RELIGION HELPS PEOPLE COPE WITH FAMILY MEMBER'S SURGERY

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- People who call upon religion to help themselves cope with a family member's heart surgery may be better off psychologically than those who don't, new research suggests.

The study found that family members who used prayer and the support of clergy handled the surgery better and felt stronger and better about themselves than did people who used only secular coping mechanisms.

The findings suggest that physicians should take the role of religion in health care more seriously, said Larry Vandecreek, co-author of the study and assistant director of pastoral care at Ohio State University Hospitals.

"Some health care professionals dismiss or deride the helpfulness of religion in dealing with illness, but these data suggest that religion makes a unique contribution in the coping process," said Vandecreek, who is also a clinical associate professor of neurology and family medicine at Ohio State.

Vandecreek conducted the study with Kenneth Pargament, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University, and three BGSU graduate students. The findings were reported Aug. 12 in New York at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The study includes 150 people who had a family member undergo coronary bypass surgery at Ohio State. They were interviewed in the waiting room while the patients were in surgery.

Family members were asked what, if any, religious coping measures they used. They were also asked what non-religious coping they used, such as seeking advice or assistance from others, or relying on emotional support.

The researchers also used several measures to examine how the family members were responding to the stress of the surgery. One measure probed depression in the subjects. They were also questioned about how much they felt they learned from the experience, how well they handled the situation, and whether they felt stronger and better about themselves.

While those who used religious coping reported handling the illness better than those who didn't, religious copers also showed higher levels of depression. Vandecreek said he doesn't believe that religious coping led to greater depression. "We believe that people who are more depressed are more uncomfortable, and that motivates them to turn to religion for support. That's why we see a depression-religion link."

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Contact: Larry Vandecreek, (614) 293-8791

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457