Can an atheist psychiatrist treat a believer?
Psychiatrist Jean Kim is an atheist who has reflected on her capacity to treat those with religious beliefs given her own lack of faith.
Jean Kim is a psychiatrist working in Washington, D.C. Privately, she is an atheist; yet professionally, she counsels and treats patients as they come to her, whether or not they have a faith structure of their own. As a professional, Dr. Kim does not find conflict in her openness to accepting patients with religious beliefs, saying, “It’s important to respect an individual’s language and style of relating to their universe.”
Essentially, psychiatry combines the fields of psychology and medicine, attempting to acknowledge and address mental, emotional, and behavioral issues by utilizing both psychotherapy and medical treatments including drug therapy or electroconvulsive shock therapy. A psychiatrist is first of all a physician, who pursues an additional four-year residency to specialize in psychologically rooted illnesses.
Although psychiatry is meant to diagnose and quantify mental conditions, such as depression, in order to provide objective treatment, often people in need of such services prefer to seek out providers with similar lifestyle, ethnic background, or religious beliefs. Acknowledging a mental disorder can be an unsettling experience, and some patients find it easier to trust the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan if they trust the doctor truly understands the full implications of living an alternative lifestyle, or as a member of a minority race, or with strong religious convictions.
Yet sometimes this very commonality can be used as a defense mechanism when a patient desires to avoid having that common ground analyzed as a potential source of the presenting condition. Ultimately, while an individual looking for a psychiatrist is welcome to look for one with personal similarities, the case can also be made for selecting based on more relevant qualities such as effectiveness of treatment methods
While Dr. Kim does not actively seek out patients with a strong personal faith any more than she does patients like herself who have none, she does accept those who come to her and attempt to treat them objectively on their own terms. In the end, this is exactly what a reputable psychiatrist is supposed to do.