Assessing spiritual bypass in a clinical population: Initial test construction and validation

Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology and Behavioral Sciences

First Advisor

Tony Young


Spirituality and religion have been incorporated into the field of psychotherapy and addiction treatment for many years, revealing connections between spiritual factors and aspects of psychological well-being such as anxiety, depression, and recovery from addiction. Substance abuse treatment programs that adhere to the 12-step model of recovery, and others that are spiritually-grounded, acknowledge the importance of a healthy spiritual life in the process of recovering from addiction. Recent research has highlighted a potentially troubling phenomenon known as spiritual bypass in which individuals use spirituality in unhealthy ways to avoid psychological pain and thus thwart growth and recovery. In the process of avoiding that pain, these individuals may present with a spiritual narcissism or an extremely external locus of control in which all responsibility for their psychological well-being is assigned to God or a Higher Power.

The objective of this study was to develop and validate a scale that accurately measures an individual's tendency to engage in the phenomenon of spiritual bypass by administering a pool of items to a sample from a substance abuse recovery population. Results of factor analysis revealed a measure containing two factors: Centrality of Spirituality/Religiosity and Avoidant Coping. The total measure and the two subscales showed good internal consistency. With further research to validate this measure, there are several ways in which it could be used within the context of psychotherapy, and, more specifically, in addiction treatment settings. Clinicians could use this measure to evaluate an individual's use of spirituality to cope with psychological pain and to initiate a discussion with the individual about the benefits of working through painful inner experiences instead of avoiding them.