I know for sure that during the last month my dad was in the hospital, there were a lot of prayers from our family, friends, and community. Prayer has been one of the links to God/Universe/Higher Power that people have used for thousands of years. It’s, in essence, a way for us to surrender our deepest struggles to something greater than ourselves. We find solace in prayer.
Reasearch on the effects of prayer and healing has been mixed and controversial. One of the first research studies was conducted by Randolph Byrd, a cardiologist working at the University of California, San Francisco. He asked for a select group of people to pray for those that were hospitalized with cardiac issues. The study involved close to 400 patients, half of whom were to be prayed for and the half were not. No patient knew which group they were in. Byrd reported that those that were prayed for needed fewer drugs and were less likely to require ventilator support.
A more recent study, and probably the largest one on prayer and healing, was conducted by Harvard University Medical School cardiologist, Dr. Herbert Benson. It involved over 1800 patients, divided into 3 groups, 2 of which were prayed for by members of several congregations. Prayer was shown to not have any significant effect on outcomes.
We have to consider that there are so many variables that cannot be controlled in these studies. Perhaps, those that weren’t assigned a prayer group still had their families and friends praying for them. Possibly, just knowing the “potential” to be prayed for might have calmed patients. Maybe, their own beliefs and attitudes about health and wellbeing contributed to their healing. Perhaps, many were praying for themselves.
Whether it’s the power of prayer or a good attitude, people with a belief in a Higher Power are shown to have greater physical and mental wellbeing. Often, this belief creates a physical response in the body that is the opposite of stress reactions. We know for sure that there is, in fact, a mind/body link.
Whether or not research supports the power of prayer in healing does not truly matter to me. I know that prayer offers me connection – to a larger community and to a Divine Source. It clearly gives me and many others peace of mind. During illness, we may reach for that and allow that peace to wash over us. At the least, prayer has the ability to improve our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. And, for me, that’s enough!
What are your thoughts or experiences on this subject matter? Feel free to share.