Wellness

Religious Coping Associated With Better Psychiatric Treatment Outcomes: Study

12/01/2013 09:25am ET | Updated January 23, 2014

Prayer and belief that God has a plan could lead to better outcomes for psychiatric illness patients receiving short-term treatment, a small new study suggests.

Researchers found that religious coping is associated with improved treatment outcomes, compared with those who don't use that kind of coping strategy.

The new study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, also showed that religious coping was extremely common among people receiving short-term psychiatric treatment, with 80 percent using spirituality as a coping mechanism. However, this number was a lot higher than the number of those who actually considered themselves religious -- 20 percent -- or very religious -- 8 percent.

"We were surprised to find that religious coping was so common in our sample, even among those who are not themselves religious in any way,” study researcher David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., a clinician at McLean Hospital and an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"This is one of the first studies looking at religious coping among psychiatric patients and we are hopeful that this will lead to further study of religion and spirituality with larger samples. Harnessing spiritual resources in treatment may lead to lower suicide rates and better treatment outcomes in this population," Rosmarin added. Rosmarin conducted a past study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Affective Disorders, showing similar findings that belief in God is associated with better chances of responding to psychiatric treatment -- even for people who aren't religiously affiliated.

But the new study showed that not all kinds of religious coping are alike. People who engaged in negative religious coping prior to receiving treatment -- such as thinking that God was punishing them -- had a higher risk of suicide pre-treatment.

This particular finding falls in line with a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Religion & Health, showing that belief in an angry or vengeful higher being is linked with a higher risk of emotional problems, such as social anxiety and paranoia. However, experts guarded against drawing causative conclusions from that study.

"We don't know whether it was the poorer mental health (anxiety, paranoia) that caused subjects to perceive God as punitive, or whether it was the view of God as punitive that caused the poor mental health," Dr. Robert Koenig, a Duke University psychiatry professor who was not involved in the study, previously told HuffPost Science. "My suspicion, though, is that … people with emotional problems see their entire world in a negative light and often feel a need to blame someone -- and God is often the target."