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APRIL 2009


Review Article

Prayer Therapy
Maryam Safara, M.S. Bhatia Department of Psychiatry, UCMS & GTB Hospital, Dilshad Garden, Delhi-110095, University of Delhi

Introduction Prayer is “any personal, impersonal or transpersonal way to express communion with the sacred.” Prayer is a universal religious phenomenon because it stems from the natural human disposition to give expression to thought and emotion. As man naturally communicates by speech with his fellows, he instinctively addresses the supernatural powers of his belief through the same medium. Prayer is a natural and necessary outcome of belief in God. To stress this point one can quote some important personalities. For instance, Luther says very emphatically that faith is, “Prayer and nothing but prayer”, and continues, “He who does not pray or call upon God in his hour of need, surely does not think of Him as God, not does he gives Him the honor that is His due.” Prayer is a way offered by the Holy Spirit to reach God. It is not merely a question or an entreaty. It cannot succeed until you realise that it asks for nothing. How else could it serve its purpose? It is impossible to pray for idols and hope to reach God. True prayer must avoid the pitfall of asking to entreat. Prayer has no beginning and no end. It is a part of life. But it does change in form, and grow with learning until it reaches its formless state, and fuses into total communication with God. In its asking form it need not, and often does not, make appeal to God, or even involve belief in Him. At these levels prayer is merely wanting, out of a sense of scarcity. Prayer is a way to true humility. And here again it rises slowly up, and grows in strength and love and holiness. Let it but leave the ground where it begins to rise to God, and true humility will come at last to grace the mind that thought it was alone and stood against the world. Humility

brings peace because it does not claim that you must rule the universe, nor judge all things as you would have them be. All little gods it gladly lays aside, not in resentment, but in honesty and recognition that they do not serve. Prayer therapy is still not widely accepted among medical professionals, many of whom feel the positive study results are caused by placebo effects, or that the patients may pray for themselves or have family members pray for them, which would compromise the results of the control (nonprayed for) groups. However, several studies 1–14 have proven these explanations to be false. Since 1988, almost 200 other tightly controlled studies have reached results that also strongly confirm the power of prayer on a wide variety of subjects, including patients with AIDS, heart, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and even in one study in which women at a fertilization clinic had higher pregnancy rates when total strangers were praying for them. Prayer may be silent or spoken out loud and can be done alone in any setting or in groups (as in a church, temple, or mosque). Regular attendance at a church, temple, or mosque may involve prayer that focuses on you or on others. Sometimes, the entire congregation of a church may be asked to pray for a sick person or the person’s family. Some religions set aside certain times of the day and special days of the week for praying. Standard prayers are often memorized and repeated during private sessions and in groups. Prayer can also be done individually and in informal groups, without a specific religion or denomination, with no particular schedule. Prayers often ask a higher power for help, understanding, wisdom, or strength in dealing with life’s problems. The benefits of praying may include:

