Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Responding to Spiritual Struggles: Experiential Avoidance and Mindfulness in Adjustment

Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Clinical

First Advisor

Kenneth Pargament (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

William O'Brien (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Zickar (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Pricilla Coleman (Committee Member)

Abstract

Research and theory have demonstrated that spiritual struggles are robustly tied to distress and ill health. Growth and positive outcomes are also possible. However, there is little research illuminating the factors that contribute to growth or decline in the wake of spiritual struggles. Mindfulness and Acceptance, as conceptualized in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, have been tied to positive and negative adjustment, respectively. The present study was designed to examine the relationships between experiential avoidance, mindfulness, and adjustment in a sample of 307 adults experiencing spiritual struggles. The predictions were that experiential avoidance would be associated with poorer adjustment and that mindfulness would be associated with better adjustment. It was also predicted that the relationships between spiritual struggles and poorer adjustment would be stronger among people with higher than lower levels of experiential avoidance. Finally, it was predicted that the relationships between spiritual struggles and less problematic adjustment would be stronger among people with higher than lower levels of mindfulness. The findings generally supported the hypotheses that experiential avoidance is problematic for people experiencing spiritual struggles. With a few notable exceptions, mindfulness, as measured in the present study, was not significantly related to indices of adjustment. Some support was found for the hypothesis that the detrimental effects of spiritual struggles on adjustment would be greater among people with higher than lower levels of experiential avoidance. These findings were particularly robust for the measure of situation-specific experiential avoidance. These findings are discussed along with implications and future directions.

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