in patients with serious medical problems.

The Medicine for the Earth programme is based on the work of shamanic practitioner Sandra Ingerman, and encourages people to see themselves as part of an interconnected web of life.

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