Delhi Psychiatry Journal 2009; 12:(1) © Delhi Psychiatric Society

can alter our perceptions. The studies through history have evidenced that praying and benedictions have truly been considered in the world of human beings. to the ineffable by allowing us a deeper felt sense of the created world. It has a personality five times that ours. and collapse the distance between everyday life and a more numinous experience.” Krucoff said. certainly not the Jewish. whose perfect knowledge and love precede their petitions and make them possible. They come not simply to a more powerful person who has what they need. and prayer is the means to achieve that end. Praying (benediction) means the statement of needs and requests towards the source of knowledge and authority and showing courtesy towards divinity. Examining the effects of prayer upon health outcomes has been controversial. but they do not come solely to get their needs met. but it separates the mystery from the question of utility in healthcare practice. “carefully examining the role of the human spirit in healthcare does not diminish its mystery.DELHI PSYCHIATRY JOURNAL Vol. a study seemed to show that prayer had produced therapeutic results. If.1 APRIL 2009 reducing stress and anxiety1.” Richard Rothe17 too stresses the same point when he says that “the religions impulse is essentially the impulse to pray therefore the non-praying man is rightly considered to be religiously dead. or pursued by sufficient numbers of people. Christian.10 promoting a more positive outlook and a stronger will to live Prayer have the ability to move the imagination into a meditative space. deepen our appreciation of the commonplace. “Our end is to seek. maintaining that such studies indicate that physicians and nurses should initiate prayers with their patients at the bedside. 12:(1) © Delhi Psychiatric Society .’’ he said. The central. on the other hand. is a deeply imaginal experience that opens us to mystery. Opponents of testing prayer could claim that they were accidental and that the study had not been Delhi Psychiatry Journal 2009. for its health benefits. They come to meet their most fundamental need as theists perceive this—the need for God.’’ John Arndt. In prayer. this would not clearly display that it had been inefficacious. disappointment and fear. it could contribute to the well-being and healing of an individual. it’s like a holy person. “Most people who have a cancer diagnosis now engage in some sort of social support activity. In the holy Quran. crucial thing about prayer is that it is a way of entering into a personal relation with the creator and sustainer of life. verse 28. Theists engage in prayer because that is where they encounter God. call me then I will accept what you say a.S. prayer.) has mentional that praying is the key factor of success and is a way of salvation. Some commentators argue on the basis of those studies of prayer with positive results that health care professionals ought to engage in discussions of prayer with their patients and encourage them in its practice. The Prophet told a needy person “would you like me to inform you of whatever stops your pain even if it is a poison”? He answered “yes” then the prophet answered : “Praying”.16 said there was a growing body of scientific work suggesting that prayer does have a beneficial healing effect.14 a great mystic says. Proponents of testing prayer could argue that it had not been carried out with the appropriate intensity. However. at least in the sense of a list of petitions and intercessions for which they pray. but before the One who is the source and the end of their existence.” No one can sincerely practice a faith. If a study seemed to show that intercessory prayer did not produce the expected beneficial medical effects. Praying could be a way for calling God for help. the authors acknowledge. Others venture even further. or Muslim faith. Today psychologists have found that praying and faith would decrease stress.15 William Stewart. They come to God. find and ultimately be one with God. The Holy Quran in Rad . he added that the best praying is the one which originated from a purified heart. “Prayer is not like you and me. Gill9 quotes in his essay what white singer told him about prayer. say “be aware!”All the hearts never remain safe except with the name of God. humans come before God as creatures acknowledging a difference in kind between themselves and God. as they might come before a judge or a parole board. uttered by persons of sincere faith. “If we look at prayer as a support network. mental health has deeply been emphasized and about 6236 verses are talking about the efficient human training. this would not necessarily demonstrate that it was prayer that had brought about these results. Prayer. Certainly they • • 68 present themselves as needy. 12 No. Also Imam Ali (A. God says.

Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. a national survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health found that 43% of Americans prayed for their own health and 24% reported that others were praying for them. Prespecified secondary endpoints were 6-month major adverse cardiovascular events. Thus results demonstrating either the failure or success of prayer could be dismissed as having omitted certain significant empirical factors—and there would always be more of these to consider. one patient in the prayed-for group died during the six-month study period. In fact. Byrd3 in a randomized. 69 Delhi Psychiatry Journal 2009. 185. Review of Literature Recent studies provide some support for the idea that prayer has curative powers. prayer only. 6 month death or readmission. Byrd found that patients who were the subjects of prayer did better than those who were not. The therapy receiving the most attention were prayers delivered remotely by people unknown to the patients. While no patient in the conventional care group died. experienced a lower percentage of congestive heart failure. No significant difference was found for the primary composite endpoint in any treatment comparison. A variety of clinical results from these patients were then compared with those of 30 patients who received conventional care. In addition.” William et al 16 determine the Effects of Remote. The factorial distribution was: standard care only. he separated patients who had suffered heart attacks into two groups: those who received standard medical care and those who were prayed for by three to seven “born-again Christians. and were less likely to develop pneumonia. They needed fewer antibiotics. 748 patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention or elective catheterisation in nine USA centres wer e assigned in a 2 × 2 factorial randomisation either off-site prayer by established congregations of various religions or no off-site prayer (double-blinded) and MIT therapy or none (unmasked). In a recent study. Therefore. MIT therapy only. p=0·016). From the standpoint of modern scientific medicine. and both prayer and MIT therapy. no treatment should be employed without evidence of its effectiveness and safety. Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterisation or percutaneous coronary intervention. there was a 50 percent reduction in all complications and a 100 percent reduction in major complications. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. and 6-month mortality. In the group randomly assigned to prayer therapy.16 physicians at St. in the pilot study. Missouri. it is not surprising that some scientists are attempting to test the efficacy of prayer as a form of therapy. Mortality at 6 months was lower with MIT therapy than with no MIT therapy (hazard ratio 0·35 (95% CI 0·15– 0·82. 374 were assigned MIT therapy and 374 no MIT therapy. 12:(1) © Delhi Psychiatric Society . or other tangible intervention. Noetic therapies are treatments that don’t involve drugs. 30 patients undergoing conventional ther apy to unblock their coronary arteries unknowingly received prayers from people they did not know. staff. Nine hundred ninety consecutive patients who were newly admitted to the coronary care unit (CCU). The primary endpoint was combined in-hospital major adverse cardiovascular events and 6-month readmission or death.” No one—not patients. or pursued with sufficient numbers of people. He concluded that”intercessory prayer to a JudeoChristian God has a beneficial effect in patients admitted to a coronary care unit. 12 No. in the one of the most scientifically rigorous studies ever conducted on prayer therapy. controlled adequately for confounding variables. Krucoff et al 15 investigated the effects of “noetic” therapies on heart patients undergoing treatment to unclog their coronary arteries. 192.APRIL 2009 DELHI PSYCHIATRY JOURNAL Vol. 189. or Byrd—knew who was being prayed for and who wasn’t. but no prayer therapy. Nevertheless. surgery. controlled study. 182. no patient in either group suffered congestive heart failure. findings show that prayers by congregations located far away from patients hospitalized for heart procedures did not reduce the rate of major complications or death. found that patients admitted to a coronary care unit who were prayed for without their knowledge for four weeks suffered about 10 percent fewer complications than those who had no one assigned to pray for them.1 conducted on a welldefined set of patient behaviors. 371 patients were assigned prayer and 377 no prayer.

