American psychiatry is changing its attitude toward religion.
The American Psychiatric Association has added a category to
its new diagnostic manual recognizing religious or spiritual
problems as legitimate clinical concerns that are not necessarily
related to a mental disorder.
Psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy supporting the change
say the previous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders presented religion negatively, reflecting anti-religious
biases of mental health professionals.
They say the new sensitivity results from the recognition that
religion and spirituality are important to the American population
and can actually help patients in their struggle to achieve mental
"The fact is that for the first time ever, psychiatry is
revisiting the psychoanalytic view of religion, and although they
still present it in the language of `problems,' at least they're
talking about it in a new way," says Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen,
coordinator of pastoral services at St. Louis State Hospital.
Cohen is former president of the Association of Mental Health
Clergy, a national group that has been in discussion with the
American Psychiatric Association for years over the way psychiatry
reacted to religion.
The new manual, due to be made public this month, adds a
category under the listing of general problems of living that might
need clinical attention, such as bereavement or academic
The addition says: "This category can be used when the focus
of clinical attention is a religious or spiritual problem. Examples
include distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of
faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or
questions of other spiritual values which may not necessarily be
related to an organized church or religious institution."
Dr. Robert Turner of San Francisco, one of three men who
formally proposed the new category to the psychiatric association,
says the category would cover "mystical" or "near-death"
experiences that psychiatry generally has considered symptomatic of
"We feel these are profound psychological experiences that can
have major life-transforming effects on people . . . and are worthy
of real positive validation," says Turner, assistant clinical
professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of
California Medical School at San Francisco. …