Religion, spirituality and psychiatry: conceptual, cultural and personal challenges

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1996 Dec;30(6):720-7; discussion 728-30. doi: 10.3109/00048679609065037.


Objective: Recent psychiatric literature and contemporary sociopolitical developments suggest a need to reconsider the place of religion and spirituality in psychiatry. This paper was written with the aim of encouraging dialogue between the often antithetical realms of religion and science.

Method: Material from psychiatric, sociological and religious studies literature was reviewed, with particular emphasis on New Zealand sources.

Results: Despite the secularising effects of science, the presence and influence of 'religiosity' remains substantial in Western culture. The literature emphasises the central importance of religion and spirituality for mental health, and the difficulty of integrating these concepts with scientific medicine. Psychiatric tradition and training may exaggerate the 'religiosity gap between doctors and patients. In New Zealand, the politically mandated bicultural approach to mental health demands an understanding of Maori spirituality.

Conclusions: Intellectual, moral and pragmatic arguments all suggest that psychiatry should reconsider its attitude to religion and spirituality. There are many opportunities for research in the field. Psychiatry would benefit if the vocabulary and concepts of religion and spirituality were more familiar to trainees and practitioners. Patients would find better understanding from psychiatrists, and fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue about mutual issues of 'ultimate concern' might ensue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Ethics, Professional
  • Humans
  • Psychiatry*
  • Religion and Psychology*