Spiritual interventions: research on prayer and healing

BOSTON, MA — Stress and depression can increase the risk of heart disease and impair recovery from heart attacks. And although not as soundly proven, optimistic and relaxed patients seem to weather illness better than the gloomy and anxious. Can spiritual interventions make tests and treatments easier for patients? Like many areas of alternative medicine, this has not been fully investigated, reports the December 2006 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. But two studies serve as models for further research. In the first study, researchers looked at whether prayer on behalf of a patient could assist recovery from bypass surgery. A third of the patients were prayed for after being told that this might or might not be done; a third did not receive prayer; and a third received prayer after being told this would occur. The researchers concluded that prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from bypass. In the second study, researchers randomly assigned patients to one of four groups before elective cardiac catheterization and angiography. One group received standard care. The others, in addition to standard care, received either prayer; music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy; or both prayer and MIT therapy. MIT therapy included instruction in meditation and deep breathing, and the application of "healing touch" hand positions by trained practitioners. The investigators found that neither prayer nor MIT therapy was beneficial in preventing subsequent heart problems.
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