Faith in Psychiatry

From our Readers

The article "Which God?" by Dr Lewis (Psychiatric Times, April 2007, page 9) is in line with psychiatry's evolving understanding of the importance of a patient's belief system in fostering a closer therapeutic relationship and in treating illnesses. Unfortunately, for so many clinicians, the underlying psychological process remains bitterly controversial. Although clinical evidence supports the power of belief systems in coping, psychiatrists remain irrationally divided. Theists believe that the clinical evidence is just another example of the power of leading a spiritual life and of the belief in God in bringing about cure. Atheists believe that the clinical data is simplistic, biased, unjustified, and wrong.

In truth, what psychiatry must deal with is the central role that faith plays in the normal psychological functioning of patients and its derivation from object relations theory. An atheist can be a person of deep personal faith and be psychologically adaptive, while a religious theist can have little faith and be affectively labile. What matters is not the nature of the belief system but the structure of the interpersonal relationship that the patient or the therapist experiences within the therapeutic relationship. This is the deeper underlying nature of faith, and it exists independently of a belief in God.

As an atheist for more than 40 years, I cannot overstate the centrality of faith within the psychological domain as I have observed and worked in clinical practice. Let's get together and define our concepts and stop arguing over God.