Interfaith Health Care Association of Manitoba

The Mental Health Benefits of Spirituality and Religion


Featuring Kurt Schwarz, a Spiritual Health practitioners working in mental health at Health Sciences Centre for the past 20 years. His primary responsibility is to provide support to patients, families and staff in Mental Health, as well the Additions Unit.

Question: What is the role of Spiritual Health in working with clients on a Mental Health unit? 

What resources do you offer to facilitate the Spiritual well-being of the clients?

“By bringing a non-judgmental and non-anxious presence, I attempt to convey to the patients that their needs and concerns will be taken seriously.” In the way he listens to their stories of pain, disappointment and personal loss, he lets patients know they are important.

Kurt collects stones while on walks in nature. After listening to stories of grief, pain and loss, he sometimes offers patients a stone to keep as symbol of remembering, honouring and respecting their story. Sometimes he offers a colouring page or reflective art page they can work on in their spare time on the unit.

Question: There is a lot of research today that correlates spiritual well-being to better health outcomes.  How have you seen this in the clients you have worked with?

When Kurt reflects on his work over the past 20 years, he would agree with this statement. “Religious belief and spiritual practices provide a meaningful “container” in which patients can look at their lives and find ways to sort out the pain and disappointments of their lives. Religion and spiritual practices have been recognized as being protective factors.”

Kurt has been impressed with the effectiveness of collaborate care. “Patients need people they can trust to share their stories and struggles with. They also need safe, affordable housing, as well as guidance towards meaningful employment.”

Kurt offers a weekly Spirituality Group for patients on the Addictions unit. They explore topics related to recovery from addictions, using techniques such as mindfulness meditation, contemplative reading and artistic expression to relieve the loneliness, isolation and anxiety found in addictive lifestyles.

The Spiritual Health Department at Health Sciences Centre will be participating in a collaborative research study exploring the positive health benefits of arts-based spiritual activities to enhance patients’ lives and health outcomes.  He is excited to be participating in this multi-year study.

Question: What resources do you offer to staff who want to enhance their spiritual well-being?

During and following COVID, HSC Spiritual Health services created break rooms where staff can come for some quiet and spiritual renewal.  They supplied the break rooms with books and magazines, as well as colouring pages. Kurt quoted medical doctor and researcher, Gabor Maté, “Every hospital needs to have a place where staff can sit and breathe.”

He often recommends books by writers like Gabor Maté, Pema Chödrön and especially the writer Joan Halifax in her recent book, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom where Fear and Courage Meet. 

Question: Do you have a quote to share?

Words to Encourage Empathy and Compassion- Written by Sharon Salzberg

May I offer my care and presence unconditionally, knowing that it might be met by gratitude, indifference, anger or anguish.

May I offer love, knowing that I cannot control the course of life, suffering and death.

May I find the inner resources to truly be able to give.

May I be peaceful and let go of expectations.

May I accept things as they are.

May I see my limits compassionately, just as I view the suffering of others.