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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 54 (2012) 9, 785 - 795

New research

Recognition of psychiatric disorders with a religious content by members of the clergy of different denominations in the Netherlands

A. Noort, A.W. Braam, A.R. van Gool, P.J. Verhagen, A.T.F. Beekman

background Clergy members (cms) frequently provide support and counselling for people with psychological and psychiatric disorders. There is evidence in the literature that cms consider themselves to be inadequately trained to recognise psychiatric disorders.
aim To investigate to what extent cms are able to recognise psychiatric symptoms.
method cms were recruited in the south-west of the Netherlands among various denominations (Roman Catholic, strict (orthodox) Protestant, moderate Protestant and Evangelical; n = 143) by means of a regional sampling method. The participating cms (n = 143) and a control group consisting of mental health care professionals (mhps; n = 73) evaluated four vignettes of psychiatric problems with a religious content: two were about a psychiatric disorder (a psychotic state and a psychotic depression/melancholic state), and two concerned non-psychiatric states (a spiritual/religious experience and a mourning reaction with a religious dilemma). For each vignette the respondents scored the suitability of psychiatric medication, the desirability of mental health care, the severity of the disorder and whether there was a religious or spiritual aetiology.
results Some cms were able to recognise psychiatric problems almost as well as the mhps, but among the cms the degree of recognition varied according to the denomination. Recognition was relatively poor among Evangelical cms, but was best among the strict Protestant cms. Evangelical pastors and strict Protestant cms tended to interpret the non-psychiatric states as pathological.
conclusion The findings of this study emphasise the need for collaboration between mhps and cms and stress the importance of consultation.

keywords clergy, pastors, psychopathology, religion, vignettes