Increasing evidence that faith and prayer help patients heal is encouraging a once unimaginable partnership between medical science and religion.
As the nation flirts with alternative cures—from herbs to tai chi—doctors, scientists, and clergy are exploring how religion and spirituality facilitate physical health and emotional well-being. Influential people and institutions are studying connections between the two in a trend dating back more than a decade. What is changing, the experts say, is that clinical findings are finally being shared with family physicians and local pastors.
"For a long time, we've been exploring and researching the relationship between belief and healing as a complement, not an alternative, to traditional medicine," says Herbert Benson, director of the Spirituality and Healing in Medicine course. The course, offered at a regional three-day conference sponsored by Harvard Medical School's Department of Continuing Education, recently attracted more than 600 doctors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers to the Institute of Religion at Houston's Texas Medical Center. They came for training in how spirituality shapes general health and the ability to recover from serious illness.
In this, the fourth year of such regional seminars, it is clear there is a growing emphasis on listening to—and understanding—a patient's faith as a significant factor in a person's healing. As physicians have discovered the healing power of prayer (CT, Jan. 6, 1997, p. 20), more than thirty of the nation's top medical schools now offer teaching programs on the subject, compared to only three in 1993.
TREATING THE WHOLE PERSON: That factor underscores a major shift within academic medicine to train doctors ...1