CD4+ counts. One study evaluated the effect of distant prayer on patients with advanced AIDS because “so many people with HIV said they were relying on spiritual healers and getting benefits from prayer. Walker et al19 examined the intercessory prayer in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependence on 496 patients. 12 No. The study employed a pair-matched design to control for age. and those prayed for by directed agents. Intercessory prayer did not demonstrate clinical benefit in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependence under these study conditions. Improvement on all 11 measures was significantly related to subjects’ conviction concerning whether 70 they had been assigned to a control or an experimental group. and symptoms. Prayer was offered for 15 minutes daily for 12 weeks. the prayer group (n = 466) had lower mean ± SEM weighted (6. photos and names of subjects were used as a focus. Jewish. Buddhist. Subjects’ views of the locus of God’s action showed significance in three objective measures. Subjects were randomly assigned to three groups: those prayed for by nondirected agents. Greater frequency of prayer by the par ticipants themselves was associated with less drinking. higher T cell count.27. No differences were found between prayer intervention and nonintervention groups on alcohol consumption. n = 90) and those who were prayed for (subjects. Improvement on four objective measures was significantly related to subjects’ belief in the power of prayer for others. O’Laoire18 examined the effects of intercessory prayer on self-esteem. 68 days). This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.35 ± 0. and spent fewer days in the hospital (10 vs. In addition to standard treatment. There were no specific benefits detected for the prayer groups. directed prayer. The healers had photos of the patients and knew their first names. Each subject was prayed for by three agents. Prayer may be a complex phenomenon with many interacting variables.7 ± 0. 260 visits). P=. and depression in 406 subjects (who received either no prayer. or nondirected prayer) and in the 90 intercessors. Compared with a normative group of patients treated at the same facility participants in the prayer study experienced a delay in drinking reduction.04) CCU course scores. Compared with the usual care group (n = 524). The first names of patients in the prayer group were given to a team of outside intercessors who prayed for them daily for 4 weeks. 12:(1) © Delhi Psychiatric Society . anxiety.04) and unweighted (2. Agents were randomly assigned to either a directed or nondirected prayer group.DELHI PSYCHIATRY JOURNAL Vol. intercessory prayer (prayer group) or not (usual care group). the investigators found that the prayedfor patients had significantly fewer new AIDS-defining illnesses (2 vs. shamanic. Agents improved significantly on 10 measures. saw their doctors less often (185 vs.0 ± 0.1. n = 406). Those who reported at baseline that a family member or friend was already praying for them were found to be drinking significantly more at 6 months than were those who reported being unaware of anyone praying for them. 3 months. those who prayed (agents. and the intercessors did not know and never met the patients. Agents had significantly better scores than did subjects on all objective measures. Patients were unaware that they were being prayed for. p =. and 6 months. Sicher et al20 conducted a pilot study of the effect of intercessory prayer on patients entering treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence. a control group. A pilot study19 of the effects of intercessory prayer on 40 recovering alcoholics likewise reported no clinical benefit. 12). A significant positive correlation was found between the amount of prayer the agents did and their scores on the five objective tests. and other traditions.1 APRIL 2009 At the time of admission. After six months.26 vs 7. but only at months 2 and 3. 40 patients admitted to a public substance abuse treatment facility for treatment of alcohol problems who consented to participate were randomized to receive or not receive intercessory prayer (doubleblind) by outside volunteers. Remote. A rotating healing schedule randomized healers to patients on a weekly basis to minimize possible differences in healer effectiveness. They also showed marked improvement in mood.1 vs 3.13 ± 0. Native American. Delhi Psychiatry Journal 2009. Assessments were conducted at baseline. intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU course scores. Lengths of CCU and hospital stays were not different. “Twenty of the 40 patients were prayed for—six days a week for ten weeks—by experienced healers from Christian. Subjects improved significantly on all 11 measures. patients were randomized toreceive remote. and illness history.

