Should religion and spirituality be tools in the psychiatric arsenal?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
As covered in my prior column on “What King Charles III Said About Religion That Resonates with Psychiatry,” it seemed important that he stressed wanting to be able to support spiritual inclusivity in the British people, even though he had “so deeply rooted” faith in the Church of England. Now he is entering the practical time to see if that will succeed.
Psychiatry has the challenge to do the same, though from a different individual and professional perspective. Though needing an updated survey, psychiatrists in the United States have seemed to have a lower percentage of religious and spiritual believers than their patients and the public, possibly as a continued fallout of Freud’s view of religion as a “mass delusion.”
Last Friday, an article in the Washington Post, “More psychotherapists are incorporating religion into their practice,” discussed the challenge.1 As general mental health in America is deteriorating to its lowest surveyed state, could spirituality be of help? If so, does it matter that we psychiatric professionals are less religious and spiritual?
The drawbacks of being less religious or spiritual seems multiple. That can produce inadequate interest in those beliefs in patients, a lack of training about the subject, and underplaying their value while overplaying their adverse effects.
Now there is a new threat to mental health spreading across the country, though most pronounced in physicians. That is our epidemic of burnout. Unfortunately, the variable of religious and spiritual beliefs seems to be left out of the studies analyzing what might protect against burnout. Optimistically, there is some initial data that suggests that such beliefs in medical students and nurses may be protective against burnout.2,3
Personally, as I was burning out and my time with medication follow-ups was administratively reduced to 15 minutes, I decided to ask each patient:
“What gives your life the most meaning and we’ll gear your treatment to that goal?”
That worked to make the most satisfying use of that time, with the only goal that needed to be replaced was that of taking street drugs!
Of course, there are differences between religion and spirituality. Religion usually refers to formal belief systems that have persisted over time in organizations, whereas spirituality is more individually based and centers on expansive beliefs about the meaning of life. In the United States, religious affiliation seems to be decreasing, while spiritual beliefs are increasing.
Since religious and spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, are important to the public and patients, it behooves political leaders and psychiatric professionals to soul-search their role in mental health, regardless of their own beliefs.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Schiffman R. More psychotherapists are incorporating religion into their practice. The Washington Post. September 23, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/09/23/psychotherapy-religion-spirituality/
2. Wachholtz A, Rogoff M. The relationship between spirituality and burnout among medical students. J Contemp Med Edu. 2013;1(2):83-91.
3. Diego-Cordero RD, Iglesias-Romo M, Badanta B, et al. Burnout and spirituality among nurses: a scoping review. Explore (NY). 2022;18(5):612-620.