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Faith in God and Psychotherapy Outcomes

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do those who believe in God have better results in psychotherapy? As an interesting exercise, you might write your opinion before reading this blog and include why you have your opinion. Then, read the article and see what you think.

Researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., enrolled 159 men and women in a cognitive behavioral therapy program that involved, on average, 10 daylong sessions of group therapy, individual counseling and, in some cases, medications. About 60 percent of the participants were being treated for depression, while others had bipolar disorder, anxiety or other diagnoses. David H. Rosmarin, clinical psychologist, reported that those who had faith had better outcomes in treatment. How is this possible? The reasons are not clear but there are some hypotheses which could be tested in future research.

First, this study did not test how often people went to a place of worship but how deeply they believed in a higher power. According to Torry Creed, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, belief in a higher power may be part of a cognitive style that goes something like this: “I believe in God and I believe in treatment.” There is faith in both directions, including the notion that strong spirituality can only lead to good results in therapy.

Other researchers compare the results of this study to the placebo effect. The placebo effect is defined as “the phenomenon in which some people experience some type of benefit after the administration of a placebo. A placebo is a substance with no known medical effects, such as sterile water, saline solution or a sugar pill. In short, a placebo is a fake treatment that in some cases can produce a very real response. The expectations of the patient play an important role in the placebo effect; the more a person expects the treatment to work, the more likely they are to exhibit a placebo response.” This definition is taken from “About.com Psychology” to be found at:

http://psychology.about.com/od/pindex/f/placebo-effect.htm

In other words, the way one researcher explained it, “Your belief that you’re going to get better, your attitude, does influence how you feel,” and changing how people think is part of the goal of cognitive behavior therapy.

As Dr. Rosmarin explained about religious faith, “if someone believes in something that is metaphysical, if someone believes in something spiritual, which would ostensibly be eternal, permanent, unwavering, omnipotent, then that could be an important resource to them, particularly in times of emotional distress.”

What are your opinions about religious faith and psychotherapy outcomes?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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