Spirituality, Religion and Psychiatric Practice in New Zealand

An Exploratory Study of New Zealand Psychiatrists


  • Wyatt Butcher New Zealand Healthcare Chaplains Association




research, psychiatric practice, religion, spirituality


This research conducted in New Zealand, sought to identify psychiatrists’ attitudes and practice with regard to religious and spiritual issues in mental health. The research extends upon previous work exploring more broadly the attitudes of physicians regarding religion, spirituality and medicine (Curlin, Lawrence, et al. 2007). An online survey was developed and advertised in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists on-line newsletter. Nearly one fifth of all registered psychiatrists in New Zealand participated in the survey. In overall terms the opinions and attitudes of respondents regarding religion/spirituality and its importance in mental health care were found to be mixed. This study suggests, however, that in New Zealand ethnicity is the single most significant factor that determines a psychiatrist’s opinion and practice with respect to religion and spirituality. Research limitations are noted as are suggestions for future research.

Author Biography

  • Wyatt Butcher, New Zealand Healthcare Chaplains Association

    Revd Wyatt Butcher, BCom, BMin, DipTchg, MHSc, is a mental health chaplain working within Specialist Mental Health Services of the Canterbury District Health Board since 2003. He is currently the Associate President of the New Zealand Healthcare Chaplains Association. Butcher is a registered Baptist minister and is continuing to study and research in the areas of religion spirituality and health, with an emphasis on mental health.


Carey, L. B., and L. Del Medico (2013) “Chaplaincy and Mental Health Care in Aotearoa New Zealand”. Journal of Religion and Health 52(1): 46–65. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10943-012-9622-9

Carey, L. B., and J. Cohen (2009) “Chaplain-Physician Consultancy: When Chaplains and Doctors Meet in the Clinical Context”. Journal of Religion and Health 48: 353–67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10943-008-9206-x

Cook, C. H. (2011) “The Faith of the Psychiatrist”. Mental Health Religion and Culture 14(1): 9–17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13674671003622673

Curlin, F. A. (2008) “A Case for Studying the Relationship Between Religion and the Practice of Medicine”. Academic Medicine 83(12): 1118–120. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e31818c638c

Curlin, F. A., M. Chin, S. A. Sellergren, C. J. Roach and J. D. Lantos (2006) “The Association of Physicians’ Religious Characteristics With Their Attitudes and Self-Reported Behaviours Regarding Religion and Spirituality in the Clinical Encounter”. Medical Care 44(5): 446–53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/01.mlr.0000207434.12450.ef

Curlin, F. A., R. E. Lawrence, S. Odell, M. Chin, J. D. Lantos, H. G. Koenig et al. (2007) “Religion, Spirituality and Medicine: Psychiatrists’ and Other Physicians’ Differing Observations, Interpretations and Clinical Approaches”. American Journal of Psychiatry 164(12): 1825–831. http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.06122088

Curlin, F. A., S. Odell, R. E. Lawrence, M. Chin, J. Lantos, K. G. Meador and H. G. Koenig (2007) “The Relationship between Psychiatry and Religion among U.S. Physicians”. Psychiatric Services 58(9): 1193–198. http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/ps.2007.58.9.1193

D’Souza, R. (2003) “Incorporating a Spiritual History into Psychiatric Assessment”. Australasian Psychiatry 11(1): 12–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1665.2003.00509.x

El-Nimr, G., L. L. Green and E. Salib (2004) “Spiritual Care in Psychiatry”. Mental Health Religion and Culture 7(2): 165–70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1367467032000157990

Evans, J. R. and A. Mathur (2005) “The Value of Online Surveys”. Internet Research 15(2): 195–219. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/10662240510590360

Fallot, R. D. (2001) “Spirituality and Religion in Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Recovery”. International Review of Psychiatry 13(2): 110–16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09540260120037344

Flannelly, K.J., K. Galek and G.F. Handzo (2005) “To What Extent are the Spiritual Needs of Hospital Patients being Met?” International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 35(3): 319–23. http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/9X2X-QQEU-GDE9-VUXN

Fleming, S., and D. S. Evans (2008) “The Concept of Spirituality: Its Role within Health Promotion Practice in the Republic of Ireland”. Spirituality and Health International. Wiley Interscience website: www.interscience.wiley.com http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/shi.333

Hartog, K., and K. M. Gow (2005) “Religious Attributions Pertaining to the Causes and Cures of Mental Illness”. Mental Health Religion and Culture 8(4): 263–76. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13674670412331304339

Kendler, K., Xiao-Qing Liu, Charles Gardner, Michael E. McCullough, David Larson and Carol A. Prescott (2003) “Dimensions of Religiosity and their Relationship to Lifetime Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders”. American Journal of Psychiatry 160(3): 496-503. http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.160.3.496

Koenig, H. G. (2005) Faith and Mental Health. Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

Lawrence, R. E., J. Head, G. Christodoulou, B. Andonovska, S. Karamat, A. Duggal and S. Eagger (2006) “Clinicians’ Attitudes to Spirituality in Old Age Psychiatry”. International Psychogeriatrics 19(5): 962–73. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1041610206004339

Larson, D. B. and S. S. Larson (2003) “Spirituality's Potential Relevence to Physical and Emotional Health: A Brief Review of Quantitative Research”. Journal of Psychology and Theology 31(1): 37-51.

