Religion and Psychiatry Don’t Mix

The Boston Globe reports that Raymond W Kam, a psychiatrist at the Boston Children’s Hospital, decided that one of his patients was possessed by evil spirits. His treatment focused on her spiritual well being, and not on her mental health. As a result, he has had his license to practice medicine revoked.

When Kam began seeing the girl in October of 2011, she was suffering from “several serious psychiatric symptoms and/or conditions,” the board said in its findings. A junior psychiatrist treating her at the hospital had trouble engaging her, but she opened up to Kam.

Kam began to think her problems were spiritual, the board found, and told members of his church he was concerned about a patient’s spiritual wellbeing. His attorney declined to say where Kam goes to church or what religion he practices.

At one point, the junior psychiatrist told Mezzacappa that Kam was “very involved” with the patient, and that he “may be losing objectivity,” but that the girl was improving, the board said.

The girl was hospitalized in February 2012, and Kam met with her alone Feb. 8. After the meeting, the board said, he came to believe that she was “being influenced by, speaking with, and being hurt by evil spiritual entities.”

He visited her about three times while she was in the hospital, and Feb. 14, he gave her a cross to wear, believing that the girl thought “the symbol was harmful” and that “the exchange would help” her.

Not only did his religious beliefs affect any professional judgement he may have had, it went beyond inappropriate treatment, and continued to get worse.

Kam gave the girl a cross to wear in exchange for a different, undisclosed religious symbol she had on; he also took her to church with him and let her stay at his home, board investigators said in documents filed in the case. At one point, she told him that her mother pushed her down the stairs and tried to asphyxiate her, and he allegedly failed to report her charges to the Department of Children and Families as required by state law.

Although Kam was the primary psychiatrist treating the girl, he was not the only one with such pseudo-scientific ideas. Another psychiatrist, Enrico Mezzacappa also supported the spiritual diagnosis.

Mezzacappa complimented Kam “for his courage in coming forward” and remarked that it was interesting and unusual that he, the junior psychiatrist, and Kam all agreed there could be “a spiritual component to [the girl’s] diagnosis.”

Mezzacappa “believed that not all of Children’s Hospital’s psychiatrists would entertain the belief that [the girl] could be suffering from a spiritual diagnosis.”

They discussed the idea that Kam should become the girl’s “spiritual mentor,” the board said, and Mezzacappa told Kam to seek a consultation for the girl from Kam’s church, and told him to speak with a hospital chaplain; Mezzacappa allegedly did not tell the girl’s inpatient treatment team or her mother about the spiritual diagnosis.

Mezzacappa, also a designated reporter in child abuse cases did not report the abuse to child services as mandated by law. For some reason, Mezzacappa was reprimanded but retained his standing at the hospital. Even Kam could return to practice as early as next year if certain conditions are met.

This poor girl has lost almost a year of proper treatment and undergone unnecessary abuse at the hands of her parents and her psychiatrist. Most of us believed that the association of mental illness with evil spirits disappeared a century ago. How wrong we are.

It should go without saying that religion and medicine don’t mix, but some people still haven’t got the memo.

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2 Responses to Religion and Psychiatry Don’t Mix

  1. Lance says:

    I know this is an extreme example but should we be somewhat suspicious of all psychiatrists who have religious beliefs?

  2. I think that one must be careful with all medical practitioners to see which ones are filled with nonsense beliefs, and how much they bleed over into their practice.

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