Psychiatry and Spirituality

International research has shown that religious/spiritual psychiatric patients employ religion/spirituality as a coping resource, and that this can be a source of both mental health and neurosis. However, more research is needed to understand how psychiatrists interact with mental health inpatients in everyday clinical practice, when the topic is of a religious/spiritual nature, to gain knowledge of how the resources that, for some patients, lie in religion/spirituality can be supported.

Nissen, R. D., Gildberg, F. A. & Hvidt, N. C. 2018. Psychiatry, a Secular Discipline in a Postsecular World? A Review . In : Religions. Research 9 (1), 32 doi:10.3390/rel9010032 .: Article, peer review. Status: Published!

Postsecular theory is developing in academic circles, including the psychiatric field. By asking what the postsecular perspective might imply for the secular discipline of psychiatry, the aim of this study was to examine the postsecular perspective in relation to the secular nature of psychiatry, by way of a narrative review. In a systematic search for literature, relevant articles were identified and analyzed thematically. Thirteen articles were included, and three intertextual themes were identified, which represented ongoing international dialogues in relation to psychiatry and religion—such as intervention, integration, identity, the religious or irreligious psychiatrist, and the multicultural setting of the discipline. Furthermore, the postsecular perspective reveals a (potential) bias against the religious worldviews inherent in the secular. Postsecular theory can contribute to the ongoing discussions of how psychiatry, as a secular discipline, approaches the religious in the lives of patients and psychiatrists.

Nissen, R.D., Gildberg, F.A., Hvidt, N.C. 2019. Approaching the Religious Patient in Secular Psychiatry: Does ‘subalternalizing’ religious patients mean they do not exist? The Archives for the Psychology of Religion. https://doi.org/10.1177/0084672419868770 Article, Peer reviewed. Status: Published!

This article presents the findings of an empirical research project on how psychiatrists in a secular country (Denmark) approach the religious patients, and how the individual worldview of the psychiatrist influences this approach. The study is based on 22 interviews with certified psychiatrists or physicians in psychiatric residency. The article presents the theoretical and methodical grounding and introduces the analytical construct “subalternalizing,” derived from subaltern studies. “Subalternalizing” designates a process where a trait in one worldview (patient) is marginalized as a consequence of another worldview’s (psychiatrist) “disinterest.” The analysis located four categories: (a) religion as a negative part of the patient story, (b) religion as a positive part of the patient story, (c) religion in relation to radicalization, and (d) there are no religious patients. The discussion shows that the approach is influenced by the psychiatrist worldview. Examples of “subalternalizing” are given and how this excludes “positive religious coping” and “existential and spiritual care” from treatment.

Nissen, RD., Gildberg, FA., Hvidt, NC. 2019. Approaching the Religious Patient in Forensic Psychiatry, with special focus on ethnic minority patients. Mental Health, Religion & Culture. 10.1080/13674676.2019.1636368 Article, Peer reviewed. Status: Published!

Ethnic minority patients are overrepresented in Danish forensic psychiatry and knowledge is needed on how these patients are approached in relation to religious and cultural issues. The aim of this study was to investigate how psychiatrists in Danish forensic psychiatry approach religious ethnic minority patients. The study revealed positive approach towards religious ethnic minority patients. However, unless religion features as part of the illness, the tendency is to not incorporate the patients’ religiosity in treatment. The study finds that the hospital chaplain is regarded by the psychiatrists as an important part of the ward and expressed the desire for a more formal cooperation with religious specialists to be developed. Finally, the study finds that religious practices such as Ramadan, common prayer, and Islamic edicts on food and unlawful touch are areas where more knowledge is needed, especially in relation to anxiety, potential stress, and conflict situations.

PhD-project: Psychiatry, Religion, and Spirituality: A study on how psychiatrists approach religious/spiritual topics in Danish psychiatric clinical practice. (From 1.May. 2016 to 1.May. 2019)

PhD-Student & project responsible: Ricko Damberg Nissen, Ph.d.-student, Cand. Mag. Religionsvidenskab & Antropologi Forskningsenheden for Almen Praksis, Institut for Sundhedstjenesteforskning, Det Sundheds-videnskabelige Fakultet, Syddansk Universitet.
Head Supervisor: Niels Christian Hvidt, Lektor, Cand.Theol, Theol.Dr. Forskningsenheden for Almen Praksis, Institut for Sundhedstjenesteforskning, Det Sundheds-videnskabelige Fakultet, Syddansk Universitet
Supervisor: Frederik A.Gildberg, Ph.d., Professor (Associate) & Head of Research, Lecturer in Forensic Mental Health, PhD, MScN, RN. CPS, Institute of Regional Health Research, Faculty of Health Science, University of Southern Denmark. Lecturer & Head of Research, Dept. of Psychiatry Middelfart, Region of Southern Denmark.

English Abstract

International research has shown that religious/spiritual psychiatric patients employ religion/spirituality as a coping resource, and that this can be a source of both mental health and neurosis. However, more research is needed to understand how psychiatrists interact with mental health inpatients in everyday clinical practice, when the topic is of a religious/spiritual nature, to gain knowledge of how the resources that, for some patients, lie in religion/spirituality can be supported.
The aim of this study is to generate knowledge of how psychiatrists in Danish psychiatric clinical practice approach religious/spiritual topics, how and to what degree they integrate their patients’ religious/spiritual life in the treatment, and how the personal religious/spiritual characteristics of the psychiatrists impact their approach to patients.
The study will employ a qualitative and ethnographic research approach, based in the methodology of symbolic interactionism The design of the study runs through 3 phases with an estimated number of interviews = 40.
Based on the literature review and the research questions four articles will be published.
The study is among the first in the Danish context, and will contribute to national and international research and literature on how the psychiatrists in a secular society approach topics of a religious/spiritual nature.