The results showed that prayer was associated with improved psychological wellbeing. and were released from fears. The Prayer Therapy group received instructions on positive praying and psychological guidance. despite the fact that no clear mechanism of action nor any safety monitoring procedures were described. The Prayer Therapy group made a 72% improvement in test and improvement of symptoms. An analysis21–32 of 43 studies on people with advanced cancer said that people who reported spiritual well-being were able to cope better with their illnesses and find meaning in their experience. It is a cultural way of coping with health problems. backsliding in some instances. spirituality and prayer has been associated with less depression and a more positive sense of well-being. but just as important were the day to day adjustments to life. placebo or other adequate control. In research done specifically on women with breast cancer. If investigators 71 Delhi Psychiatry Journal 2008. Hobbins12 examined The effects of distant. They showed no progress in the test. traditional healing is still alive. T hey received psychotherapy with no mention of prayer or religion. Byrd found that the prayed-for patients were less prone to congestive heart failure and cardiac arrest and fewer of them needed diuretics and antibiotics than control-group patients. Their study showed that prayer brought renewal. many studies did not meet basic ethical standards required of clinical trials of biophysical interventions. Astin. arthritis. and marital difficulties. Javaheri13 has describe some aspects of prayer healing in Iran. Fiftyseven percent of the studies showed a statistically significant treatment effect on at least one outcome measure. Results suggested that individuals whose prayer styles were characterized by active rather than avoidant coping were likely to evidence greater perceived control of anxiety and lower levels of trait anxiety. Another study looked at 84 women in Texas who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. There were some spectacular recoveries from various diseases. despite the increasing growth in scientific medicine. patient confidentiality and informed consent. including adequate standards of care. Symptoms were not noticeably improved. As a result. that men and women received “beauty for ashes”. Dramatic physical healings resulted with stuttering. including prayer and noncontact therapeutic touch. half of whom were prayed for by a group of born-again Christians. 12 No. In their experiments. discouragement.” These people prayed on their own every night without benefit of psychological insight. Group Three was the “Prayer Therapy” group. the “life more abundant”. many other kinds of healing are currently also being used. Although mainstream allopatic medicine is the dominant model in Iran. These people showed a 65% noticeable improvement in both test and symptoms. Within a sample of 15 such studies published in the medical literature.774 patients met the investigators’ criteria for inclusion: random assignment. the joy and peace achieved right were they were by individuals who made remarkable to adjustments to life. many were found to have ignored or waived key ethical precepts. The women completed questionnaires about their spirituality and their psychological response to breast cancer.APRIL 2009 DELHI PSYCHIATRY JOURNAL Vol.1 Byrd3 led the way for investigators intent upon learning whether distant prayer can help heal with his 1988 study of 393 patients in San Francisco General Hospital’s CCU. and high blood pressure as a response to the power of prayer. One study detailed a ten year experiment of Prayer Therapy at the University of Redlands. Prayer was considered in most studies to pose negligible or no risk to subjects. The findings indicate that. “Random Prayer. This study has been carried out using participatory observation and in-depth interviews with fourteen healers who worked in Tehran. making application of their results ethically problematic. An correlational study10 examined preferred prayer styles and associated scores on measures of anxiety control and trait anxiety in a sample of 85 college students. 12:(1) © Delhi Psychiatric Society . Twenty-three clinical trials involving 2. intercessory prayer on health outcomes in a range of randomised. Group Two was designated. Group One was the “Psychotherapy” group. depression. rebirth. Also one hundred and seventy patients who referred to healing centers were interviewed through random sampling. migraine headaches. blinded clinical trials. and publication in a peerreviewed journal.2 was principal investigator in a recent systematic review of data on the efficacy of various forms of distant healing. they had three groups.

