Psychiatrists least religious of U.S. doctors: study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. psychiatrists generally are less likely to be Protestant or Roman Catholic than other types of doctors, according to a study released on Monday.

Psychiatrists are more likely to be Jewish or have no religious affiliation than U.S. doctors overall and less likely to be Protestant or Roman Catholic Christians, said the study, published on Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services.

“Religious patients who prefer to see like-minded psychiatrists may have difficulty finding a match because their religious group is under-represented among psychiatrists,” the researchers wrote.

The findings were based on a nationwide 2003 survey about the religion of 1,144 U.S. doctors from many specialties, including 100 psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists were less likely to attend services frequently, believe in God or the afterlife, or cope by looking to God “for strength, support and guidance,” the survey found. Family practice doctors were the most religious, it found.

Thirty-nine percent of all the doctors were Protestants and 22 percent were Catholics, while 27 percent of psychiatrists were Protestants and 10 percent were Catholic. Thirteen percent of all the doctors were Jewish, compared with 29 percent of psychiatrists.

Ten percent of all the doctors listed their religion as “none,” compared to 17 percent of the psychiatrists.

Dr. Farr Curlin, a University of Chicago medical professor who led the study, said research by the American Psychiatric Association in 1975 saw similar patterns among psychiatrists.

“There still seems to be something about the field to lead doctors who are religious to be less likely to go into it,” Curlin said in a telephone interview.


Anti-religious views expressed by some early figures in the field, including Sigmund Freud, may play a role in driving religious medical students from psychiatry, he said.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who sees patients with mental disorders or emotional distress and can prescribe drugs. A psychologist has no medical degree.

The survey asked the doctors to whom they would refer a patient with continued deep grieving two months after his wife’s death. More religious doctors were less likely to send patients to psychiatrists and more inclined to send them to a member of the clergy or religious counselor, the survey found.

Overall, 56 percent of doctors said they would send him to a psychiatrist or psychologist, 25 percent to a member of the clergy and 7 percent to a health care chaplain.

Protestant doctors were half as likely as those with no religious affiliation to send a patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist, the survey found.

“There certainly is a long history in psychiatry of issues of spirituality and religion being taboo,” said Dr. Michael Torres, who serves on the American Psychiatric Association’s committee on religion and spirituality in psychiatry.

He said, “At the same time, I believe there’s a growing number of psychiatrists who find faith important in their individual lives and who seek to address issues of spirituality and religion in their practices.”

Medical schools training psychiatrists emphasize the importance of religion in the lives of patients, Torres said.