Different Theories on How it Works
The potential effect of prayer in healthcare falls into several categories: psychological and spiritual benefit, physiological effects, and overall increased well being. Prayer can serve as a coping mechanism, providing the individual with a sense of hope and optimism and a reduced feeling of powerlessness. It can enhance feelings of well-being including life satisfaction and adjustment that may be derived from a deeper sense of connection with the divine, with other people and with oneself. Psychological benefits include less depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior, and reduced anxiety, feelings of alienation, loneliness and isolation. These factors can significantly contribute to recovery from illness and to positive health. Physiological effects related to spirituality and prayer have also been documented in clinical studies including fewer medical complications, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, lower mortality from coronary heart disease, a higher survival rate post cardiac surgery, and improved post surgical recovery including wound appearance, less fever and less pain.
In looking at prayer in relationship to health and illness, it is helpful to distinguish between healing and curing. This has been addressed quite clearly by Janet Quinn, Associate Professor and Senior Scholar at the Center for Human Caring, School of Nursing at the University of Colorados Health Services Center in Denver. Healing relates to the process of becoming whole through being in right relationship with one or more levels of the human experience (body, mind or spirit). Right relationship enhances the whole,
increases energy and creativity, and decreases the sense of chaos or disorder. Curing, on the other hand, is the elimination of the signs and symptoms of disease. Curing can occur without healing and healing can occur without curing. The benefits of prayer can thus occur at different levels and this recognition broadens the understanding of its potential positive effects.
The issue of prayer in the medical setting ultimately relates to seeing the individual as a whole person (their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual natures) and acknowledging the effect of spiritual well being on healing, recovery, and wellness.
Conditions it Works Best For
As of 1992 there were at least 131 controlled clinical trials of human and biological systems such as microorganisms, plants, cancer cells and animals, with 56 studies finding a significant effect. These include decreased levels of stress, depression, hypertension and substance abuse, fewer illness-related complications, and increased life satisfaction and longevity. In a recent systematic review of randomized trials of distant healing, 57% of 23 trials showed a positive treatment effect.