Objective: This study compared the ways in which psychiatrists and nonpsychiatrists interpret the relationship between religion/spirituality and health and address religion/spirituality issues in the clinical encounter.
Method: The authors mailed a survey to a stratified random sample of 2,000 practicing U.S. physicians, with an oversampling of psychiatrists. The authors asked the physicians about their beliefs and observations regarding the relationship between religion/spirituality and patient health and about the ways in which they address religion/spirituality in the clinical setting.
Results: A total of 1,144 physicians completed the survey. Psychiatrists generally endorse positive influences of religion/spirituality on health, but they are more likely than other physicians to note that religion/spirituality sometimes causes negative emotions that lead to increased patient suffering (82% versus 44%). Compared to other physicians, psychiatrists are more likely to encounter religion/spirituality issues in clinical settings (92% versus 74% report their patients sometimes or often mention religion/spirituality issues), and they are more open to addressing religion/spirituality issues with patients (93% versus 53% say that it is usually or always appropriate to inquire about religion/spirituality).
Conclusions: This study suggests that the vast majority of psychiatrists appreciate the importance of religion and/or spirituality at least at a functional level. Compared to other physicians, psychiatrists also appear to be more comfortable, and have more experience, addressing religion/spirituality concerns in the clinical setting.