For 30 years, Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD, has been studying the power of prayer. He hypothesizes that the healing effects of prayer are linked to repetition of words and sounds. “For Buddhists, prayer is meditation. For Catholics, it’s the rosary. For Jews, it’s called dovening. For Protestants, it’s centering prayer. Every single religion has its own way of doing it.”
As the individual enters an altered state of concentration, their parietal lobe circuits begin to erode their perceived distinctions between their self and the universe. The limbic system also becomes activated, which regulates the autonomic nervous system, blood pressure, heart rate and metabolism. In short, there is a true physiological benefit to prayer.
This has led to doctors advocating meditation and prayer-based therapies including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a type of meditation that has been shown to reduce depression relapse risk by 50% (Hoffman, 2010; Piet and Hoogard 2011).
Harold Koenig, MD, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Duke, is the lead author of the Handbook of Religion and Health which compiles nearly 1,200 studies dealing with the link between prayer and health. These studies reveal that religious people tend to live healthier lives. Some powerful statistics from these studies include:
- Hospitalized individuals who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.
- Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not participate in a religion.
- Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke rate double that of people who attended regularly.
- In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Christians won’t likely find these statistics alarming—you’ve likely already experienced the power of God in your life. However, these statistics reinforce the need for patients’ spirituality to be taken into account during treatment. Prayer and meditation-based therapies have exhibited real results and should not be discounted by the secular medical community. Though religion in-and-of-itself shouldn’t be prescribed as a sole treatment option, Christian care can work to integrate an individual’s spirituality with high tech health treatments and cutting edge psychiatry and psychotherapy in order to offer a powerful path to recovery.
According to Harold Koenig, “We’re advocating that the doctor should learn what the spiritual needs of the patient are… it’s very sensible.”