Prayerful Touch is a Useful Complement to Western Medicine


2010-08-05 18:11

Many alternative therapies emphasize healing from a holistic perspective, meaning a combination of mind, body and spirituality. Prayer is a difficult factor to study and measure, scientifically speaking, but many physicians and other health professionals recognize the benefits, especially when used in combination with Western medicine. A new study has found that “proximal intercessory prayer” (PIP), or hands-on healing, has shown startling health benefits.

Healing Hands in Rural Mozambique

Lead author Candy Gunther Brown, associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University, and colleagues studied 25 Mozambicans during a Pentecostal prayer intervention, including 14 who were hard of hearing and 11 who were visually impaired. The team focused their study only on hearing and seeing impairments because they are relatively easy to measure with an audiometer and vision charts.

Read: A National Day of Prayer May Be Good for Your Health

At the prayer meeting, a healer laid hands on prayer recipients for between one and 15 minutes. Two participants were able to hear sounds 50 decibels below their pre-prayer level. Three visually impaired subjects improved their vision to 20/80 or better, up from 20/400 or worse. The degree of improvement was more than that previously seen in hypnosis and suggestion studies.

"We found a statistically significant effect of PIP for the population of both those with auditory and visual impairments," said Brown. "We didn't generally find that people who were totally deaf or blind to start with ended up with 20/20 vision and perfect hearing, but those with moderate to severe impairments when tested before the intervention, had a much, much improved threshold."

Proximal Intercessory Prayer is especially common among Pentacostal groups. Pentecostalism is a Christian religious movement that places special emphases on a direct personal experience of God. Pentacostals believe that some modern Christians possess spiritual gifts, such as the power of healing.

While prayer has been a part of scientific study before, previous research has focused primarily on “distant intercessory prayer” in which the person praying and the subject of the prayer are not in direct contact.

Read: Take Care of Your Spiritual Wellness

Scientists do not discount that much of the results may stem from a placebo effect. But even a placebo effect is powerful when it comes to healing ailments.

"Placebo effects are certainly the best known of these kinds of mind-body interactions that take place," Brown said. The effects could also be attributable to subjects being more motivated simply because they are being studied.

Of note, some of the PIP subjects received the best form of healing touch anyone can offer – a hug.

The study, published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal, is titled "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique,"