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Prayer Heals, But Doctors Don't Know Why

Does prayer really help heal? Medical researchersinvestigated the role played by prayer in both physical andemotional healing. The results? Prayer can help, but only ifyou believe it can.

Researcher Randall Fitzgeraldwrites in Phenomena Magazine that prayer studies in the pasthave produced mixed results. In this new study from theUniversity of Texas Health Science Center, 86 male andfemale patients were assigned to either be prayed for or tonon-prayer control groups. Two-thirds of them were churchmembers, and each one filled out a questionnaire about howmuch they believed prayer could heal.

Eight volunteers from a local prayer group, along with fourwomen living in a Christian retirement home, prayed twice aday for three minutes at a time for the patients in theprayer intervention group. These volunteers knew the namesand health problems of the people they were praying for, butthe patients did not know that prayers were being said for them.

Here's what happened: Pain was much lower in the prayed-forgroup than in the control group. For those who believed themost in prayer, there were "significant improvements inphysical functioning," in contrast to the control group.Patients who were being prayed for who had less belief inthe power of prayer "had a significantly worse physicalfunction outcome."

The authors of the study ask these questions: "While beliefor hope is a significant factor in the recovery fromillness, why would belief modify the treatment effect in arandomized trial of intercessory prayer? Participants in thestudy did not know they were being 'treated;' nonetheless,their belief was a condition under which intercessory prayerdemonstrated an effect." In other words, a strong belief inthe power of prayer helped people to heal, even though theydidn't know they were being prayed for!

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