Prayer Helps, Study Says Majority of American Doctors Support Spirituality for Sick

A survey of physicians found that 85 percent of them believe spirituality and prayer aid in the recovery and well being of those who are sick.

The survey of more than 1,100 American physicians believed religion and spirituality, including prayer, have a positive influence on the health and recovery of patients. About three-quarters of those surveyed said that such acts helped individuals cope and maintain a positive outlook. However, only 6 percent of those doctors believed it had any real effect on hard-line medical outcomes such as rate of recovery or death.

The question “Does prayer help?” has been debated for ages yet it does not have scientific data to prove without a doubt that prayer has any benefit at all.

When an individual prays for someone else who is ill, it is called “intercessory prayer.” The studies conducted have uncovered some eyebrow-raising findings on the effects of prayer.

Dr. Robert Shmerling of Harvard Health Publications cites a study published in 1998 that suggested prayer improved the health of AIDS patients. The data showed those receiving prayers have fewer occurrences of serious illnesses, fewer doctor visits and better mood than those who were not prayed for. However, there was no measurable change in immune function over the six months of the study.

Another study conducted in a Missouri intensive care unit in 1999 found that patients recovered faster when prayers were said for them compared to those who did not have prayers said. This particular study was different in that the patients and doctors knew nothing of the ongoing study.

What these studies have in common is that people were praying to provide comfort.

“For advocates of prayer, the belief that it will work is enough for both the person praying and the person who is ill,” said Dr. Shmerling.

A study conducted in 2001 that was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine examined the effect intercessory prayer had on women who were infertile. In that study, women who had others pray for them became pregnant twice as often as those who were not the recipients of prayer.

“I believe that the decision to pray or not pray should be decided by individuals and those praying for them, not researchers,” Dr. Shmerling added.