Prayer's New Place in Medicine?
I've been hearing more and more about using prayer for healing, in addition to the usual treatments. Is this medically accepted? What do you think of it?
You've picked up on one of the most fascinating developments in medicine. Praying for wellness is quickly proving to be a legitimate addition to conventional medical treatment -- even when the prayers are offered at a distance by people who don't know the patient.
If you're interested in this subject, I recommend you read an excellent new book, "Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing," by Larry Dossey, M.D. (HarperSanFancisco, 1999). Dossey is a physician who has written other books about prayer and healing, including the 1993 best-seller "Healing Words."
In his new book, Dossey explains that the practice of medicine can be divided into three distinct eras. The first is characterized by treatments which focused on high-tech interventions and other forms of modern medicine, such as drugs, irradiation designed to deal only with disease, and surgery. The second era recognized that the mind can influence the body for good or ill. During this mind-body era, we learned about the profound effects of emotional stress on physical health -- and how by counteracting stress (via hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation, visualization) we can relieve or reduce symptoms.
Dossey writes that we have now entered the third era -- where the mind is viewed as a factor in healing "both within and between persons." In his book, he describes a growing body of scientific evidence attesting to the power of prayer in healing -- and not just the prayers you make for yourself or that your friends or relatives may offer when you're ill. It seems the prayers of strangers -- people who know only a patient's first name and diagnosis, and live many miles away -- can also influence the medical outcome. For example, Dossey reports on a study at Duke University Medical Center's VA hospital, where a doctor and nurse recruited prayer for patients undergoing cardiac catheterization and other cardiac procedures. Those patients who opted for the outside prayer offered by strangers had 50 percent to 100 percent fewer side effects than patients who rejected the offer.
"Reinventing Medicine" is filled with similar examples of the remarkable effects of prayer, intuition, and dreams on healing. Dr. Dossey has done a remarkable job of pulling together and describing the body of research that could revolutionize how medicine is practiced in the new millennium. I was excited by the possibilities he raises. I think you will be, too.