Research on Prayer as a Healing Method

Many types of energy work involve focused intent, especially in the field of healing. It has long been thought by practitioners of major world religions that simple prayer, especially in group, can have a healing effect. Several studies have been conducted which support this claim. In the early 1980s, two double-blind studies were conducted at the Coronary Care Unit of San Francisco General Hospital. A computer randomly selected which of the nearly 400 participants in the study would receive group prayer. In 1988, Randolph Byrd, the head cardiologist monitoring the study, reported that those who had unknowingly received prayer had fewer complications and less need of medication or other types of technological assistance. Similar studies were later conducted that seemed to show comparable results, but the controls for the study as well as the interpretation criteria for the data have been called into question. This type of prayer is known as intercessory, meaning that the group holds their focused thought for healing on behalf of someone else. It has also been referred to as “distance healing” because the group in prayer is not physically in the room with the patient.

During a five year period from early 2000, the U.S. government spent over two million dollars assessing the validity of such intercessory prayer. This has caused a great deal of controversy, especially among scientists who believe that both prayer and God are not demonstrable nor measurable entities. Some believe that such studies are a waste of time and money. Richard Sloan, a behavioral researcher at Columbia University says, “There’s nothing we know about the physical universe that could account for how the prayers of someone in Washington, D.C. could influence the health of a group of people in Iowa—nothing whatsoever.” Part of this debate stems from the fact that several leading hospitals have conducted such studies and the results have varied so much as to be inconclusive. Some studies show that patients who received prayer were healthier than those who did not receive prayer. Other studies show no statistical evidence of help from prayer at all.

Another aspect of the growing controversy is that many of the government-funded studies are being headed by practitioners who belong to what many perceive as the paranormal community. An article in The New York Times cites other downfalls in such studies. It states that there is a great deal of difficulty in developing the criteria for such a study to be considered scientifically accurate. For one, there is no way to establish a proper dosage of prayer. Some studies use a small group of Christians while other studies include an inter-denominational group consisting of rabbis, Buddhist and alternative energy healers. A few studies center around entire congregations praying for the ill. The article also stipulates that there is no way to adequately confine the control group not to receive any form of directed healing energies.

Even some of those who do believe in the power of prayer are offended by these studies. The Rev. Raymond J. Lawrence Jr., who is the director of pastoral care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center had this to say: “There’s no way to put God to the test, and that’s exactly what you’re doing when you design a study to see if God answers your prayers. This whole exercise cheapens religion, and promotes an infantile theology that God is out there ready to miraculously defy the laws of nature in answer to a prayer.”

Regardless of the controversy, it’s likely that funding for such research and other studies akin to the effect of prayer will continue. In January 1993, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that nearly one-third of U.S. adults had paid out of their own pockets for some form of alternative healthcare during the preceding year. The Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) industry is estimated to be netting about $20 billion annually and that continued to rise significantly in recent years.

Prayer, and other such practices, are also commonly referred to as “remote influence.” Studies show that allowing someone else to express a good intention for you is almost as effective as using biofeedback on yourself. In the early 1980s, William Braud and Marilyn Schlitz designed a test to see if a group of people could have an effect on another group of people. The test was successful and showed that an effect on the monitored group could be achieved. The greatest effects were on those tests in which the group transmitting were to calm down a group of nervous folks. This not only speaks to the evidence of remote influence, but also to the fact that psi phenomena is most effective when there is a need, or a goal. For the most part, the folks in the nervous group welcomed the calming energy as a way to return to a normal, balanced state. This is not far from the condition of the placebo effect. The person taking the placebo is seeking help and they welcome receiving it.

Tests have shown that remote influence works regardless of the positive or negative intent of the sending group. While at Berkely, Charles Tart, author of Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People tested to see if empathetic pain could be transmitted through ESP. The “receivers” were hooked up to monitoring devices. Even though they had no consciousness awareness of receiving pain, every time it was being transmitted by the sender, the receiver registered decreased blood volume and/or a faster heart beat, which are indications of pain.

Some content excerpted from The Sage Age – Blending Science with Intuitive Wisdom
© 2008 MaAnna Stephenson
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