John A. Astin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine’s Complementary Medicine Program, analyzed 23 clinical studies involving prayer, a technique called non-contact therapeutic touch, as well as other unconventional forms of spiritual intervention in which there is no physical contact between the practitioner and the patient. His findings were published in the June 6th, 2000 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Astin says 57 percent of the studies showed a positive impact on the patients, such as less pain or a faster than expected recovery time. “Statistically speaking, the figure of 57 percent is highly significant,” says Astin, who considers himself an “open-minded skeptic.” “This is far more than one would expect to see by chance alone.”

Of the 23 studies analyzed, 11 examined therapeutic touch, 5 studied the effectiveness of prayer, and seven tested a variety of other unconventional treatments. Dr. Astin says all of the studies included placebo controls and were chosen for the scientific quality of the research.

The highest number of positive results was found in the studies involving therapeutic touch, a practice founded on the belief that the human body has an energy field. The practitioner moves his or her hands over the patient’s body to modify the field and promote healing. Notwithstanding the name, this technique does not involve physical contact. Of the 11 studies involving therapeutic touch, seven showed at least one positive treatment effect.

Dr. Astin also reviewed studies that tested the power of intercessory prayer (prayer on another’s behalf). In one study of nearly 1,000 heart patients, those who were being prayed for without their knowledge suffered 10 percent fewer complications. That study was published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Although Dr. Astin calls the evidence compelling, he says the results are not conclusive and should be interpreted with caution. He points out that nine of the studies showed no treatment effects, and in one study, the control group got better more quickly.

“On the other hand,” says Dr. Astin, “there is certainly no evidence that attempts to heal from a distance cause any harm.”

Source: University of Marland Medical Center

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