Objective: This study compared the religious characteristics of psychiatrists with those of other physicians and explored whether nonpsychiatrist physicians who are religious are less willing than their colleagues to refer patients to psychiatrists and psychologists.
Methods: Surveys were mailed to a stratified random sample of 2,000 practicing U.S. physicians, with an oversampling of psychiatrists. Physicians were queried about their religious characteristics. They also read a brief vignette about a patient with ambiguous psychiatric symptoms and were asked whether they would refer the patient to a clergy member or religious counselor, or to a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
Results: A total of 1,144 physicians completed the survey, including 100 psychiatrists. Compared with other physicians, psychiatrists were more likely to be Jewish (29% versus 13%) or without a religious affiliation (17% versus 10%), less likely to be Protestant (27% versus 39%) or Catholic (10% versus 22%), less likely to be religious in general, and more likely to consider themselves spiritual but not religious (33% versus 19%). Nonpsychiatrist physicians who were religious were more willing to refer patients to clergy members or religious counselors (multivariate odds ratios from 2.9 to 5.7) and less willing to refer patients to psychiatrists or psychologists (multivariate odds ratios from .4 to .6).
Conclusions: Psychiatrists are less religious than other physicians, and religious physicians are less willing than nonreligious physicians to refer patients to psychiatrists. These findings suggest that historic tensions between religion and psychiatry continue to shape the care that patients receive for mental health concerns.