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Original Article

How Are Religion and Spirituality Related to Health? A Study of Physicians’ Perspectives

Farr A. Curlin, MD, Chad J. Roach, BS, Rita Gorawara-Bhat, PhD, John D. Lantos, MD, Marshall H. Chin, MD, MPH
Volume: 98 Issue: 8 August, 2005

Abstract:

Background: Despite expansive medical literature regarding spirituality and medicine, little is known about physician beliefs regarding the influence of religion on health.


Methods: Semistructured interviews with 21 physicians regarding the intersection of religion, spirituality, and medicine. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for emergent themes through an iterative process of qualitative textual analysis.


Results: All participants believed religion influences health, but they did not emphasize the influence of religion on outcomes. Instead, they focused on ways that religion provides a paradigm for understanding and making decisions related to illness and a community in which illness is experienced. Religion was described as beneficial when it enables patients to cope with illness but harmful when it leads to psychological conflict or conflict with medical recommendations.


Conclusions: Empirical evidence for a “faith-health connection” may have little influence on physicians’ conceptions of and approaches to religion in the patient encounter.


Key Points


* All physicians in this study said they believe religion influences health, but they did not describe that influence in terms of effects on medical outcomes.


* Physicians described religion as providing a paradigm for interpretation and decision making related to illness and a community in which illness is experienced and endured.


* Physicians described religious influences as beneficial when they enable patients to cope with suffering and adhere to difficult medical regimens but harmful when they generate psychologic conflict or when they lead patients to decline medical recommendations.


* This study suggests that the level of empirical evidence for a “faith-health connection” may have little influence on physicians’ conceptions of and approaches to religion in the patient encounter.

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