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How Faith Can Affect Therapy

How Faith Can Affect Therapy

Ashley Taylor reports in the New York Times on research that looks at the connections between the faith of a patient and the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy. It seems that faith is a positive predictor of treatment effectiveness. An excerpt:

“It’s one of the first studies I’ve read that actually looks at perhaps a mechanism” for “why we see some correlation between the strength of religious commitment or the strength of spiritual commitment and better outcomes,” said Dr. Marilyn Baetz, a psychiatrist at the University of Saskatchewan who studies the effects of religion and spirituality on mental health.

Check out the article to see the percentages, links to the study, and more reactions.


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And people can’t be made to believe in some higher power if they can’t. “Believe X because it is good for you.”

In 12 Step programs, it’s not a Zero Sum question: x if you do, x if you don’t. If you’re desperate enough, you’ll find that *something* to believe in.

It’s kind of like, well, love. The emotion is involuntary, but the action of love is a choice. In the same way, the action of believing is a choice.

It’s cognitive vs affective, Gary. The cognitive of “can’t be made to believe” is one thing. The affective of “I’ll believe because the action of believing is how I can get well” is another. AKA, “fake it until you make it”! 🙂

JC Fisher


Gary, if I understood the article, the researchers weren’t arguing that correlation indicates causation, as simply noting the correlation: a person inclined to think that something outside himself or herself can be helpful is likely to see more than one something – in this case, both therapy and the Holy. It seems to identify two expressions of the same characteristic.

The study certainly has the weakness of any study based on self-reporting. There are in fact some good studies that look at religious practices (pretty measurable) and various correlations – and by and large those studies only note correlation, not causation. I agree, though, that studies looking at religious feelings have difficulties.

Marshall Scott

Gary Paul Gilbert

This sounds like a weak study becase there can be no double-blind study of religious practices. The patients who claim to be religious presumably know they believe something. And the observers also know or have been told.

And people can’t be made to believe in some higher power if they can’t. “Believe X because it is good for you.”

“Assessing how religious practices affect health is difficult, in part because researchers can’t randomly assign people to embrace religion or not, the way they might assign participants in a drug test to take a new medication or a placebo. Most studies of this relationship are observational, and people who are more or less religious may differ in other important ways, making it difficult to know whether religious faith is actually causing the effect or if it is a result of some other factor.”

Gary Paul Gilbert


Similar, I would think, to how 12 Step programs work. You have to (CHOOSE to) believe in a Higher Power.

The Higher Power can be anything you want—in AA, I believe the “Group Of Drunks” acronym is a common choice!—but you have to have one. There’s no substitute for having a He/She/It/Something to make that leap-of-faith towards.

JC Fisher

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