Artemis Retriever has had some unfortunate interactions, along with some very good experiences, with members of the Medical community. She asks a very good question:
[Shrinkrap is no relation and I have not been able to access his/her website today.]
The doctor in question had asked if he should lie (as an avowed atheist) when patients ask if he believes in God: "I am a physician, not a priest. Religious beliefs seem as relevant to my profession as they are to an accountant’s."
What an asinine comment from that M.D. A psychiatrist is a very different kind of physician. I don't give a damn about the beliefs of a neurosurgeon, only that they not be a drug addict, that they have steady hands, be intelligent and up to date. But a psychiatrist? What they believe about God, or do not believe, tells me a great deal about them. Reveals a lot about what they believe about people as well. I might go to an atheist shrink, but I would want to know beforehand.
And a physician may not be a priest, but their vocation is far closer to that of a priest's than that of an accountant's. Physician and priest alike are in the healing, saving business. One treats hurting bodies and minds, another ministers to the soul. Anyone with half a brain knows that all three are intertwined. But an accountant? They just track the reimbursements...Necessary, useful, but different...
As far as what a doctor believes? I care more that they believe at all. I would rather receive care from a devout Jew than an agnostic Christian. Of course I am odd, in that I am a believer. Perhaps psychiatrists who are not would do well to remember that more Americans are than are not....I don't know the statistics on atheism and agnosticism in the medical profession, tho. Perhaps there's a gap between the professionals and those they serve there?
There is a great deal more in her post, much of which has nothing to do with the initial question of religious belief but does have a great deal to do with th kinds of qualities she values in her Doctors. Read the whole thing.
I can appreciate why Artemis feels the way she does about Psychiatrists. My profession has a well earned reputation for devaluing religious belief as at best neurotic and at worst a particularly virulent form of shared psychosis which has led to untold misery through human history. Sigmund Freud was a secular Jew, very well assimilated, and his influence over the field was imprinted in attitudes toward religion that persist. It is certainly understandable that a patient who does have religious faith would seek to find a Psychiatrist who shared the fundamentals of belief (ie, belief in a Deity) even if the specific form of that religious belief is not shared. However, I think a more nuanced attitude on the part of the Psychiatrist (or any therapist) would be warranted.
A good Psychoanalyst (the basic model upon which all Psychotherapy rests) is trained to understand as much as possible about his own irrational mind (via his personal Psychoanalysis) so that he can better assist his patients in separating their neurotically imposed pre-existing representations of reality (transferences) from the closer approximation of reality that persists once the most egregious distortions have been removed (analyzed or interpreted.)
A simple example would be of person who was abused as a child and had grown up believing that even though their mother or father punished them excessively, this was out of an excess of love and caring. Such a person might unconsciously seek potentially abusive partners in order to achieve a relationship that resembles their earliest emotional ties. Clarifying their need to see their parent as loving when their behavior was anything but can help the patient differentiate between a person who loves and values them without the necessity of emotional or other abuse as proof of their love and devotion.
What does this have to do with faith and religious belief? As much as possible, the Psychoanalyst attempts to keep his or her own emotional investments out of the therapy. That means that while a good therapist is respectful of his patient's beliefs, regardless of his own beliefs, he must have great humility about all those things which he knows to be true that might not be. In other words whether I am a committed atheist or an avowed believer, the position I take within the consulting room is a confirmed agnosticism about all things that are emotionally meaningful. Once the Psychoanalyst allows his own emotionally invested beliefs into the office, the therapy is no longer primarily about the patient's life.
[I do believe that, in general, people who have faith in G-d tend to have more resiliency than those who have faith in a null/god. I also am quite convinced that for society as a whole, belief in G-d offers dramatically improved potential for survival. many terrible atrocities and countless murders have been committed in he name of various Gods but the most terrible atrocities in human history have been perpetuated by those who believe that Man has replaced G-d as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.]
This is a topic worthy of a great deal more discussion but time pressures interfere. I do want to make one final point. In terms of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, there must be no reason for the therapist to privilege religious belief over any other belief. Once any belief is privileged (beyond the basic position of being curious about our patients and interested in how their minds work) it will skew the therapy. An avowed atheist does his patients great harm if he privileges his faith (after all, atheism is a faith based belief just as much as any traditional religion; religion and science exist primarily on different axes of experience) since it will lead him to devalue his patient's emotional life. I suspect this is what Artemis has experienced with "sophisticated" Psychiatrists who just know that religion is irrational. They do not have to express such feelings openly to discourage their patients from expressing some of their most deeply held beliefs.
[There have been many occasions over th years when Patients have been more ashamed talking about their religious beliefs than their sexual activity all in the expectation that I would find them naive or stupid for having such beliefs. The relief and surprise at finding a Jewish Psychoanalyst who does not disparage religion has been almost palpable.]
When it comes to religion, my position, were Artemis to consult with me, would be that I have no special knowledge or expertise in determining the optimal faith for anyone but myself; my expertise can be most usefully devoted to helping Artemis understand herself, including why it would be so important for me to reveal to her my faith. If she needed to know more than that (and why stop there; shouldn't someone who is worried about relationships know whether I have a happy marriage or am divorced or whether I believe in polygamy or some other variant; should only those who have successfully raised children to happy adulthood be appropriate for treating children? These questions are on the same continuum) and Ii were unable to show her that I can help her understand herself better, then she might have to see someone else.