Subject: Spirituality

Short Description: Belief in God Improves Treatment Outcomes

A comprehensive psychiatric evaluation usually includes questions about a patient’s spirituality and religious beliefs, but there is little research to show whether or how spiritual or religious factors may contribute to mental health. A recent study demonstrates that belief in God is significantly associated with better treatment outcomes, although the reasons for this connection remain unknown.

Researchers recruited 159 patients in a psychiatric day-treatment program in an academic hospital in the Boston area. Interviewing patients at both the beginning and the end of the program, researchers asked a series of questions about symptoms, psychological well-being, belief in the credibility of treatment, and their expectations that treatment would be helpful, as well as the question: “To what extent do you believe in God?” which patients answered on a five-point scale.

Belief in God was significantly higher among treatment responders than non-responders, and higher levels of belief in God were associated with greater psychological well-being (correlation coefficient r = .19, p<.01) and less self-harm (r = .24, p<.01). Belief in God was also associated with greater belief in the credibility of treatment (r=.41, p<.001) and patients’ expectations of the success of treatment (r=.36, p<.001).Religious affiliation (eg, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish) had no impact on treatment response, and neither belief in God nor religious affiliation were correlated with the level of symptoms prior to treatment; in other words, belief in God did not “protect” against more severe psychiatric symptoms.

When researchers conducted a factor analysis to determine which factors might mediate the relationship between belief in God and treatment outcome, only belief in treatment (treatment credibility) and expectation of the efficacy of treatment seemed to play a role, while the use of emotion regulation and support from their religious community did not (Rosmarin DH et al, J Affect Disord 2013;146(3):441–446).

TCPR’s Take: The results of this small study suggest that belief in God may contribute to better outcomes in psychiatric treatment. While religious faith may seem entirely unrelated to the efficacy of psychiatric care, the authors hypothesize that a faith in God may reflect a faith in “conventional social constructs” which might also generalize to the practice of medicine. Recognizing and acknowledging patients’ beliefs may help us to guide treatment more effectively.