Belief in God may significantly improve the outcome of those
receiving short-term treatment for psychiatric illness, according to a recent
study conducted by McLean Hospital investigators.
In the study, published in the current issue of Journal of Affective Disorders, David H.
Rosmarin, PhD, McLean Hospital clinician and instructor in the Department of
Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, examined individuals at the Behavioral
Health Partial Hospital program at McLean in an effort to investigate the
relationship between patients' level of belief in God, expectations for
treatment and actual treatment outcomes.
"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
well-being, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,"
How the study was
The study looked at 159 patients, recruited over a one-year
period. Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as
their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation, each on a
five-point scale. Levels of depression, well-being, and self-harm were assessed
at the beginning and end of their treatment programme.
Of the patients sampled, more than 30% claimed no specific
religious affiliation yet still saw the same benefits in treatment if their
belief in a higher power was rated as moderately or very high. Patients with
"no" or only "slight" belief in God were twice as likely
not to respond to treatment than patients with higher levels of belief.
The study concludes: "… belief in God is associated
with improved treatment outcomes in psychiatric care. 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."
Rosmarin 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."