The Pastoral Conversation: Spirituality Key to Self-Control?

Billions of dollars are spent each year on healthcare costs to treat illnesses caused by preventable behaviors such as smoking, alcoholism, and over-eating. Meanwhile, billions more are spent on diet foods, fitness programs, surgeries, and smoking cessation products. These hefty expenditures can be boiled down to one aim – combating issues of poor self-control.

As part her dissertation work, PC&CC therapist Joanne Comstock investigated the relationship between self-control and one’s spirituality or religious practice. Given that persons with high self-control often exhibit good interpersonal skills, excel in school, and demonstrate better psychological adjustment, Comstock was curious whether a spiritual or religious outlook might improve one’s ability to exercise self-control as part of overall wellness.

Comstock’s results showed that congregational support has a significant positive relationship to one’s sense of self-control. She found that religious communities support moral behavior and self-control: for example, many of the Ten Commandments prohibit socially disruptive behaviors, as well as promote stability and harmony among people. Comstock also discovered a negative relationship between spiritual discontentment and self-control. Therefore, she notes, “a person who is alienated spiritually may have less self-control in other aspects of his life.”

The study’s conclusions have many implications for the practice of pastoral counseling. “Helping a person to resolve spiritual struggles could have an impact on a person’s ability to exercise self-control,” Comstock says. “If a person is able to eliminate his or her experience of spiritual discontent, it is possible other aspects of self regulation may improve.” Counselors equipped with tools for examining spiritual struggles might be able to offer clients a unique pathway toward improving self-control, boosting overall productivity and well-being.

This is the third in a series addressing “The Pastoral Conversation.” Feel free to contact Joanne Comstock for more information about her research.