Study Finds Tension Between Religion and Psychiatry

Family practice doctors are the most religious among U.S. doctors. Psychiatrists are the least, a new study revealed.

Psychiatrists are less likely to be Protestant or Roman Catholic and more likely to be Jewish or have no religious affiliation compared to other types of doctors, according to the study released on Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services.

The study found that 39 percent of all the doctors surveyed were Protestants, 22 percent were Catholics, and 13 percent were Jewish. Among psychiatrists, 27 percent were Protestants 10 percent were Catholics, and 29 percent, Jewish.

Moreover, while 10 percent of all doctors reported having no religious affiliation, 17 percent of psychiatrists listed their religion as "none." Psychiatrists were more likely to consider themselves spiritual but not religious (33 percent) compared to other doctors (19 percent).

"Religious patients who prefer to see like-minded psychiatrists may have difficulty finding a match because their religious group is under-represented among psychiatrists," stated the researchers in the study.

Psychiatrists were less likely to attend services frequently, believe in God or the afterlife, or cope by looking to God "for strength, support and guidance," according to the survey.

Physicians who were not psychiatrists and who were religious were more willing to refer patients to clergy members or religious counselors and less willing to refer patients to psychiatrists or psychologists. The doctors were asked to whom they would refer a patient with continued deep grieving two months after his wife's death.

Overall, 56 percent of doctors said they would send patients to a psychiatrist or psychologist, 25 percent to a member of the clergy and 7 percent to a health care chaplain.

"These findings suggest that historic tensions between religion and psychiatry continue to shape the care that patients receive for mental health concerns," according to the study.

"There certainly is a long history in psychiatry of issues of spirituality and religion being taboo," said Dr. Michael Torres, who serves on the American Psychiatric Association's committee on religion and spirituality in psychiatry, according to Reuters.

"At the same time, I believe there's a growing number of psychiatrists who find faith important in their individual lives and who seek to address issues of spirituality and religion in their practices," he added.

An earlier study this year by the University of Chicago found that nearly 6 out of 10 physicians believe religion and spirituality have much or very much influence on health

Both studies were led by Dr. Farr Curlin, a University of Chicago medical professor. Findings from the latest study were based on a nationwide 2003 survey of 1,144 U.S. doctors, including 100 psychiatrists.