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Prayer and Healing

What the Harvard Medical School study and a similar study, the MANTRA study, done by Duke University Medical Center tested was the effect of prayer done on behalf of the patient by others. The patient was not the one praying for their own recovery. The patients selected were not required to have any particular faith or confidence in the benefit of prayer or any absence of faith or belief for that matter. The controls normally in place in a clinical trial were therefore non-existent. For example, Duke University sits at the center of the “Bible belt”. As such, many of the participants, while not being actively prayed for by the “official” study prayers, may have strong personal faith and they and their families may have been actively praying on their behalf. The possible result being many who may have received the benefit of faith and prayer being counted among the “non-prayed for” group. Conversely, those without faith who were among the study participants may have had an impact on the outcome as many religions emphasize the need for a willingness to accept in order to receive. In this case, those counted in the “prayed for” group may have not expected or even rejected the idea of prayer having any effect. The idea that prayer and faith can somehow be administered from the outside in by disinterested third parties as if it were a drug seems misguided. The type of control mechanisms required in a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled clinical trial (the gold standard in drug research) are often difficult and sometimes impossible to apply when looking at health holistically. Holistically, by definition, the person is being considered as a whole person, not the sum of his/her parts. To drill down and measure one aspect, without consideration of all other factors is the very failing of the mechanistic approach to health that has created our current health care crisis.

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