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September 22, 2007

BehindTheMedspeak: Psychiatrists and Religion


Long story short: "Of all medical specialties, psychiatrists are the least religious," wrote Nicholas Bakalar in a story in the September 18, 2007 New York Times Science section; his piece follows.

    Two Paths: Religion and Psychiatry

    Of all medical specialties, psychiatrists are the least religious, a survey has found, and the most religious doctors are the least likely to refer their patients to psychiatrists.

    In addition to questions about their own beliefs, the 100 psychiatrists and 1,044 other specialists who responded to the survey were asked about their attitudes toward religion in clinical practice. For example, the survey asked doctors whether they thought it proper to ask about patients’ religious beliefs and whether they had ever prayed with a patient.

    Although psychiatrists were just as likely as other physicians to report that religious beliefs influenced their practice — about half said it did — just 29 percent of psychiatrists, compared with 47 percent of other doctors, said they attended religious services more than once a month. When asked whether they described themselves as religious or spiritual, 42 percent of psychiatrists and 53 percent of other doctors said they did. About a third of psychiatrists, but almost half of other physicians, said they “look to God for strength, support, and guidance.” Psychiatrists were significantly less likely to be Protestant or Catholic and more likely to be Jewish or have no religious affiliation.

    Most doctors would refer a patient to a psychiatrist for emotional problems. Protestants were about half as likely as those with no religious affiliation to do so, preferring clergy or other religious counselors.

    “Religion and psychiatry are two different ways of responding, and two different ways of bringing healing,” said Dr. Farr A. Curlin, the lead author of the paper, published in the September issue of Psychiatric Services and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. “In some clinical situations, they will always be rivals.”


Here's a link to the abstract of the above-cited paper; the abtract itself follows.

    The Relationship Between Psychiatry and Religion Among U.S. Physicians

    Objective: This study compared the religious characteristics of psychiatrists with those of other physicians and explored whether nonpsychiatrist physicians who are religious are less willing than their colleagues to refer patients to psychiatrists and psychologists.

    Methods: Surveys were mailed to a stratified random sample of 2,000 practicing U.S. physicians, with an oversampling of psychiatrists. Physicians were queried about their religious characteristics. They also read a brief vignette about a patient with ambiguous psychiatric symptoms and were asked whether they would refer the patient to a clergy member or religious counselor, or to a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

    Results: A total of 1,144 physicians completed the survey, including 100 psychiatrists. Compared with other physicians, psychiatrists were more likely to be Jewish (29% versus 13%) or without a religious affiliation (17% versus 10%), less likely to be Protestant (27% versus 39%) or Catholic (10% versus 22%), less likely to be religious in general, and more likely to consider themselves spiritual but not religious (33% versus 19%). Nonpsychiatrist physicians who were religious were more willing to refer patients to clergy members or religious counselors (multivariate odds ratios from 2.9 to 5.7) and less willing to refer patients to psychiatrists or psychologists (multivariate odds ratios from .4 to .6).

    Conclusions: Psychiatrists are less religious than other physicians, and religious physicians are less willing than nonreligious physicians to refer patients to psychiatrists. These findings suggest that historic tensions between religion and psychiatry continue to shape the care that patients receive for mental health concerns.

September 22, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Green -- there have been a few studies with folks being treated with either religious or psychological solutions, albeit without a 'true' scientific backing (i.e., random double blind assignments...its hard to do so in the human world without major implications towards flexibility in treatment).

However, it has been noted those with strong religious backgrounds -- either from the physician or the patient -- are more likely to allow what will happen to happen. You find a significant amount (i.e., consistentlyfro measurable) of death in the physicians side of things when this happens. Which isn't entirely bad...humans have a negative connotation towards death (I do) and the ability to impart that it is a natural event that we all go through, all with a finite time, is actually a great thing to teach others. So -- if you are measuring against WILL THIS PERSON DIE as a negative, yes -- there is a greater chance with religious doctors or patients. The mental analogue is probably also true, with the belief that one has little control over their lives with the exception God gives us, it is easier to allow certain things to happen.

So, define SUCCESS and we might figure out which is more effective...from a psychological point of view, we look to making people comfortable within their own skin (but to the point they aren't a harm to others).

Posted by: clifyt | Sep 24, 2007 9:34:57 AM

Is there a study from among emtionally troubled people who sought help assessing the success rates of those treated by psyciatrists and those seeking "religious" or spirtual solutions? That's really the important issue, isn't it?

Posted by: J Green | Sep 22, 2007 9:00:45 PM

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