Can we just forgo the fact that I’m not talented at verbal prayer, especially in front of, you know, people? Okay.
Oh, boy, this question has been on my mind for a while. As a psychiatrist, it is important to maintain a safe environment, a containing frame, where patients can talk about anything and everything without fear of judgment and/or feeling shame. (Wow. I rhymed. That’s the closest to poetry y’all will see me come. No, seriously.) I’ve said this before, but it precludes me from sharing personal information about myself—like my religious beliefs! Or the fact that I watch waaaay too much South Park and Family Guy. Really, no self-respecting, well, anybody would do that to themselves. Yeah. Moving on.
Keeping that “rule” in mind, please consider the following: I receive online updates from Psychiatric Times (a popular newsletter sent to shrink-types) and one of this week’s feature articles was titled: Should You Pray With Your Patients? Cool! Something I’m interested in!
Below is a link to the article including a podcast from ethicist and psychiatrist Cynthia Geppert, MD, PhD. Should you be so inclined to give a listen, she discusses situations where it is okay to pray with patients as well as situations where a psychiatrist needs to be careful.
The upshot is that primary care doctors (and really all other specialties) do not have the level of boundaries required in psychiatry. In the therapy session, people are vulnerable and every situation needs to be handled with care and empathy. Now, you may say, “What’s the harm in praying?” Well, it is considered a boundary violation (meaning, a crossing of the line). It may lead to collusion with the person’s illness—Ex. What if the patient is delusional or, gasp, hyper-religious from a manic episode? Praying in that case could, in fact, harm the relationship and lead to worse outcomes. Eep! Furthermore, what if the patient isn’t religious, what if the psychiatrist isn’t religious, what if the prayer is about winning the lottery? What if the patient and psychiatrist are of different religious backgrounds? (This is all covered by the podcast, by the way if you have eight minutes to listen.)
Um, as a believing Christian, winding my way through life, navigating the balance between interfacing with secular culture while at the same time sharing my beliefs without sounding like, ahem, Pat Robertson, the situation gets sticky. I don’t stop patients when they tell me about their belief systems and I am quite happy to listen when they bring it up. Actually, a belief system can be a support in and of itself—bonus! Or, it can lead to a lot of guilty feelings (Psst, what if you’re gay or an alcoholic and your religion doesn’t “allow” that?).
So, what to do? What to do?
Confession: I actually started a Bible Study class (haven’t done that since…college, a decade ago), specifically on “friendly evangelism.” Not the shove it down your throat, believe this or else kind of thing, but, hey, this is how I look at things…and why.
Eh, I don’t think it’s appropriate to spout off Bible verses in a therapy session. I’m not a Christian counselor, so it’s outside of my arena. But it is important for me to let people know that I am “working for God.”
Ugh… …had to take a break. Checked my e-mail, and here’s a message from a friend:
May there be peace within you today. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Okay, God. I’m listening. I need to stop fretting it and just keep my eyes and ears open for opportunity. Will do.