Does belief in a god aid psychiatric treatment?

BY Robert Lamb / POSTED April 26, 2013
©Brigitte Sporrer/Corbis ©Brigitte Sporrer/Corbis

Do Yahweh, Dhanvantari and the Flying Spaghetti Monster have a place in an insane asylum? There’s a loaded question for you.

But according to a new study from Harvard Medical School’s David H. Rosmarin, belief in a divine power may significantly improve the outcome of short-term patients undergoing treatment for psychiatric illness. Here are the details:

  • The study looked at 159 patients
  • Each patient gauged their belief in God, treatment expectations and emotion regulation on a five-point scale.
  • Levels of depression, well-being, and self-harm were assessed at the beginning and end of the program.
  • All patients experienced the same level of treatment.

In the end, patients who rated their belief in a higher power as moderate or very high did significantly better in short-term treatment than those without. And this was regardless of religious affiliation. More than 30 percent of the high-performing faithful claimed no specific religious affiliation. Likewise, patients with “no” or only “slight” belief were twice as likely not to respond to treatment. Here’s the take-home from the study:

“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.”

So in other words, they’re not saying that belief in a god, goddess or dark elder thing actually healed anybody’s brain or emotional state. Rather, religious affiliation can translate over into greater belief in the secular treatment plan at work and the possibility of healing/betterment. It’s sort of God-as-placebo-effect theory I suppose.

At any rate, I guess I feel better about everything that went on in “American Horror Story: Asylum” now.


About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.

 

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