"My life didn't turn out like I wanted," a 37-year-old man with
paranoid schizophrenia admitted. "I do not have a wife, I am unable to
work, I have been hospitalized against my will. After all this, I consider
myself happy. God gives me all I need."
"When I read the Bible, it disturbs me," a 47-year-old man with
schizoaffective disorder reported. "I begin to think I've behaved
wickedly, and then I believe I'm the devil."
These comments are only two of many to emerge from what may be the first
study of the role of religion as a coping behavior by individuals with
psychosis. They also reflect the bright and dark influence of religion on such
persons. And they mirror the major results of the inquiry, namely, religion
helps most, but not all, of those who are burdened with psychosis.
Philippe Huguelet, M.D., a lecturer at the University Hospital of Geneva in
Switzerland, and colleagues undertook their study, they said, because
religiousness has been found to be highly prevalent among persons with
schizophrenia in both Europe and North America, yet clinicians are often
unaware of this and fail to integrate discussion of religion into their care
of patients with psychosis.
Since no validated questionnaire existed for surveying religiousness among
persons with psychosis, Huguelet and his group developed one. They then
presented it to 115 individuals aged 18 to 65 who were being treated for
schizophrenia or another psychosis in one of four psychiatric outpatient
facilities in Geneva.
Questionnaire analysis revealed some telling data. Religion was important
for 85 percent of subjects—in fact, for nearly half, it was the most
important thing in their lives.
Huguelet had expected religion to be vital to their subjects, but not
that critical, he told Psychiatric News. Part of the reason
why it was so indispensable to them, he speculated, may be because it helped
fill a void created by losses in their lives.
Furthermore, 82 of the subjects (71 percent) found that religion helped
them cope with their illness and life in general. Said one, "If you tell
yourself that you have an eternal life ahead of you, you know that the voices
will end." Commented another, "I feel that other people can
control me from a distance and that they can do anything they want with me.
However, I do not feel anxious as I did before. A Buddhist monk told me it was
only my imagination, and he is teaching me how to meditate. In this way, I
distance myself from the idea of control."
Sixteen subjects (14 percent), however, stated that religion had a negative
impact on their illness and life. "Religious teaching helps me, but I
haven't found any warmth in relationships with people," one subject
said. Another noted, "When I go to church, I see dirty things, and I
feel the devil taking my hand." Four said they felt despair when
religion did not heal them of their mental illness.
A little over half (54 percent) reported that religion dampened their
psychotic symptoms. Ten percent, though, found that religion increased such
"The focus on the pathological side of religion—religious
delusions—has inadvertently contributed to the stigmatization of
religion for people with schizophrenia," Huguelet and his team concluded
in their study report, which appeared in the November American Journal of
Psychiatry. "Our study establishes a balance.... [Religion] can
have a positive or negative impact on patients' lives."
Their results, they wrote, also "indicate that the complexity of the
relationship between religion and illness requires great sensitivity to each
Huguelet told Psychiatric News that psychiatrists should discuss
religion with their psychosis patients and focus on how it might contribute to
their coping and recovery, not on whether it might make their illness
"In Europe, most psychiatrists think that speaking of religion will
lead to exacerbation of delusions," he said.
The study had no outside funding. Huguelet and his team have received a
grant from the Swiss national fund to continue their research on this
"Toward an Integration of Spirituality and Religiousness Into
the Psychosocial Dimension of Schizophrenia" is posted at<http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/163/11/1952>.▪