The article in the October 5, 2007, issue headed "When It Comes to
Religion, Psychiatrists Are Different" describes referral patterns of
physicians, mostly nonpsychiatrists. The hypothetical case example of a man
mourning intensely two months after his wife's death was probably not
recognized by many nonpsychiatric physicians as a case of pathological grief
needing psychiatric care. Since pastors are so closely connected with the
processes of death, dying, funerals, and grieving, it is quite natural to
refer grieving persons to them, not recognizing the severity of the case
described. If the hypothetical example had been the case of a depressed man
who had started hearing voices saying that he was going to hell, the referral
pattern may have been quite different.
As to the perceived hostility of psychiatry to religion, it was real. Early
in my career in the early 1970s I inherited a patient who stated that her
former psychiatrist had told her that her religious faith was a"
crutch," so she stated, "I stopped talking to him about
it." Although this woman's religious faith was different from mine, I
found nothing pathological about it and considered it one of her
Early in my career (1970s through much of the 1980s), I had literally
scores of patients from my own religious tradition come to me for care. Many
of these sought me out on their own. (At that time I was on a medical school
faculty with other responsibilities and not even trying to build a practice.)
All of these patients needed psychiatric care, and most would have gone
without had I not been available. Many were afraid that other psychiatrists'
chief goal would be to destroy their religious faith. In only two cases did I
find issues that could not have been as easily handled by a culturally and
spiritually sensitive psychiatrist not of my tradition. Now with the
increasing acceptance of the legitimacy of spirituality in humans, people of
my religious background are more comfortable seeing psychiatrists and other
mental health practitioners not of our particular faith.