Hand of God

Patients getting treated for psychiatric illness see better results if they believe in God

Woman prayingThere are theists, atheists, agnostics and some others in-between. Do these beliefs materially affect our life beyond our preferences?

David H. Rosmarin, PhD, McLean Hospital clinician and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, investigated the correlation between a patients' belief in God and actual treatment outcomes. His study was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The one-year study evaluated belief in God of 159 patients along with how they expected their treatment to pan out and how well they were able to manage their emotions. Each on these was self-assessed by the patients on a five-point scale. Their degree of depression, level of wellbeing, and tendency to self-damage were recorded at the start of the treatment and again at end of their treatment too.

More than 30 per cent were not particularly religious but believed in a higher power. Whether religious or not, a belief in a higher power helped patients get better outcomes. Patients with zero or low belief in God were doubly likely to not respond to treatment.

"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," explained Rosmarin.

Rosmarin also commented, "Given the prevalence of religious belief in the United States – over 90% of the population – these findings are important in that they highlight the clinical implications of spiritual life. I hope that this work will lead to larger studies and increased funding in order to help as many people as possible."

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