Directed Prayer and Conscious Intention: Demonstrating the Power of Distant Healing

Directed Prayer and Conscious Intention: Demonstrating the Power of Distant Healing

  Adapted from the book Breast Cancer: Beyond Convention. This article, Chapter 12, written by Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., and Nola Lewis, M.S. Introduction, pg 315-7.

People who face serious illness value their time in a new, more urgent way, and do not wish to waste it. If you are in treatment for breast cancer, you no doubt understand this very well. Like many women at this juncture, you may be feeling a greater-than-ever longing for a spiritual connection in your life. Illness often represents a spiritual turning point for patients, leading them to seek out new sources of comfort, strength, and purpose.

It’s too bad that conventional medical or surgical treatments, while necessary for treating the disease, do little or nothing to address this inner longing. The medical establishment is simply not equipped to help patients acquire a sense of spiritual well-being. Even many alternative therapies don’t offer the kinds of immediate support women need at this stage to strengthen themselves emotionally and spiritually. Fortunately, this hasn’t stopped a majority of them from seeking and finding help anyway. What is astonishing is that until recently, no one has paid any attention to how they’re doing it. The answer, in a word, is prayer.

“Stay Strong, Fight Cancer,” advised a recent article in a major health magazine. The article went on to describe five promising complementary therapies for patients to use along with conventional medicine: imagery, herbs, diet, exercise, and acupuncture. Prayer, or any form of mental healing, didn’t even make the list. Yet, in the first six months after diagnosis, prayer is the one form of alternative therapy chosen most often by women with breast cancer.1

When breast cancer patients in a 1999 study were given a list of eighteen possible alternative therapies, 85% indicated an interest in prayer, and 76% reported using it in response to the cancer diagnosis and treatment.

There’s no question that for a great many women, prayer has tremendous personal value and is a much-needed source of courage and strength. In another study of religious and spiritual coping strategies among women newly diagnosed with breast cancer,2 subjects reported that their religious and spiritual faith provided distinct benefits, most notably the emotional support necessary to deal with their breast cancer (91%), social support (70%), and the ability to make meaning in their everyday life (64%), particularly during their cancer experience.

None of this, however, proves that prayer actually helps people to heal from a physical disease. Indeed, because prayer is so difficult to study, it’s simply been easier to dismiss reports of spiritual healing as a lot of wishful thinking. While anecdotal evidence has long appeared to support the idea that intentional or directed prayer can be beneficial to people who are ill, there were no sound methods for studying the phenomenon in a scientific way.

This is changing. While it is too early to offer any firm conclusions, various studies of the effects of prayer–particularly prayer aimed at “distant healing” (praying from afar for someone who is ill)–suggest some remarkable possibilities. [In future blogs] we will discuss several studies whose results are eye-opening, to say the least. They have enormous implications for breast cancer patients–and for everyone. The set of clinical experiments we describe here will show that although we don’t yet understand why, benevolent human intention, or prayer, can positively influence the life experience of people with serious illnesses. Regardless of whether a “natural” explanation is found for these events, the outcome is significant and challenges our conventional worldviews. [In later blogs] we’ll offer practical suggestions and exercises for the breast cancer patient who would like to incorporate these practices into her treatment in a focused and deliberate way.

1. VandeCreek L, Lester J. Use of alternative therapies among breast cancer outpatients compared with the general population. Alternative Ther 1999; 5:71-76.
2. Feher S, Maly RC. Coping with breast cancer in later life: The role of religious faith. Psychooncology 1999; 8:40-16.