Americans report extremely high levels of religious belief and behavior compared with most other Western countries: for example, over 90% of Americans say they believe in God, the highest percentage of any western industrialized country (1). Religious beliefs and values therefore contribute to the formation of identity in many people and thus may influence, in subtle or overt ways, the person's life course. This includes the life course of psychiatrists as well as the life course of patients, yet the bulk of research on religion and psychiatry has generally ignored the religious beliefs of psychiatrists and focused instead on the religious beliefs and behaviors of their patients.
The relationship of religious beliefs to the profession of psychiatry may be more profound than is commonly acknowledged. The religious beliefs of psychiatrists may have an influence on the therapeutic philosophy they adopt and on the way they respond to the religious issues of patients (2—4). Yet the training that psychiatrists receive in religion is limited; for example, one study of residency directors in psychiatry found that didactic instruction on all aspects of religion was infrequent and incomplete (5). A number of authors have therefore called for increased research and training in religious issues in medical school and residency, as well as in the general psychiatric community (1,5—7). Further recognition of the importance of religion in the clinical setting is addressed in the 1990 American Psychiatric Association (APA) guidelines regarding possible conflicts between psychiatrists' religious commitment and psychiatric practice (8). Additionally, the new DSM-IV category (V62.89—religious and spiritual problem) acknowledges the APA's recognition that religious and spiritual issues may be a valid focus of psychiatrists' attention (9).
For a variety of reasons, psychiatrists are not representative of the general population in their religious beliefs (10,11). Psychiatrists, like physicians in general, also differ in such characteristics as social class (12) as well ethnicity and race (13) from the average patient. We know little about the effects of such variables on the philosophies, practice styles, and medical specialty choices of psychiatry residents. We report the results of a survey inquiring into the religious life, beliefs, and training of psychiatric residents.
A confidential questionnaire (available from the first author) on religion and psychiatric residency was distributed during the 1992—1993 academic year to residents through peer meetings at the following psychiatric residency programs: Beth Israel in New York, Case Western Reserve in Ohio, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Pennsylvania, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the University of Virginia. These schools are not noted for their affiliation with religious institutions, and so are not the schools of choice for those looking for a psychiatric residency with a strong religious orientation. The completed questionnaires were returned to the authors by the residency director or the chief resident. A total of 121 questionnaires were returned out of 152 that were distributed (response rate=79.6%).
The survey included questions about the resident's religious background, beliefs, affiliations, and behaviors; the degree to which the resident believes religion influenced his or her choice of medicine as a career and psychiatry as a specialty; the frequency and type of instruction on religious issues the resident received during medical training; and the resident's attitudes and experiences in encountering religious issues among patients. A religiosity scale made up of Questions 1, 3, 4, and 5 of T3 was constructed. For comparison of continuous data, two-tailed t-tests and an analysis of variance were used.
Demographics and Religion
The residents came from a variety of religious backgrounds, with Catholics (29%) and Jews (12%) overrepresented among residents compared with the general population. Also, a significant number of residents indicated either "no" affiliation or "other" categories (16% and 14%, respectively) (see T1). Forty-three percent of the residents had attended at least some religious day or afternoon school before college, and one-fifth (19%) had attended a religiously affiliated college.
T2 summarizes the distribution of residents by age, race, gender, and postgraduate year (PGY). Race had a significant impact on the resident's religiosity, with African American residents as a group significantly more likely than non-African Americans to report that they believe in God, that religion is important in their lives, and that belief in God is important in their daily lives (F = 4.3, df = 3, P<0.01). No significant difference was found in religiosity by gender, age, or postgraduate year of training.
Religious Influences in the Life of the Psychiatric Resident
A five-item Likert-type scale was used to assess the resident's agreement or disagreement with a number of statements about religious beliefs and attitudes (see T3). While over three-quarters of the residents reported that they believed in God, only 13% believed that the Bible is the literal word of God. Close to 70% of the residents reported that religion is important in their lives, and nearly three-quarters of the residents believe that religion can help solve personal problems.
Forty-nine percent of the residents pray at least weekly, though only about 22% attend religious services weekly (T4), compared with 32% of a national sample of persons under the age of 30 (14). Forty-nine percent of the residents reported that their religious beliefs had either significantly or somewhat affected their choice of medicine as a profession, and 36% felt that their religion significantly or somewhat influenced their choice of psychiatry as a career (T5).
The residents' religious affiliations were not correlated with the choice of psychiatry as a specialty. However, religious affiliation was significantly related to the choice of medicine as a career (F=2.8, df=5, P<0.05), with other Protestants scoring highest, followed by Mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews, the "other" religion group, and the no religion group. The 4-part religiosity scale (made up of Questions 1, 3, 4, and 5 from T3) was significantly correlated with religious affiliation among residents (F=17.3, df=5, P<0.001), with Mainline Protestants scoring highest, followed by other Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and other religion.
Religion in Medical Training
Twenty-seven percent of all residents and 29% of PGY-3 through PGY-5 residents reported that religion was discussed or presented in their didactic program (T6). About 39% of the PGY-3 to PGY-5 residents reported that religion was discussed during supervision. Twenty-eight percent (n=33) of the residents reported that their religious beliefs changed during medical training, 60% (n=20) of whom reported that their religious beliefs grew stronger. Those who reported that their religious beliefs changed (got stronger or got weaker) during medical training scored significantly higher on the religiosity scale than those who reported no change (t=−2.4, df=72.3, P<0.05).
