When patients do bring up spiritual concerns, psychiatrists are less likely to try to change the subject (9% versus 26%), and they are less likely feel uncomfortable discussing such issues or to be worried about offending patients. Psychiatrists rarely pray with patients, however; only 6% say they do so sometimes, compared to 20% of other physicians.
This study, the first of its kind, "highlights the extraordinary silence in the literature regarding religion and spirituality as both healing and pathologic elements in the lives of psychiatric patients," noted psychiatrist Burr Eichelman, MD, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, in an editorial.
The results "surprised us," said Curlin. "Among physicians in general, those who are less religious are generally less likely to believe it is appropriate to discuss spiritual issues," he noted. "Yet we find that psychiatrists are at the same time the least religious physicians and the physicians most comfortable addressing patients' spiritual concerns."
Why would psychiatrists be so open to patients' religious and spiritual issues? The researchers suggest that it may be because several mental illnesses are known to be associated with hyper-religiosity, and because psychiatrists are at times asked to evaluate patients' decisional capacity when religious beliefs collide with medical advice.
"In aggregate," Curlin said, "although psychiatrists may not agree with the claims of religion, they often witness its powerful effects on patients' mental health, both for good and for ill."
That psychiatrists pay attention to patients' spiritual concerns "is welcome news," he said. "By paying attention to patients' spiritual concerns, psychiatrists may help patients identify the resources in their own re
|Contact: John Easton|
University of Chicago Medical Center