Finally, we’ve reached the last of the “Big 5.” Today’s post will be about the scientific evidence for distant healing. I struggled with what to title this post. Within the context of the “Big 5” as coined by Charles Tart, he refers to this psi phenomenon as “psychic healing.” I think the word psychic can be a bit of a misnomer sometimes, confuse people, or even conjure up images of a psychic (who aren’t necessarily doing the healing at a distance [that is, “regular” people can do it, too]). I think this is a disservice to the phenomenon as there’s nothing “spooky” about it. Others refer to it as “nonlocal healing.” While this is completely accurate (nonlocal meaning that the healing is taking place because of something that isn’t “present”), it could be considered too science-y and may not be as accessible as possible. This is why I’ve settled on distant healing.
Distant healing encompasses a broad range of healing practices, many of which are based in ancient spiritual traditions. Virtually all major religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, endorse and encourage the use of distant healing among their adherents.
Two of the most common distant healing practices are offering prayers for those who are ill and using forms of meditation where the practitioner holds a compassionate intention to relieve the suffering of another. Some practices focus on curing a very specific disease state while others emphasize creating a compassionate environment that can have a healing effect. Virtually all distant healing practices are concerned with alleviating the suffering and increasing the well being of others.
As part of my master’s program, I read many of the studies (on healing prayer) that this quotation is referring to. In preparing to write this post, I was initially going to cite a number of them individually, until I found an article written by Daniel J. Benor, MD, that reviews all of the studies that I had known about (and then some). It isn’t a meta-analysis per se, like I had been able to find for some of the other posts in this series, but it’s the next best thing (an aggregation).
The first two studies that Benor addresses are what he calls the ‘two best studies’ that address distant healing for human physical problems. The first is a study that was conducted to test the effects of prayer for people in a coronary care unit.The concluding sentence of the abstract: “These data suggest that intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a beneficial therapeutic effect in patients admitted to a CCU [coronary care unit].” The second study that Benor addresses is a follow-up the first study called: “A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit.” The concluding sentence from that summary: “Remote, intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU course scores. This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.”
Both of these studies are more than 10 years old, but one of my favorites on this subject that is just as old comes from the daughter of famous scientist Russell Targ. Elisabeth did a study in conjunction with 3 others to tests the effects of distant healing patients with an advanced stage of AIDS. The conclusion: “These data support the possibility of a DH [distant healing] effect in AIDS and suggest the value of further research.”
There’s no doubt that the sheer volume of studies that have been conducted on this topic should be enough to warrant more and more research. Even the studies that demonstrate the power of our words (on ourselves or on others) could be seen as support for distant healing. Stephan A. Schwartz, along with Larry Dossey, MD [two of the more prominent names in the public dissemination of information on this topic], have curated a list of “therapeutic intent/healing bibliography of research” nearly 20 pages long! (It’s nearly 30 pages, if you include their introduction and answers to some questions about the research. IONS has also compiled a distant healing bibliography that’s over 10 pages. Daniel Benor has also published a number of articles and books that have compiled a number of resources on this topic.
One more quote I want to share from the Benor article I mentioned earlier in this post. I think it’s a very important point and I will expand upon this when I address healthcare in my series on Public Policy. I really implore you to take some time to ponder the implications of this quote:
One would hope that the benefits of such an inexpensive intervention would appeal to those who are concerned over the high costs of medical care.