according to theists. Questia. The Power Of Prayer. Compromised ethical principles in randomised clinical trials of distant.DELHI PSYCHIATRY JOURNAL Vol. This is not to declare that. 14. Durham. 12:(1) © Delhi Psychiatric Society . Gill PS. 1970 – 1994. 15.R. Amini F. 6. p. Johann A. happening in the practice of the Hesychast Prayer of the Heart. Scott. 2005. 141. faiths and cultures. David A. praying and other religious practices can act as helps to heal those who suffer from different pains and illnesses. J Bioethical Inquiry. Duke Clinical Research Institute. Javaheri F. Results of First Multicenter Trail of Intercessory Prayer. 44 : 403-412. Carrera S. Iran. Crookall. a Course in Miracles. Calif. The Godscience Manifesto. Healing Touch in Heart Patients. 8. there are numerous instances when the prophets. Conclusions Throughout the history of human civilization and in all religions. BSE. The research suggests further interventions and adequate services to promote mental and physical health and the coping skill with regard to the use of religious strategies while encountering problems and stressors. Sondra E. et al. One explicit example is in the Sura of Hamd. Hobbins P. Wheeler. treatment of physical injuries. Union. Preferred Prayer Styles and Anxiety Control. 45 : 166 – 172. San Francisco. Malekshahi F. J Religion Health 2006. 9. Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. intercessory Prayer. Helen SV. 132 : 903-10. and ontopoiesis leads to a better understanding of the psychological system generally called self. 12. Louchakova attempt to articulate the experience beyond the ego. 7. J Religion Health. Astin JA et al. Harper. This truth provides good reason for clinical caregivers to take their patients’ religious faith and prayer practices into account as they jointly develop treatment plans. entanglements and hopelessness. all studies of the importance of prayer and religious belief for the health of patients are valueless. Vol. According to many researches done in this field. 1973. Our research has shown the effectiveness of religious beliefs in prevention of mental and 72 physical disorders. Krucoff MW. 2005. 2005. imagery. The effect of praying and benediction on the rate of anxiety before the students’ exam sessions. 1st International Congress on Religion and Mental Health. (by God’s order). 2. References 1. Delhi Psychiatry Journal 2009. Prayer Therapy. Chaplain PG. Prayer Healing: An Experien-tial Description of Iranian Prayer Healing. Nor is it to maintain that health care professionals must ignore the prayer practices and spiritual concerns of their patients. 81 : 826 – 9. 5. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. Durbin. Quoted by Eliade M. Explication of the dynamics of the direct intuition.. In the Holy Koran. Byrd RC. Schoneman S. Gallup D. 2005 Jul 16 – 22. 2000. 366 (9481) : 211 – 7. Duke Medicine News and Communucations. Religious and spiritual beliefs are significant forces that shape the decisions many patients make about medical treatment and help them to cope with illness and disability. and some other people have resorted to praying. and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study. Ann Intern Med. and mental worries. 12 No. Trinity of Sikhism. 30. 1993. Vol I. 1991. beliefs. physical and emotional problems. touch. Cohen. 1988. Cynthia B. 3. Patricia L. South Med J. Music. Tehran-I. which is a part of our saying prayers. and suggests a number of methodological approaches based on the enhancement of the essential elements of self-structure.1 APRIL 2009 wish their data to adequately inform the use or rejection of intercessory prayer to improve health. Dossey L. “praying” has been a means of resort for deliverance from troubles. 11. Crater SW. The efficacy of “distant healing”: a systematic review of randomized trials. 2 : 798–802 13. Song of Prayer. 2000. or a request for realization of desires. Prayer as Therapy. Harris J. The Sacred and Profane. 1997. 1964. July 14. 10. 4. Therefore it is clear that praying and religious beliefs play an important role in the prevention or decrease of mental. 16-19 April 2001.

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