Research says religion helps traumatic brain injury victims

Hardcore non-believers won’t like this one. New research shows that religion has a real world use for traumatic brain injury victims.

Researchers Brigid Waldron-Perrine, Ph.D. and Lisa J. Rapport, Ph.D. from Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have found that believing in a higher power can help traumatic brain injury (TBI) victims get better. The research article was published in Rehabilitation Psychology.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injury is a disruption of normal brain function after a head injury and affects 1.7 million Americans annually. People who are having a hard time with the long-term effects of TBI are at a higher risk for developing mental and physical problems.

These problems can make rehabilitation for TBI victims very difficult, and it means the issues are important to address to make rehabilitation more efforts more effective.  Sometimes TBI makes patients feel stressed, less satisfied with life and functionally dependent on others, when they begin to feel this way rehabilitation is the only option.


“Among healthy adults, religion and spirituality have shown strong association with improved life satisfaction and physical and mental health outcomes,” said Waldron-Perrine.

But research about religion’s effect on TBI rehabilitation in particular is still lacking.


To expand on the research of religion’s effect on TBI rehabilitation Waldron-Perrine interviewed and completed neuropsychological tests on 88 individuals diagnosed as TBI victims, most of whom were male, African American Christians. The participants also did a neuropsychological survey of their cognitive abilities. The significant others of each TBI victim also took part in the research and reported on the injured individual’s functional status.


Waldron-Perrine discovered that the majority of participants who said they had higher levels of religious well-being (a connection to a higher power) had better emotional and physical rehabilitation success. However public religious activities or practice and existential well-being – a sense that life has a purpose apart from any religious reference – did not have such an effect influence on rehabilitation results.


This “intriguing” finding, she said, might occur because TBI victims don’t have full control of their ability to take part in public religious practice.

“They often must rely on others for scheduling and transportation to social events, so their public religious participation does not wholly reflect their true use of religious resources,” she said.

As the researchers expected social support was linked to positive physical and mental rehabilitation results. Waldron-Perrine said that this is consistent with other research studies connecting religious social support to positive health outcomes in other populations. And even when Waldron-Perrine adjusted the research design to account for social support, religious well-being still stood out as a strong predictor of positive health effects in TBI patients.

“Individuals cope with the tools available to them, and perhaps especially for those with limited means and few alternatives, religion can take on great power as a psychosocial resource,” Waldron-Perrine explained.

So while this research doesn’t prove that believers are healed by the power of god, it does prove that positive thinking and belief in something important does wonders for a person’s psyche.

Waldron-Perrine’s doctoral dissertation, completed in mentor Rapport’s lab, was the basis of this study. Waldron-Perrine is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health Care System and the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry.