Does Believing in God Really Lead to Better Psychiatric Treatment Outcomes?

A new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and reported on in the New York Times suggests that belief in God can lead to better outcomes for patients with mental health treatment:

Over all, those who rated their spiritual belief as most important to them appeared to be less depressed after treatment than those with little or no belief. They also appeared less likely to engage in self-harming behaviors.

“Patients who had higher levels of belief in God demonstrated more effects of treatment,” said the study’s lead author, David H. Rosmarin, a psychologist at McLean Hospital and director of the Center for Anxiety in New York. “They seemed to get more bang for their buck, so to speak.”

Does that mean God actually helps patients in a hospital?

No, of course not.

This doesn’t help, either

The placebo effect is strong in this one, as one doctor was quick to note:

Randi McCabe, director of the Anxiety Treatment and Research Center at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Ontario, said, “People’s belief that something is going to work will make it work for a significant proportion of people,” similar to the placebo effect.

“Your belief that you’re going to get better, your attitude, does influence how you feel,” Dr. McCabe continued. “And really, in cognitive behavior therapy, that is really what we’re trying to change: people’s beliefs, how they’re seeing their world, their perspective.”

In other words, if you believe God wants you to become better, you might actually, physically get better. Same thing if you believe a certain kind of treatment will help you out. It doesn’t mean God exists or a pill works, but it suggests that you may have more control over your body than you think.

There’s also the support one gets from being part of a strong, supportive community, and religion offers that in spades.

There is power in belief, even if those beliefs are based in falsehoods. There’s nothing newsworthy about that.

But don’t let anyone tell you this study offers proof that God exists or that God helps people who believe in Him.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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