How does the second incident illustrate discrepant values concerning religious commitment?
When presenting his study of the disaster victims at an annual medical meeting, the area Mental Health Center psychiatrist was at a loss to explain why none of those surveyed who were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome sought help at the area Mental Health Center. Based upon the research on those who seek help from mental health professionals, another presenter responded that perhaps those people in a religiously conservative Protestant community were reluctant to go to the clinic out of concern for how their personal religious value system might be treated.
A gap between how the majority of mental health professionals view religion - as negative or unimportant - and how the general public's view of religion -as positive and important - can create a barrier which prevents those needing treatment from getting the psychological help that they need. Concerning the man berated for his religious beliefs who then attempted suicide, what discrepancy exists between how the therapist and patient each valued religious commitment?
This particular incident illustrates a "worse case scenario." It was presented as an illustration in the American Psychiatric Association ethics guidelines on religion and psychiatric practice which stated, "Psychiatrists should maintain respect for their patients' beliefs" (APA Board of Trustees 1990, p. 542).
What are the implications of ignoring religious commitment in the process of therapy?
What messages does a patient receive when a therapist appears disinterested or declines to inquire further about religious convictions when brought up by the patient?
For more than four decades, the Gallup Organization has conducted scientific polling among Americans. Throughout this time period, the proportion of Americans who believe in God has remained remakably constant: 96 % in 1944 and 94% in 1986 (Princeton Religion Research Center, 1993).
Also, 66% of the general public consider religion to be most important or very important in their lives. Approximately 33% of Americans view religious commitment as the most important dimension of their lives. For another 33%, it is a very important dimension. Furthermore, 72% agree or strongly agree with the statement, "My religious faith is the most important influence in my life" (Princeton Religion Research Center, 1994; Bergin and Jensen, 1990).
Finally, what percentage of the general population considers religion "not very important?" Some 12% (Princeton Religion Research Center, 1994).
Mental Health Professionals
They found that on average, mental health professionals have somewhat higher rates of atheism and agnosticism than the general population: approximately 16% vs. 6% (Gallup, 1989). Rates of atheism and agnosticism among mental health professionals were combined as follows:
On the other hand, Bergin and Jensen found that while "the
professionals' rates of conventional religious preferences were lower in
some respects than the public at large", there was, nonetheless, "an
unexpected, sizeable personal investment in religion." For example,
77% of the professionals agreed with the statement, "I try hard
to live by my religious beliefs." In comparison, on a similar
Gallup survey item, "I try hard to put my religious beliefs into
practice in my relations with all people...," some 84% of the general
In their survey, Bergin and Jensen asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement, "My whole approach to life is based on my religion." Mental health professionals who agreed or strongly agreed were as follows:
Since 72% of the general public claim to be influenced significantly by their religious faith, religious commitment may be an important factor to draw upon in therapy.
By excluding religious commitment issues from the
therapeutic setting, there remains a denial of an aspect of life which
has shown to be of central importance to nearly two thirds of the U.S.
In addition, some therapists who value religion in their personal lives may set aside their personal perception and refrain from inviting the patient to deal with religious commitment in therapy.
Do they keep that doorway shut, closing off the opportunity of addressing a potentially significant factor for the patient?
Two surveys were compared to determine whether there is an open or closed door between how therapists value religion in their own lives and the way they perceive the role of religious commitment in the lives and mental health of their patients.
In a 1990 survey of Mental Health Professionals, Bergin and Jensen found that although nearly half did not base their whole approach to life on their religion, some 77% agreed with the statement, "I try hard to live by my religious beliefs."
This figure showed "an unexpected, sizeable personal investment in religion," the authors noted.
The authors then compared this figure with a survey of what factors therapists believed were important to mental health. Surprisingly, only 29% of therapists rated religious content as important in treatment with all or many clients or patients (Jensen and Bergin, 1988).
What undercurrent of pressure within the mental health profession might contribute to the suppression of religious issues in therapy?
In order to examine whether people with mental health disorders sought help from mental health professionals, clergy or both, data from a national study was analyzed.
Data for the analyses came from the Epidemiological Catchment Area (ECA) Survey which sought information on demographics, health and mental health services utilization, and psychiatric diagnosis among a sample of adults at five sites.
Psychiatric status was determined by interviewing people in the communities with the Diagnostic Interview Schedule, a research instrument used to assess psychiatric disorders. The five sites were New Haven, Conn.; eastern Baltimore, MD.; St. Louis, Mo.; five counties in the Durham, NC area; and the Venice and East Los Angeles areas of Los Angeles County, CA.
Perhaps the most striking finding was that in a similar manner across the five sites, persons with serious psychiatric disorders were just as likely to seek hlep from clergy as they were to seek help from mental health professionals.
Those seeking help from the clergy were just as likely to have major psychiatric disorders as those seeking help from mental health professionals. Sometimes, those with severe disorders such as major depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder sought help from both. However, some with severe disorders only sought help from the clergy.
Exceptions were individuals with a history of alcohol or drug abuse who preferred to seek help from mental health specialists rather than clergy. Persons with those disorders tend to be non-religious (McDonald and Luckett, 1983).
The data showed that clergy - with or without the help of mental health professionals - were coping with a broad spectrum of psychiatric disorders which they may or may not have been prepared to handle (Larson, et. al., 1988).
What could be done to educate and assist members of the clergy who might be hesitant to recommend a mental health professional for a parishioner?
A survey was undertaken to find out how mental health professionals who personally value religion choose to integrate a patient's religious commitment into therapy?
The survey, which polled psychiatrists who were members of the Christian Medical and Dental Society, found that these psychiatrists believed that prayer and the Bible could be used effectively to help patients deal with grief reactions, suicidal intent, sociopathy and alcoholism However, acute manic episodes or acute schizophrenic episodes were believed to be best dealt with by psychotropic medication.
The results showed the average Christian psychiatrist to be a prominent member of his profession: 59% held faculty appointments at a medical school, 68% were board certified and 88% were members of the American Psychiatric Association.
These religious psychiatrists have integrated aspects of conventional religious commitment into therapy with religiously committed patients. Is it only possible for therapists who personally value religion to bridge the gap and use religious content in therapy?
A carefully controlled study was designed to examine whether using religious content in therapy - conducted by either religious therapists or non religious therapists - would be more or less effective in the treatment depressed patients.
Depressed patients receiving treatment involving religious content did better than patients with whom religious content was omitted. This was determined by using the measures of post- treatment depression and adjustment scores on standardized tests. Of note was the fact that the non-religious therapists, using the religious approach, had the highest level of treatment effect (Propst, 1992).
For the more than 70% of the population for whom religious commitment is a central factor, "secular approaches to psychotherapy may provide an alien values framework," state Bergin and Jensen. They continue:
A majority of the population probably prefer an orientation to counseling and psychotherapy that is sympathetic, or at least sensititve, to a spiritual perspective. We need to better perceive and respond to this public need (Bergin and Jensen, 1990).
Directions: There are seven questions presented to
reinforce your knowledge of the preceding information. In Part A,
please fill in the blanks with the correct answer. Then, in Part B,
match the term with the appropriate definition.
4. Across the GapDEFINITIONS
5. Behind the Door
6. The Conjoint
7. The Collaborative
a) Therapists who personally are not religiously committed but respect and deal positively with religious commitment in therapy.
b) Therapists who personally hold religious values but ignore or refrain from dealing with a patient's religious commitment as a component in therapy.
c) Therapists who personally do not value religious commitment and ignore it or see it as harmful to their patients.
d) Therapists who personally are religiously committed and who deal with religious commitment in therapy.