Training Psychiatrists to Use and Respect the Spiritual New Medical School Funding Will Focus Training on Impact of Religious Beliefs and Prayer on Mental Illness

By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Training Psychiatrists to Use and Respect the Spiritual New Medical School Funding Will Focus Training on Impact of Religious Beliefs and Prayer on Mental Illness


Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


At Loma Linda University School of Medicine, psychiatric residents-in-training will soon be learning about healing beliefs of the world's great religions. At California Pacific Medical Center, aspiring psychiatrists will study spiritual approaches to curing addiction. At Harvard Medical School's Brigham & Women's Hospital, they will study faith healing and examine historical clashes between psychiatry and religion.

In what many in US psychiatric circles say could lead to a dramatic shift in conventional medical approaches to treating and preventing mental illness, seven American medical schools this week were awarded $15,000 grants to establish curriculums that will educate their students about patient's spirituality. Driven by increasing numbers of studies showing the efficacy of prayer, meditation, and religious conviction on physical maladies from colds to cancer, the schools will attempt to introduce the study of such spiritual solutions to those who have for decades relied mostly on drugs to cure mental problems.

"When I was trained as a psychiatrist over 25 years ago, it was absolutely taboo to talk about spirituality," says David Larson, M.D., president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR). "Today, we are entering a new era in psychiatry - one that pays attention to the patient's spiritual as well as emotional needs." The NIHR announced seven winners of the first John Templeton Spirituality and Medicine Awards for Psychiatric Residency Training Programs April 14. Award money is being provided by the John Templeton Foundation. Winners include schools from Massachusetts, California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania. Patients want understanding Psychiatrists and instructors at the institutions awarded funds say they have found that patients often use religious language to express their concerns, and would like their doctors to understand those concerns and take them into account in prescribing cures. "We feel that spiritual issues have been missing from academic psychiatry for too long," says Elizabeth Targ, director of the Complementary Medicine Research Institute at the California Pacific Medical Center.

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