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Prayer, Faith, and Health
You’ve heard the saying, “prayer changes things;” In fact, millions of Americans pray to a higher power when it comes to health matters. And there are millions of personal stories of how praying has been met with a positive outcome. But while conclusive scientific evidence is still unavailable on the matter, researchers are starting to look at prayer and healing more closely. So do you believe that prayer can heal? Do atheists and agnostics have a disadvantage by not believing? What about if people pray for you?
Communication to a higher power can offer any of us hope and healing in the darkest hours. Prayer helps us to reach out to something greater and wiser than our limited selves. And when others pray on your behalf, it’s powerful because individuals and families are lifted up by strangers out of love and a genuine sense of faith in God’s healing power.
A 1998 Harvard Medical School surveyed 2055 people about the use of prayer. Data were also collected on socio-demographics, use of conventional medicine, and use of complementary and alternative medical therapies. Factors associated with the use of prayer were analyzed and a whopping 35% of respondents used prayer for health concerns; 75% of these prayed for wellness, and 22% prayed for specific medical conditions. Of those praying for specific medical conditions, 69% found prayer very helpful.
A much larger study conducted by the National Institutes of Health in 2002 found 43 percent of people in the United States pray for their own health, and 24 percent seek the prayers of others. Most strikingly, 73 percent of critical-care nurses in a 2005 national survey said they use prayer in their work.
Such results are no big surprise. Most Americans are religious believers and can recount for you any number of stories in which prayer appeared to heal. The highly respected Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University has even set up an “intensive prayer unit” to capture whatever benefits it might provide.
For medical prayer to have an effect no actual divine or supernatural intervention is necessary; belief alone may give a psychological boost to a recovering patient. Any doctor or scientist wishing to lay bare the healing hand of God or the power of “energy medicine” finds that the placebo effect of prayer is much harder to account for than that of pharmaceuticals, which can be dispensed in controlled doses or replaced by sugar pills.
The consistent message is that individuals who use prayer to heal believe in it. Even if the scientific community cannot legitimize its effect, skilled professionals and lay people alike believe prayer changes things, and when it comes to health matters, prayer never hurts.