Belief in God Improves the Outcome in Treatment for Psychiatric Illness

According to a Harvard study:

Belief in God significantly improves the outcome of those receiving short-term treatment for psychiatric illness, a recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School researchers has concluded.

In the study, published in the current issue of Journal of Affective Disorders, Dr. David Rosmarin, a clinician at McLean Hospital and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, examined individuals at the hospital’s Behavioral Health Partial Hospital programme to investigate the relationship between patients’ level of belief in God, expectations for treatment and actual treatment outcomes.

“Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation. Belief was associated with not only improved psychological wellbeing, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,” Dr. Rosmarin reported.

The study looked at 159 patients, recruited over a one-year period. Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation, each on a five-point scale. Levels of depression, wellbeing, and self-harm were assessed at the beginning and end of their treatment program.

Of the patients sampled, more than 30 per cent claimed no specific religious affiliation yet still saw the same benefits in treatment if their belief in a higher power was rated as moderately or very high. Patients with “no” or only “slight” belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment than patients with higher levels of belief.

The study concludes: “… belief in God is associated with improved treatment outcomes in psychiatric care. More centrally, our results suggest that belief in the credibility of psychiatric treatment and increased expectations to gain from treatment might be mechanisms by which belief in God can impact treatment outcomes.”

Dr. Rosmarin commented, “Given the prevalence of religious belief in the United States — over 90 per cent of the population — these findings are important in that they highlight the clinical implications of spiritual life.”


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