Prayer heals, study finds
Washington - Prayer heals when it's close-up and personal, and there's a study to prove it.
It's not just any kind of prayer, but "proximal intercessory prayer", or PIP - when one or more people pray for someone in that person's presence and often with physical contact - that was found by a team of doctors, scientists and religious experts to have remarkable results in healing some patients.
A team of medical doctors and scientists led by Indiana University professor of religion Candy Gunther Brown found in the study, conducted in rural Mozambique, that prayer brought "highly significant" improvements to hearing-impaired participants and significant changes to the visually impaired.
Fourteen hard-of-hearing and 11 visually impaired study participants were recruited at meetings of Pentecostal Christian groups in Mozambican villages and towns.
They were tested with a handheld audiometer or vision charts, depending on their impairment, before and after they took part in a prayer session.
"There was a highly significant improvement in hearing across 18 ears of 11 subjects" and "significant visual improvements," says the study, which will be published in September in the peer-reviewed Southern Medical Journal.
Two of the hard-of-hearing study participants were able to hear sounds 50dB lower after the prayer session and three of the visually impaired subjects saw their vision improve from 20/400 or worse to 20/80 or better.
The study focused on the clinical effects of prayer and did not attempt to explain how or why some participants saw such remarkable improvements.
"This study shows that in some instances there are measurable effects that can be demonstrated using clinical studies," said Brown, whose interest in the study was to explore spiritual healing practices.
"I consider this very much a first step and an indication of the direction for where research needs to head. Much more needs to be found out about why these effects are noticed, what are the mechanisms, are there structural changes involved," she said.
"But one thing this study tells us is that a major reason that Pentecostalism is growing is the widespread perception that healing takes place."
The Pentecostals typically spent between one and 15 minutes administering PIP, but some spent an hour or more with a "patient".
"They placed their hands on the recipient's head and sometimes embraced the person in a hug" while praying softly out loud, according to the study.
The study focussed on hearing and visual conditions because they allow improvements to be objectively and easily measured, and are less susceptible to perceived or psychosomatic improvement than conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Rural areas in Mozambique were chosen for the study because eyeglasses and hearing aids were not readily available there and Pentecostal groups who specialise in prayers for those with hearing and vision impairments were active there.
Brown and colleagues urged more studies "to assess whether PIP may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care for certain patients", especially in countries with limited care options.
"The implications are potentially vast given World Health Organisation estimates that 278 million people, 80% of whom live in developing countries, have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears and 314 million people are visually impaired," the study says.