Faith may help psychiatric treatment, Harvard affiliate reports

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BELMONT, Ma. — Belief in God may lead to better outcomes for patients getting short-term treatment for psychiatric illness, a new study suggests.

McLean Hospital, a psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School, announced in an April 25 press release that the study, published in the current issue of Journal of Affective Disorders, examined individuals at McLean's Behavioral Health Partial Hospital.

"Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation," David H. Rosmarin, a McLean Hospital clinician and instructor at Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry who conducted the examinations, said in the press release. "Belief was associated with not only improved psychological wellbeing, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm."

According to the press release, the study examined 159 patients, asking participants to gauge their belief in God and their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation. Levels of wellbeing, self-harm and depression were assessed at the start and finish of the treatment program.

The study found that even the more than 30 percent of patients who expressed no religious affiliation still saw the same treatment benefits if they had a moderately or very high belief in a higher power. Conversely, patients with "no" or "slight" belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment as patients with higher levels of belief.

"Given the prevalence of religious belief in the United States — over 90 percent of the population — these findings are important in that they highlight the clinical implications of spiritual life," Rosmarin said in the press release. "I hope that this work will lead to larger studies and increased funding in order to help as many people as possible."

— BP