Four out of every 10 adults used complementary and alternative medicine, according to the 2007 National Health Interview. Complementary and alternative medicine refers to interventions that are not part of conventional medical treatment.
One type of complementary and alternative medicine interventions that patients may use is spirituality. The National Cancer Institute stated that in a large survey of cancer survivors, 61 percent reported using spirituality and prayer as a complementary treatment.
Zachariae et al. defined spiritual healing as “a systematic, purposeful intervention by one or more persons aiming to help another living being (person, animal, plant, cell or other living system) by means of focused intention to improve their condition.”
Spiritual healing includes intercessory prayer, also called distance healing and distance prayer. With intercessory prayer, the person praying asks a higher power to intervene to help a person, who may or may not be known by the prayer.
The University of Maryland Medical Center noted that this complementary treatment is difficult to study, but cited research on coronary care units in which patients who were prayed for had better health outcomes, such as less complications and death, than patients who were not prayed for.
Christina M. Puchalski, M.D., M.S. of The George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health’s article “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care” reviewed studies on the effects of spirituality in medical treatment. In her review, she found studies investigating spiritual healing’s effect on mortality, coping and recovery.
The research on mortality found a connection between spirituality and living longer, with one hypothesis suggesting that religious commitment reduced people’s stress through social support and coping mechanisms. In regards to coping, spirituality was connected to comfort during difficult medical diagnoses and loss of a loved one.
The University of Maryland Medical Center added that several studies have linked spirituality to quicker recovery times from surgery and better coping with chronic illnesses.