Survey: Most Doctors Believe Religion, Spirituality Have Positive Effects on Illness

Nearly 6 out of 10 physicians believe religion and spirituality have much or very much influence on health, according to a study featured in the Apr. 9 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, a bi-monthly international peer-reviewed professional medical journal.

From a random sample of 2,000 doctors around the United States, the University of Chicago also found that 2 out of every 5 respondents felt that religion and spirituality (R/S) can help prevent bad outcomes such as heart attacks, infections and even death. The results comes one year after another study had disputed the positive effect of therapeutic prayer.

"Consensus seems to begin and end with the idea that many [if not most] patients draw on prayer and other religious resources to navigate and overcome the spiritual challenges that arise in their experiences of illness," explained Dr. Farr A. Curlin, the author of the report. "Controversy remains regarding whether, to what extent and in what ways religion and spirituality helps or harms patients' health."

Last year, a $2.4-million study conducted by the Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery and that patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications. Although some scientists had hoped the long-awaited and rigorously investigated prayer study would close the book on the debated effects of therapeutic prayer, for much of America's faithful majority it had not.

In the latest report, Dr. Wayne Detmer, an internist at Lawndale Christian Health Center, noted that all doctors have experienced patient recoveries "that don't make sense based on our current understanding of physiology or medicine."

And although only 6 percent of doctors in the survey believed that R/S often changed "hard" medical outcomes, most doctors believe that R/S helps patients cope with their illness (76 percent), gives the patients a positive state of mind (75 percent), and provides emotional support from their religious community (55 percent).

Also, while several doctors expressed drawbacks to R/S, saying that patients will be more likely to prematurely leave medical therapy as well as have negative emotions such as guilt that will increase suffering, still 85 percent responded that it is overall a positive aspect.

The research also concluded that those health professionals with religious backgrounds were more likely to report significant impacts of R/S on health than non-religious ones (82 percent vs. 16 percent) as well as positive aspects for it.

As Detmer explained, since Jesus miraculously cured people in the Bible, "[i]t's not so much of a stretch to believe He can still do it."

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