Date of Completion


Embargo Period



spiritual struggle

Major Advisor

Crystal L. Park

Associate Advisor

Sarah Hodgson

Associate Advisor

J. Irene Harris

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Extensive psychological research has associated spiritual struggle with negative outcomes, including depression, post-traumatic distress, suicidality, and mortality. Yet other research has linked it with positive outcomes, such as personal and spiritual growth, less prejudice, greater compassion, and increased religious tolerance. Furthermore, religious and developmental theorists posit that spiritual struggle is essential to value development and life adjustment, as rigid systems are replaced by flexible ones. The paradox of struggle being associated with negative outcomes but linked to spiritual and personal growth raises the question: what distinguishes healthy or productive spiritual struggle from maladaptive struggle? The current study hypothesizes that struggle can be beneficial if it is resolved over time: by integrating benevolent views of a higher power, increasing psychological closure, and finding meaning in questioning. It is this productive struggle that exercises a “spiritual muscle,” developing psychosocial resources and forging a stronger and more flexible spirituality. The study empirically tests correlates of spiritual struggle and outcomes of resolution of struggle over time in response to a writing paradigm (versus a control condition). Spiritual struggle was assessed with multiple measures to capture the multidimensionality of this construct. At baseline, participants were asked to identify an open, negative event, respond to questionnaires, and write over three days. At the first follow-up resolution of struggle and event-related closure were assessed. At the final follow-up, extent of resilient response to a subsequent stressor was assessed in terms of distress response, use of positive coping methods, meaning violations, and spiritual struggle. Additional general, non-event-specific outcomes were measured as well. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to assess changes in spiritual struggle and outcomes, and structural equation modeling of latent growth curves was used to analyze the trajectory of struggle and the relationships between resolution and outcomes. Results indicated that measures of struggle, except quest, were cross-sectionally associated with negative outcomes, particularly at follow-ups. Spiritual struggle decreased over time and closure increased for both the struggle intervention and control groups. Finally, resolved spiritual struggle, although largely unrelated to outcomes, predicted some aspects of resilient response to a subsequent stressor and greater meaning in life.