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Most Psychiatrists Open to Discussing Spiritual Concerns
Date:12/27/2007

religion, including 100 psychiatrists. A total of 1,144 doctors responded.

The findings were published in the December issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry; other findings from the survey were reported earlier this year.

"We found that if you look at doctors in general, the less religious they are, the less likely they think it's appropriate for them to address spiritual issues at all," Curlin said. "The opposite seems to be the case among psychiatrists. They're the least religious doctors, but they're the ones who basically see this is as part of their bailiwick, part of what they do."

Eighty-two percent of psychiatrists thought religion leads to increased suffering in some cases, compared to 44 percent of the other doctors.

"We observe that some patients really go through existential crises when they get sick -- they wonder if they've been abandoned by God, and they relive old sins," Curlin said.

On the other hand, about three-quarters of both groups said religion can help patients cope with and endure sickness.

Also in the survey, 36 percent of psychiatrists and 28 percent of other doctors said patients "sometimes" used religion or spirituality as a reason to avoid taking proper care of themselves.

Curlin believes it's appropriate for doctors to bring up religion or spirituality "anytime they think it's relevant to the patient's experience of illness or decision-making regarding course of treatment or response to that illness."

But to some doctors, he said, "there's still a strong sense that the spiritual is personal and that the practice of medicine is professional, and those two domains ought to be kept apart as far as possible."

Richard P. Sloan, professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, said it is disturbing that doctors believe that spiritual beliefs can lead patients to delay or refuse treatment.

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