Culture, spirituality and coping
The research covers religious and spiritual coping and is a sociological study of religious and non-religious spiritual strategies for "coping" among female and male patients with life-threatening illnesses. The study focused on the matter of how cancer patients dealt with their illness and inquired into whether patients used some form of religious or non-religious spiritual strategy. This was the first study of its kind in Scandinavia. It also looked into whether there are differences between women and men with regard to strategies. The project was based on semi-structured interviews with 51 adults with cancer. In part of the project, Swedish patients are compared to patients in the USA. The comparison focused on whether social and cultural differences contributed to differences in coping strategies. The empirical material for the comparison consisted largely of life stories logged as depositions during my three-month stay at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Stanford University.
The result shows that Swedish people use some spiritual coping methods not previously discovered in the field of religious and spiritual coping. The study shows that the patients use several different spiritual strategies. Thinking of spiritual matters and of different ways of seeking spiritual strength were, however, more important for patients than religious rites and activities. By far the most common method was to seek spiritual strength and calm in or with the help of nature. Other drew strength from within, through meditation or with the help of music. Many wanted to be by themselves in their most difficult moments - positive solitude - and for some it was particularly important to be a good person.
A number of patients say that they use visualization, either in the form of a relaxing environment or as a way of "visualizing the tumour and watching it get smaller". The results also reveal that the persons interviewed prefer to rely on themselves to resolve problems related to their illness and that it is important to them to have control over the situation. Accepting help from others, including God or a higher power, is something which the patients do in order to gain more strength to help themselves, rather than a form of passiveness, waiting for a miracle to happen. Culture's role in coping is a neglected theme in research into religious and spiritual coping. The study has revealed the importance of culture in this context.