Studies Find that 
Prayer Can Help the Sick

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D 

A study on prayer fascinated me and I want to share it with you. 

This study was conducted by Dr. Randolph Byrd, a heart specialist at the San Francisco General Hospital. This is how it went. 

Dr. Byrd took four hundred patients who were admitted to the Hospital's Cardiac Intensive-Care Unit. He divided them in to two groups: one group received regular medical care of the hospital, called the "control group, "; the second group received not only regular medical care but also prayers, called the "prayer group." 

To eliminate any selection bias, he let the computer randomly assign patients to one of the two groups. People who met to pray for the prayer group were given just the names of the patients and a very preliminary information on their medical condition. All patients, belonging to either of the groups, signed a consent form, informing them of the possibility that they might or might not get prayed for. So none of the patients knew whether he or she actually got prayed for and at the same time, every one stood an equal chance. 

Needless to say that all patients, their friends and relatives were free to pray on their own if they wanted to. No suggestion was made about self initiated prayers one way or the other. 

The point I am making is that these being such large groups, all chance factors would equal out to make a strict comparison between the prayer group and the control group. This enabled the researchers to objectively study the effect of the additional prayers that were organized by the hospital. 

Furthermore, neither the staff, nor the patient knew who was being prayed for. This is really important in a scientific study because if the patients know or find out about such differences, then, arguably, they may improve or get worse due to the placebo effect. 

For instance, the one who is prayed for, may get an additional psychological booster and the other who knows he is not being prayed, may feel deprived of something that may have a potential for improvement. 

By the same token, it is important that the treatment staff not know which patient is participating in which group. Understandably, if a member of the treatment team knows about the composition of the groups, they may give certain patients preferential treatment, give them more attention, or pass" on, unintentionally, their hope and enthusiasm to the patient.  All told, as concerns the standards of  unbiased and objective study, it met all the requirements. 

Now for the results of the study. 

Dr. Byrd found that the prayed for group did much better than the group that was not prayed for.  Several benefits were noted for the group that was prayed for, they were much less likely to develop congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema in which the lungs fill with fluid; they were five times less likely to require antibiotics; fewer needed to be put on ventilators and receive artificial respiration; fewer developed pneumonia or had cardiac arrests.  All the benefits mentioned above were statistically significant. 

Studies following respectable scientific standards have also been conducted comparing the effectiveness of the various types of prayer.  One such study comes from the Spindrift Foundation in Salem, Oregon, which specializes in prayer studies. 

For the purpose of this study, prayers are classified in two types; the "directed prayer" and the "undirected prayer."  Let us see how they define the two types. 

A directed prayer has a specific wish and a specific outcome in mind. 

Nondirected prayer is just the consciousness of who is being prayed for.  The prayer is simply for the best potential of the individual to manifest or the best outcome to happen for that person.  So nondirected prayer is "thy will be done" type of prayer. 

This study was also done on the germination of seeds.  The seeds that were prayed for always germinated more than the seeds that were not prayed for, and the seeds that received nondirected prayers germinated more than the ones that received directed prayers. 

Spindrift Foundation concluded that both types of prayers were beneficial, but the nondirected prayers were three to four times more effective. 

My personal bias, which is not based on any scientific study, is that a prayer for changing oneself into a better person is more desirable than the prayers for some material benefits.  I am aware that my bias may have been determined by the fact that I am a psychologist and I am in the business of personal change. 

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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