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Mental health and religion : an investigation of the impact of religious belief on mental health interventions.

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This study investigates two facets of the relationship between mental health and religion. The first is an investigation into the effects of psychologist's and psychiatrist's religious belief on their assessments of a religious client. Previous research has argued that non-religious mental health workers display bias against their religious clients (Houts and Graham, 1986; and Jones, 1994). Other research has suggested that extrinsically religious indivi~uals and indiscriminately religious individuals tend to be more prejudiced than non-religious or intrinsically religious individuals (Donahue, 1985; and Richards and Bergin, 1997). The second facet of this study is an investigation into the differences between ministers of religion and mental health workers (psychologists and psychiatrists) in their assessment of a religious client. The DSM IV (APA, 1994) suggests that mental health workers should consider the cultural appropriateness of an individuals "symptoms" or behaviours before diagnosing them. It is argued here that psychologists and psychiatrists do not give due regard to the cultural appropriateness of their client's religious beliefs and the ministers of religion offer a gauge of what is culturally appropriate. To investigate these questions a group of mental health workers (consisting of 19 psychologists and 9 psychiatrists) and a group of Christian ministers of religion (consisting of 13 Pentecostal ministers and 17 mainstream ministers) was asked to complete a questionnaire based on a hypothetical case study. The hypothetical case study was constructed to have ambiguous religious characteristics, to allow the respondents to interpret the information according to their own biases. The questionnaire included Allport and Ross's Religious Orientation Scale (ROS) (Wulff, 1991). Data were analysed using Mann-Whittney U-tests and Kruskal Wallis H-tests. Significant differences were found between ministers of religion and mental health workers on most variables, with the greatest differences being evidenced between Pentecostal ministers of religion and psychiatrists. This suggests that mental health workers perceive religious clients as more mentally ill than ministers of religion do. However, no differences were found between mental health workers of different religious orientations according to the ROS and other measures of religiousness. This implies that mental health workers are not biased based on their own religious faith, but all mental health workers may be indiscriminately biased against religious individuals.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2001.


Mental health--Religious aspects., Psychology and religion., Psychiatry and religion., Therapist and patient., Mental health clergy., Mental health personnel and patient., Theses--Psychology.