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Practical prayer

A medical doctor who left his practice to investigate the role of prayer in healing says the results of empirical studies have made this an "incredibly fertile moment in Western science" - and the beginning of a new era.

More than 250 studies on the effects of religious devotion on health and well-being have been "a bombshell" for doctors, says Larry Dossey, author of several books including "Healing Words: the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine" (1997). They've led to a spurt in the number of medical schools offering courses on mind/body medicine - from three just three years ago to 50 out of the 125 schools in the United States today.

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But the shift in perspective and practice is opening the door to more significant change, Dr. Dossey said in a Monitor visit. He is writing a new book, "The Reinvention of Medicine," considering the form medicine would take if based on the results of the multiplying studies on "distant healing" or "intercessory prayer," which he says provide evidence for a concept of consciousness beyond brain and body.

A small study done at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, published in The Western Journal of Medicine in December, showed significant effects of "distant healing" on severe AIDS patients (e.g. fewer doctor visits, fewer hospitalizations, fewer so-called AIDS-related illnesses), Dossey says. In his own view, he adds, it's time to put prayer at the top of interventions rather than making it the last resort.

We are now entering the third era in medicine, he posits. The first, in the 19th and early 20th century, viewed the body as machine. The 1950s began a second era of mind/body medicine, recognizing that thought affects the body. The third era of "nonlocal medicine" will be based on the implications of consciousness existing irrespective of space and time. While most doctors still think of consciousness in terms of brain, he said, some scientists herald a change. David Chalmers of the University of California at Santa Cruz calls consciousness a fundamental in the universe on a par with matter and energy. The implications, Dossey says, are profound.

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