Virtual Voices

Psychiatrists and spirituality

Religion

A recent American Journal of Psychiatry study identifies a complicated tension between religion and psychiatry. The survey says that while psychiatrists are on average less religious than other physicians, they are more interested than other physicians' in their patients' faith.

Psychiatrists are twice as likely to say that patients mention spiritual issues. They are much more likely (93% vs. 53%) to say that it is appropriate to ask patients about their spirituality, and they are much more likely (87% vs. 49%) to actually inquire.

Science Daily quotes the study's author, Farr Curlin, who said psychiatrists' view of religion is changing: "In the past, manuals of psychiatry tended to identify religiosity with mental illness. Now they distinguish normal religious and spiritual ideas and behaviors from those that result from mental illness." Curlin went on to say that recent studies associate religious practice with improved mental health outcomes, so psychiatrists are beginning to examine religion's good influence on mental health.

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David Jenkins, licensed psychologist and professor at Liberty University, told WoW the survey's results identify a broader movement: "There really is a growing respect for healthy spirituality, including healthy Christian spirituality." He noted, however, that psychiatrists often make a distinction between spirituality ("ultimate purposes, meaning in someone's life") and religiosity. They falsely assume that religiosity and its accompanying rituals are always hollow.

Jenkins said "inside-out" spirituality, when a patient's deeply-held convictions motivate her actions, correlates with increased overall well-being. But when a patient tries to gain inner peace through outward rituals, that should cause concern: "Unfortunately there really is toxic faith."

Jenkins said the new openness to religion has opened previously-locked doors, but the tension still exists. Part of the tension is due to the fact that Christians have abandoned the disciplines of behavioral science -- the only disciplines, Jenkins said, "that systematically study the only beings created in the image of God."

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