Skip to main content
Skip Navigation LinksHome

Psychiatry & Religion 

Psychiatry is unique among the medical sciences in that it attempts to explain the full range of human behavior, bridging the gap between the biological sciences and the humanities and social sciences. The relationship between psychiatry and spirituality is rich and complex.  A therapeutic approach that embraces both psychiatry and spirituality can bring the rigor of scientific inquiry to patient assessment and engage the sacred in the healing process.

In evaluating patients, clinicians may find it difficult to distinguish between normal experience and mental illness, especially when confronting human experiences such as pain, suffering, existential distress, and religious, spiritual, or mystical experiences. Gathering a spiritual or religious history can help a clinician understand a patient’s worldview and how he or she approaches emotional difficulties.  The clinician can then evaluate how religious and spiritual factors might promote or impede recovery.  For example:

  • Religious and spiritual affiliation can be an essential part of a patient’s identity, providing a frame of reference for thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Many patients look to religion and spirituality for meaning in times of illness and suffering.
  • Some forms of religious practice may be protective and healthy whereas others may contribute to poor health outcomes.
  • Divergent religious or spiritual backgrounds on the part of the clinician and the patient may affect the therapeutic process.

Although a knowledge base of various faith traditions is helpful to the clinician, listening for religious, spiritual or existential themes may reveal to the clinician metaphors and narratives that are otherwise difficult for the patient to articulate. Examining these themes can help the physician differentiate between beliefs that are consistent with a patient’s culture and those which may suggest the presence of a mental disorder.

Books on Religion and Spirituality

American Psychiatric Publishing (APPI), a division of American Psychiatric Association, publishes books that examine the role of religion and spirituality is psychiatric assessment, diagnosis and treatment. 

Religious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Diagnosis: A Research Agenda for DSM-V

Religious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Diagnosis: A Research Agenda for DSM-V examines the role of spiritual and religious considerations in the DSM revision process. The volume includes chapters on each major category of psychiatric disorder, with an analysis of the implications of religion and spirituality for their diagnosis, course, and outcome.

Spirituality and Worldview in Clinical Practice

Spirituality and Worldview in Clinical Practice explores how personal worldview affects the behavior of both patient and clinician. Case vignettes and discussions illustrate the ways in which  assessment, formulation, and treatment principles can be incorporated within different worldviews, including practical clinical information on major faith traditions and on atheist and agnostic worldviews.

Psychiatry and Religion: the Convergence of Mind and Spirit

Psychiatry and Religion: the Convergence of Mind and Spirit covers historical and cross-cultural perspectives on psychiatry and the major religions. The book discusses treatment concerns at the interface between psychiatry and religion, and considers bioethical, religious, and spiritual concerns in psychiatric education and training.

View a complete list of books related to psychiatry and religion.