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Minerva Psichiatrica 2013 June;54(2):149-64

language: English

Psychiatry and religion: values, research data and professionalism

Verhagen P. J. 1, 2

1 Personality Disorders Programme, Outpatient Clinic, GGZ Centraal, Harderwijk, The Netherlands;
2 Chair World Psychiatric Association Section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry


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This review concerning the controversial issue of “Psychiatry and religion” is based on three assumptions: 1) religious or spiritual well-being is an important aspect of health; 2) empirical evidence reveals a largely positive relationship between religiosity/spirituality and different indices of health; 3) psychiatrists should be expected always to respect and be sensitive to the spiritual/religious beliefs and practices of their patients, and not to use their professional position for proselytizing or undermining faith. We follow a thematic approach based on recent scholarly literature. In the first part we will explore the impact of modernization on religion and culture in the Western world. In the second part we will evaluate the meaning of empirical research that has been done to investigate the relation between religion (or spirituality) and mental health. In the third part we will discuss the topic of attitude, professional practice and awareness. We will find that: 1) the European and World Values Surveys are very useful to understand what is happening to religion and to understand what is called the existential-psychocultural context in which Western people live; 2) by means of a representative meta-analysis the mixed findings are shown and the difficulties, pitfalls and possible solutions exposed; 3) we will take spiritual history taking as a topic to illustrate the sometimes heated discussions, in order to find a way beyond outdated boundary thinking. The overall conclusion will be that psychiatrists should cast off their distrust and acknowledge that it is a matter of professional practice to include religion and spirituality in patient care.

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