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Say two prayers and call me in the morning

ST. LOUIS-Studies have shown a majority of patients are open to discussing religion with their doctors and want their doctors to at least be willing to explore spiritual issues should the need arise. But a study by John Chibnall, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and medical student Christy Brooks found that a majority of physicians are not comfortable addressing spirituality with patients.

In a survey of 78 physicians, a majority reported they accepted a link between religion and health, yet only 8 percent discussed spirituality in any detail with their patients. Less than a third knew their patients' religious preferences. The study was published in a recent issue of the Southern Medical Journal.

"There's a belief among physicians that when you start talking about non-medical topics with patients, you open a Pandora's box," Dr. Chibnall said. "They've spent seven to 10 years developing highly technical and valued skills, and it's these skills that they want to ply. If you start talking about religion-something everyone has been taught to avoid in social interactions-you have to drop the thing that you are most expert at, and change the whole power dynamic. That's not easy to do."

Dr. Chibnall said physicians also reported they avoid religion because they worry about being perceived as proselytizers. And they worry that non-religious patients might somehow feel guilty about their illness-that it was caused by not being "good" enough.

Other physicians said they feel religion is not the job of the physician and that the clinician should immediately defer to pastoral care for religious concerns. The physicians also noted the lack of clinical research evidence that spiritual discussions have any link to patient medical outcomes.

"These are legitimate concerns," said Dr. Chibnall, "but there are non-judgmental ways a physician can acknowledge that there's more to a patient th
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Contact: Joe Muehlenkamp
muehlenk@slu.edu
314-977-8015
Saint Louis University
3-Oct-2001


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