Monday, April 17, 2006

The prayer study

Someone asked me last week:

Laura, got any helpful thoughts about that recent study that purports to "prove" that prayer doesn't help heal?
I’ve seen a lot about this study on the various Yahoo! groups I belong to, and people are going round and round about it. What I think, though, as some others have concluded, is if you’re lumping Christian Science treatment into the study’s “prayer” category, it’s comparing apples to oranges.

I can’t speak much to the study itself, not having delved into its methodology or conclusions. There have been various studies of this type throughout my lifetime, and there will probably be more.

The thing is, I’ve never come up with a way myself that could accurately measure the effectiveness of Christian Science treatment. Each case is a unique situation. One case of fever, for instance, could be so unlike another case of fever in the aspects that prayer treats that comparing them would be impossible. Medical science wants to test results on the basis of similar physical conditions. But to really test results for spiritual healing, it would have to be about similar *mental* conditions.

And how do you know what those mental conditions are, actually, until you’ve unlocked what needs adjusting and it’s healed? You can’t know it ahead of time (so you can’t test for it) because treatment to me is often about helping the patient discover the mental condition that needs healing. And once you’ve figured that out, the case is almost done. "Christian Science never healed a patient without proving with mathematical certainty that error, when found out, is two-thirds destroyed, and the remaining third kills itself" (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings p. 210).

So that’s why when the test states that it took a hundred heart patients, or a hundred ulcer patients, or whatever sub-group they come up with, and then tried to test prayer’s effectiveness, it sounds like nonsense to me. How do we know what each of those people need to learn spiritually? How do we know what the next step on their spiritual journey needs to be for them to experience healing?

And of course, there’s the added wrinkle that they often try to test in a double-blind way, meaning some of the patients themselves do not know they’re being prayed for. This of course to me seems unethical, because I do believe prayerful treatment can have a powerful effect and it’s wrong to impose that effect on people without their knowledge.

I have wondered, though, how I would pray if I were one of the assigned pray-ers. Christian Science treatment would include the understanding that the particular condition is not real for any child of God, is not God’s will for them, and that each and every one of us can feel the healing power of a connection with Spirit. And I would pray that whatever the person needs to learn will be revealed to them, and they will be willing to learn it. That this prayerful treatment will not just improve them physically, but also morally and spiritually.

But in the end, it’s not a fair test. Best results come from one-to-one interaction and divine Mind’s discernment of what needs treating. And I tell ya, it’s never a stomach or a heart. The patient is always consciousness.

Next time, I hope they test that.

Read Kim Korinek's thoughts on this issue, too.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 4/17/2006 09:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for tackling this issue, Laura.

At 4/17/2006 06:39:00 PM, Anonymous rev. Veronika said...

Thank you, Laura, for putting it down so clearly. I feel that a lot of misunderstandings arise from the word "prayer" as it is used it in quite a different form in C.S. treatment than it is used in its traditional way.
Yes, it is finding the error in thought which Truth's presence destroys. It is like when I play the right note in music to replace a wrong one which corrects the fault. It is really so very simple!
Love, Veronika

At 4/19/2006 02:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Laura (and Kim!) for the thoughts on this study. I haven't read a whole lot about it, but someone who had read about the surround commented that the premises and methods had serious flaws. None-the-less, I think that anyone who believes in the effectiveness of prayer - however they practice it - will still believe, no matter what these studies say. I know I have had proof of prayer-based healed as have many others. Can't knock that!!


At 4/19/2006 08:02:00 PM, Anonymous moppo said...

I think there needs to be some rigorous testing of CS treatment. To what extent is healing the result of the patient's and practitioner's belief in the power of the treament? Herb Benson estimates that 75% of the problems that people go to doctors for are phsychosomatic (Beyond the Relaxation Response) and are therefore susceptible to a faith cure. Proper research needs to account for these factors, as well as the methods and theories on which practitioners work. This study was certainly flawed by not taking these factors into account.


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