MIND/BODY CONNECTION

Research on the Benefits of Prayer

Dr. Bob Goldman

In a study conducted at Duke University Medical Center of 150 patients who had undergone angioplasty between 1997 and 1998, those who received alternative therapy following the surgery were 25 percent to 30 percent less likely to suffer complications, and “those who received intercessory prayer had the greatest success rate.” The intercessory prayer was provided by seven prayer groups of varying denominations around the world. Dr. Harold Koenig, associate professor of psychiatry at the medical center, says: “Some of the greatest scientific achievements have come from those who step outside of the box, and I believe that is what this study does. The results tend to lean toward prayer helping people, but more study is needed.”

Another study conducted at Duke two years later, however, involving 750 patients who underwent heart surgery, contradicted those earlier findings. Before their operations, participants were randomly split into two groups, with half being prayed for by a variety of religious groups, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims. Prayer teams were alerted by e-mail to start intercessory prayer as soon as possible after the patient was enrolled in the trial. Follow-up six months after the procedure found that prayer made no difference. That was the largest study ever conducted on the effects of prayer on patients undergoing heart surgery.

In an attempt to determine which, if any, religious practices influence well-being, psychologists from England’s Sheffield Hallam University conducted a different type of prayer study involving 251 men and 223 women between the ages of 18 and 29. They measured participants’ reasons for having a religious belief, their church attendance and their tendency for depression. They found that the frequency with which both men and women prayed was closely correlated to their having fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, those who incorporated prayer into their lives not only were less likely to be mentally ill but also had considerably higher self-esteem. Those who attended church for social reasons only tended to be more depressed. The findings, suggested researchers in the British Journal of Health Psychology, “would appear to support the view that a religious coping model is integral to the understanding of the relationship between religiosity and psychological well-being.”

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