Psychiatrist defends her backing of religious practice


THE PROFESSOR of psychiatry at UCD and consultant psychiatrist at the Mater hospital in Dublin, Dr Patricia Casey, has defended her public endorsement, as a medical professional, of religious practice.

Both the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Ken Good have called on mental health practitioners to be more open to the positive contribution that religion can make to patient wellbeing.

And in a report published yesterday, The Psycho-Social Benefits of Religious Practice, Prof Casey said “it is perfectly consistent with holistic medical practise to be open to the evidence that religious practise is associated with certain psycho-social benefits”.

Her report was published by the Iona Institute, a Catholic pro-family, pro-religion body of which Prof Casey is a patron.

In her report, Dr Casey quotes Dr Robert Sloan, professor of psychiatry at the University of Columbia, who had written in the Lancet that “where doctors depart from areas of established expertise to promote a non-medical agenda, they abuse their position as professionals’’. He said attempts to link health to religious/spiritual activities was similar to “the now discredited research suggesting that different ethnic groups show differing levels of moral probity, intelligence, or other measures of social worth”.

In response, Prof Casey said “the overwhelming weight of evidence so far is that being actively engaged in religious participation is psychologically beneficial for individuals, and also carries a range of social benefits relating to everything from marital stability to crime and to suicide”.

She was not suggesting that “religious beliefs can or should be ‘prescribed’ like a medicine – this would be unconscionable and impossible. However, in a society which often sees few benefits deriving from organised religion, it may stimulate a reappraisal, especially among those who still adhere to core religious beliefs but without engaging in the rigours of regular public practice,” she said.