May, E., E. Muir-Cochrane and W. Clare (2005) “Experience of Spirituality, Mental Illness and Occupation: A Life-sustaining Phenomenon”. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal 52(1): 2–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1630.2005.00462.x

McSherry, W., and K. Cash (2004) “The Language of Spirituality: an Emerging Taxomony”. International Journal of Nursing Studies 41(2): 151–61. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0020-7489(03)00114-7

Ministry of Health (1994) Looking Forward: Strategic Directions for Mental Health. Wellington: New Zealand Government Printer.

Mohr, S., P. Brant, L. Borras, C. Gillieron and P. Hugelot (2006) “Toward an Integration of Spirituality and Religiousness into the Psychosocial Dimension of Schizophrenia”. American Journal of psychiatry 163(11): 1952–959. http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.163.11.1952

Mohr, W. K. (2006) “Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Care”. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 42(3): 174–83.http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6163.2006.00076.x

Moller, M.D. (1999) “Meeting Spiritual Needs on an Inpatient Unit”. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing 37(11): 5-10.

Mueller, P. S., D. J. Plevak and T. A. Rummans (2001) “Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice”. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 76(12): 1225–235. http://dx.doi.org/10.4065/76.12.1225

New Zealand Government (2007) QuikStats about Culture and Identity: Statistics New Zealand. Wellington, NZ: Statistics New Zealand.

Nulty, D. D. (2008) “The Adequacy of Response Rates to Online and Paper Surveys: What Can Be Done?” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 33(3): 301–14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930701293231

Payman, V. (2000) “Do Psychogeriatricians ‘Neglect’ Religion? An Antipodean Survey”. International Psychogeriatrics 12(2): 135–44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S104161020000627X

Puchalski, C., B. Ferrell, R. Virani, S. Otis-Green, P. Baird, J. Bull et al. (2009) “Improving the Quality of Spiritual Care as a Dimension of Palliative Care: The Report of the Consensus Conference”. Journal of Palliative Medicine 12(10): 885–904. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2009.0142

Sheridan, D. P. (1986) “Taxonomy of Culture, Spirituality, and Religion”. The Journal of Religion 66(1): 37–45.

Stirling, B., L. D. Furman, W. Perry, E. R. Canda and C. Grimword (2010) “A Compartaive Survey of Aotearoa New Zealand and UK Social Workers on the Role of Religion and Spirituality in Practice”. British Journal of Social Work 40(2): 602–21. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcp008

Swinton, J. (2001) Spirituality and Mental Health Care. London: Jessica Kingsley Publisher.

Swinton, J., and S. Pattison (2010) “Moving beyond Clartiy: towards a Thin, Vague, and Useful Understanding of Spirituality in Nursing Care”. Nursing Philosophy 11(4): 226–37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-769X.2010.00450.x

Thorpe, C., B. Ryan, S. L. McLean, A. Burt, M. Stewart, J. B. Brown and S. Harris (2009) “How to Obtain Excellent Response Rates When Surveying Physicians”. Family Practice 26(1): 65–68. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmn097

Turbott, J. (1996) “Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry: Conceptual, Cultural and Personal Challenges”. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 30(6): 720–27. http://dx.doi.org/10.3109/00048679609065037

Vandenberg, H. E. R. (2010) “Culture Theorizing Past and Present: Trends and Challenges”. Nursing Philosophy 11(4): 238–49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-769X.2010.00453.x

Wilding, C., E. May and E. Muir-Cochrane (2005) “Experience of Spirituality, Mental Illness and Occupation: a Life-sustaining Phenomenon”. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal 52(1): 2–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1630.2005.00462.x

Wright, K. B. (2006) “Researching Internet-Based Populations: Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Research, Online Questionnaire Authoring Software Packages, and Web Survey Services”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2005.tb00259.x



How to Cite

Butcher, W. (2015). Spirituality, Religion and Psychiatric Practice in New Zealand: An Exploratory Study of New Zealand Psychiatrists. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 3(2), 176-190. https://doi.org/10.1558/hscc.v3i2.26544