How Are Religion and Spirituality Related to Health? A Study of Physicians’ Perspectives

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Background:Despite expansive medical literature regarding spirituality and medicine, little is known about physician beliefs regarding the influence of religion on health.Methods:Semistructured interviews with 21 physicians regarding the intersection of religion, spirituality, and medicine. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for emergent themes through an iterative process of qualitative textual analysis.Results:All participants believed religion influences health, but they did not emphasize the influence of religion on outcomes. Instead, they focused on ways that religion provides a paradigm for understanding and making decisions related to illness and a community in which illness is experienced. Religion was described as beneficial when it enables patients to cope with illness but harmful when it leads to psychological conflict or conflict with medical recommendations.Conclusions:Empirical evidence for a “faith-health connection” may have little influence on physicians’ conceptions of and approaches to religion in the patient encounter.

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