There were some significant differences between those who encountered either didactic or supervision exposure to religious issues in training and those who did not. There was no significant difference between the two groups in how often the residents reported encountering patients with clinically significant religious issues; however, there was a significant relationship between having either didactic or supervision exposure and stating that religion is important in the clinical setting (Didactic: t=−3.02, df=57.5, P<0.005; supervision: t=−3.61, df=92.95, P<0.001).
Religious Issues in the Clinical Setting
About 25% (25.2%) of the residents reported encountering a patient with clinically significant religious issues at least weekly (daily and weekly, T7). A high percentage of the residents, 84%, did report feeling "somewhat to very competent" in their ability to recognize and attend to a patient's religious and spiritual issues. There was, however, a significant relationship between didactic or supervision exposure and feeling competent to recognize and attend to a patient's religious and spiritual issues (Didactic: t=−2.36, df=51.98, P<0.05; supervision: t=−2.35, df=83.97, P<0.05).
Only 9% of the residents agreed that it is acceptable to pray with patients, whereas 21% were not sure. Twelve percent believed it was acceptable to reveal their religious convictions in the clinical setting, whereas 24% were not sure. Only 8% of the residents reported feeling tension between their religious beliefs and their role as a physician.
It has been suggested that a religiosity gap exists between the general public and mental health professionals (15). For example, while 72% of the general public endorse the statement "my whole approach to life is based on my religion," only 39% of psychiatrists and 33% of psychologists endorse the statement (2). Yet the psychiatric residents who responded in our study appeared to have stronger religious convictions and identification than prior studies of practicing psychiatrists (10).
The sampling of the psychiatric trainees population in this study is limited to only the five programs listed earlier; therefore, our findings may not be generalizable to all residents. While this is a substantial limitation, we have no reason to believe that the residents' religiosity influences their selection of these particular programs. In addition, the response rate may have been influenced by the residents' religiosity. We have no way to ascertain the reasons for nonresponse.
The residents appeared to act more upon their religious beliefs through religious activity, such as prayer, than in other studies of psychiatrists (10). It would be interesting to explore whether a generation of more religiously oriented psychiatrists is entering the profession, or whether there is something in the nature of psychiatric practice that tends to suppress religious belief and practice over time.
Of particular interest in this study was the number of residents who stated that their religious beliefs influenced their choice of medicine as a profession and to a lesser degree psychiatry as a specialty. Yet, while a significant number of residents in this sample reported having a strong religious orientation, there is a general lack of attention to this area in residency training. Didactic instruction in formal lectures and supervision appears to be limited and of undetermined quality. Those residents who received didactic and/or supervision exposure to religious issues, however, tend to believe that religion is important in the clinical setting, and they feel more competent to address these issues with their patients. Even without such training, most residents report that they feel at least somewhat competent in addressing religious issues in the clinical setting, although an actual assessment of the residents' competence in this area would be of great interest.
The lack of didactic instruction as well as supervision addressing religious issues is in contrast to the importance of religion in the lives of Americans as well as the residents themselves. Bergin (2) noted the contradiction between the importance the mental health worker attributes to religion in his or her own life and that which he or she attributes in the clinical encounter. A curriculum for addressing religious issues during residency training has been developed as part of the work of the Association of Academic Psychiatry Task Force on Cultural Diversity in conjunction with the National Institute for Health Care Research (available from the National Institute for Healthcare Research, 6110 Executive Blvd., Ste. 908, Rockville, Md 20852. Phone: 800/580—NIHR). This approach may prove to be a useful starting place for a more thorough assessment of the nature and influence of formal training in addressing clinically based religious issues during residency.
Most residents reported that religion is important in their own lives and in the clinical setting, yet they also reported seeing few patients with significant religious issues in treatment. This may indicate a failure to actually address religious issues in the clinical setting, which may lead to incomplete assessment of the patient's problem and neglect of potentially beneficial religiously related interventions (7). Additionally, it could be that people with religious concerns do not seek help from psychiatrists but rather from their clergy. By ignoring this dimension of the patient's life, the psychiatrist may be sending the unintended message that the religious aspect of the patient's identity is out of bounds in the clinical encounter. Therefore, training psychiatrists to better address this area of patient care is important.
Although these results are not necessarily generalizable to all psychiatric residencies, this study shows that religion is important personally to a large number of psychiatric residents; that they recognize its importance in the clinical encounter; and that they benefit, in terms of feelings of increased clinical competence, from didactic and clinical instruction about religious issues.
Two areas of consideration therefore emerge. First, it is important to make the residency program a "religiously hospitable" place, to explore and address conflicts that may emerge for the resident in working with religious issues.
Second, the resident should be taught to include the patient's religious beliefs in his or her understanding of the whole person. The religious dimension of the patient's life should be conceptualized in a manner that will help in the healing process in mental illness. This may include the role of religion as a social support for patients, the use of religion as a protective defense, and/or the relationship between some types of psychopathology and religious content. This does not necessitate the endorsement of any particular religious belief during training, or even of religion in general, but rather the teaching of a conceptualization of religion in psychological terms. Addressing the patient's religious and spiritual beliefs in a nonjudgmental manner will allow the resident to recognize how these beliefs affect the patient and may lead to treatment recommendations that are consistent with the patient's belief, including referral to a professional who can address the particular religious issues of the patient.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting, May 1993, San Francisco, California.