Reflecting on Psychiatry’s Role in Religion

Omar Reda, MD

Psychiatric Times, Vol 38, Issue 5, Volume 05,

Psychiatry and spirituality have many things in common, including family dynamics, self-care, emotional intelligence, trauma healing, and suicide prevention.

COMMENTARY

For the most part, the field of psychiatry has looked at organized religions with suspicion, however, a majority of sacred texts have paid particular attention to emotional wellness and holistic health.

I have used my religion and my Muslim background as a grounding and healing tool for myself, my family, my small community, and for clients who requested to use God’s words (the Noble Quran) and the authentic teachings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as part of our therapeutic relationship.

It is usually much easier to introduce religious themes with terminology like spirituality and tending to the soul. Youth in particular seem to have a difficult time reconciling the religious aspect of their personality with societal expectations. I have queried Muslim youth and their caregivers, but my understanding from Jewish and Christian friends and colleagues is that there are similar themes in all 3 monotheistic religions. However, most of the Muslim community’s negative feelings around Islamic organizations and places of worship comes from a heavy legacy of trauma, caused mainly by the culture of the leadership and from the out-of-context quoting and misinterpretation of a sacred text.

Psychiatrists can bridge gaps between the community and religious leaders through psychosocial education that targets stigma, which in turn helps with opening channels of communication and building bridges of trust.

For instance, look at some of the most widely criticized areas of Islamic centers:

1. A lack of trust between the community and its leaders.

2. A lack of demographic diversity and representation, especially in positions of leadership.

3 .Systemic exclusion of certain sects of the community.

4. A lack of attractive alternatives to the mainstream culture, especially for the youth.

5. Gross violations of the rights of some worshippers, like those with mental disabilities.

6. A lack of transparency and a culture of secrecy.

7. Stigma about psychosocial needs.

8. A culture of competition, rather than collaboration.

9. Poor interfaith and outreach to the larger non-Muslim community.

10. A lack of flexibility of policies and procedures.

11. Harsh approaches in providing and receiving advice and feedback.

12. An underestimation of the role of women.

13. Not taking advantage of the talents, skills, and expertise of most worshippers.

14.Poor sustainability of programs and resources.

15. Reactive, rather than proactive, response to issues.

16. Spreading a punitive message of despair, rather than advocating for hope and beauty.

17. Weak societal impact, possibly stemming from the attitude of “going back home one day.”

18. Rigid adherence to a certain style or school of thought.

19. Rare access to new blood and young leaders who speak the cultural language.

20. Poor understanding of the American cultural norms, laws, and systems.

21. Poor intrafaith dialogue.

22. Misusing religion to justify dysfunctions like domestic violence and child abuse.

23. Double standards when treating men and women, and boys and girls.

24. Minimal representation of Muslims in the media and in politics.

I have been blessed to earn the trust of both the Imams and the Muslim community in Portland, Oregon, and it is now common to hear discussions inside the house of God about family dynamics, self-care, emotional intelligence, trauma healing, suicide prevention, and many other psychosocial topics that were otherwise censored.

In Islam, the relationship between the Creator and His creation is a personal and intimate one; the face of God can be seen not only in the mosque, but in every beautiful act of kindness toward others. Ultimately, the best way to worship is to serve humanity.

Dr Reda is a practicing psychiatrist for Providence Healthcare System, Portland, Oregon.

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