Religion and Psychiatry: Clinicians Are Talking

Ronald W. Pies, MD; Cynthia Geppert, MD, PhD, MPH, MSBE


June 10, 2013

In This Article

The Prism of Patient Need

Fundamentalists, no matter how diverse their origin, intend to limit human freedom and creativity. It is tempting, when sitting in the chair of Ms. A's psychiatrist, to react with condemnation of her professor, which can easily lead to contempt for the beliefs the professor shares with Ms. A. Such dogmatism will quickly alienate Ms. A, and the temptation must therefore be resisted. Instead, all those who give care must follow the true north of all the helping professions -- to foster the independence and actualization of the human person, an intention Sandra Basham beautifully expresses:

A timely article. Ethical considerations of the client's autonomy to be religious or not are paramount...just as much as is the autonomy of the health practitioner to be secular or religious and choose not to work with someone if they cannot be unbiased. What counts is client-focused treatment, with full informed consent and consideration of the legal ramifications or social ramifications of treatment options. If most of the world's population have a religious belief, it behooves health professionals to learn what the beliefs mean to the client, and how they can be respected and utilized to assist a client to better self-care. Anthropologists have known this for a long time: Reductionism has its limitations.

In sum, we believe that many readers of our essay have affirmed the main points that we emphasized from the beginning: that patients with fundamentalist religious beliefs must be approached with sensitivity, respect, and a nonjudgmental attitude, while at the same time presented with the opportunity of viewing psychiatric interventions as complementary to, rather than competing with, their religious beliefs. That said, we would not minimize the philosophical differences between traditional psychiatric practice and the principles usually voiced by most fundamentalist forms of religion. Rather, we would emphasize the need to view these differences through the prism of what is most conducive to the patient's emotional needs and personal growth, rather than as a competitive or adversarial relationship between psychiatry and fundamentalist religious beliefs.


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