BACKGROUND. It is not known whether psychiatrists’ approach to religious matters in clinical practice reflects their own identification or
non-identification with religion or their being active in religious activities.
OBJECTIVE. This question was investigated among South African (SA) psychiatrists and psychiatry registrars, including the importance they
attach to the religious beliefs of patients for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
METHODS. Respondents from the SA Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) completed a purpose-designed questionnaire anonymously online.
Respondents were compared statistically with regard to whether they identified with a religion, and the regularity of their participation in
religious activities. Further comparisons were made based on gender and years of clinical experience.
RESULTS. Participants who identified with a religion showed no statistical differences in comparison with those who did not, regarding: how
they viewed the importance of a patient’s religious beliefs for purposes of diagnosis, general management, psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy,
recovery from an acute episode, maintenance of recovery or remission, time to be spent on religious education, referral for religious/
spiritual counselling according to patient’s own beliefs; referral when patient and participant are of different religions; and whether referral is
considered harmful when a patient’s religious beliefs are similar to or different from the participant’s. Statistically significant differences were
found where participants who did not identify with a religion were more likely to indicate religion had ‘little importance’ for the purpose of
understanding the patient and to indicate ‘no’ when asked if they would refer a patient for religious/spiritual counselling. When comparing
regularity of participation in religious gatherings, participants who indicated their participation as ‘no/never’ were more likely to answer
‘no’ when asked if they would refer a patient for religious/spiritual counselling, even when of a similar religion to that of their patient. In
comparing genders, males were more likely to answer ‘yes’ than females when asked if they considered religious/spiritual counselling (in
accordance with the patient’s own religious beliefs) potentially harmful when the patient’s religion was different from the participant’s.
CONCLUSION. It appears that SA psychiatrists’ identification with religion and regularity of participation in religious gatherings do not
influence their approach to religious matters of their patients in most respects. The exception seems to be for those psychiatrists who do
not identify with a religion (~16%), who tend to respond that they do not refer for religious counselling and that they consider the patient’s
religious identification to be of little importance in understanding the patient.