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Why Psychiatry and Religion?

November 12, 2020

I’m devoting all of my content to it. So what’s so special about Psychiatry and Religion? What am I trying to do? What am I getting at?

The tools of Psychiatry are very powerful in helping people get from a negative space to neutral. We talk about “mental illness” as a disease process. That’s what healthcare professionals do. They identify disease and they try to treat or cure it. However, I believe the term “mental illness” goes much deeper than that. I think it simply boils down to suffering.

The field of Psychiatry studies the nature of human suffering and has a lot of information on what might alleviate it. Maybe medications are involved, maybe specific therapeutic techniques work, maybe group modalities are more efficient, and the list goes on. Research in mental health is able to help people go from a negative space (mental illness/suffering) to neutral. They’re no longer suicidal, no longer paranoid, no longer anxious. They can start living their lives.

However, the study of Psychiatry can only get you from negative to neutral. There hasn’t been a push to understand how to go from neutral to positive. Why? Because Psychiatry deals with pathology, not really augmentation. And it’s great for pathology, but not great for helping people understand meaning and purpose.

This is where Religion comes into play. Religion has a lot of discussion about meaning, one’s place in society, and a connection with a higher power. Thousands of years have been spent sorting out those sorts of existential and theological questions. We use Religion to this day to help us understand our personal meaning, our relationship with others, and our connection to a higher power.

However, Religion has a sordid history. It comes as no surprise. Fundamentalists, torture, wars, lies and deception, the whole gamut. The Religion we worshiped back then is very different from the Religion we worship today. It has caused many to accuse Religion of just being an illusion.

The problems of Religion can be mitigated by tapping into the wealth of knowledge in Psychiatry. And the limits of Psychiatry can be surpassed by the expansive nature of Religion.

Psychiatry help us understand ourselves. I’m talking about our biases, our defense mechanisms, our subconscious motivations, our overwhelming neurobiology, and much more. Understanding these at a deeper level helps us recognize when we are distorting our perceptions and experiences. This can help us understand religious concepts with more clarity when we apply it to our experiences.

Religion has the ability to help us look beyond our limitations, our survivalist tendencies. It helps us ask the greater question of meaning and purpose. It helps us connect the dots for us within a society as a whole, not just a bunch of individuals trying to get our next meal. A connection with a higher being brings us to a transcendent space where we can see the bigger picture. And in this bigger picture, amazing Good can be done for humanity.

There’s so much I wish to discuss about Psychiatry and Religion. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I want to thank you for journeying with me along the way.

Dr. Eric

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