Does belief in a god aid psychiatric treatment?


©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.
"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 spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.