Prayer and distant healing


What is it?

Prayer can be described as requests made while trying to connect with God or another object of worship. People often pray for the ill or dying. Prayer is a part of many religious traditions and has also been studied as a form of complementary medicine.

Distant healing is the projection of healing intention for the well-being of another from afar. Distant healing may or may not involve prayer to God, religious principles, or spiritual forces to help in the process. Distant healing is a broader concept than prayer. It includes prayer, but also other approaches to help heal another from afar. For example, it might include attempting to mentally project influence for another’s well-being without asking for the help of a supreme being.

Hospital chaplains and counselors are trained to respect different religious backgrounds in addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of patients, their families, or loved ones. The chaplains and counselors often incorporate prayer in their support.

People use prayer and distant healing for conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, pain, heart disease and many others, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

It is effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

Possibly Ineffective for …

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Receiving distant healing does not seem to improve mental health or general health in people with severe CFS.
  • Infants born weighing less than 2500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces). Prayer does not seem to reduce the chance of infants being born with a low birth weight.
  • Death from any cause. Research shows that prayer does not reduce the risk of death in in people with various illnesses.
  • Recovery after surgery. Research shows that prayer does not decrease the risk for major heart-related events or death following heart surgery. Prayer also does not prevent complications or improve recovery after open-heart surgery.
  • Preterm birth. Prayer does not seem to reduce the risk of preterm birth.
  • Warts. Neither prayer nor distant healing reduces the number of warts in people with skin warts.

Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …

  • Alcohol use disorder. Research shows that adding prayer to standard treatment does not reduce alcohol consumption in people with alcohol use disorder. Spiritual healing through other people’s prayers (intercessory prayer) also does not significantly reduce alcohol use in people receiving alcohol abuse treatment.
  • Anxiety. Early research shows that praying for 7 weeks might reduce anxiety in healthy college students. It also might lower anxiety before an MRI.
  • Cancer. Early research in people with cancer found that greater prayer activity is linked with greater survival in patients who are still receiving cancer treatment.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. Early research shows that intercessory prayer does not reduce complications following CABG surgery.
  • Depression. Early research shows that receiving distant healing might reduce symptoms of depression and distress in people with major depression. Other early research shows that prayer might reduce depression and anxiety in people with depression.
  • Heart disease. There is mixed evidence about the effects of prayer in people with heart disease. Some research shows that it might reduce complications and the need for additional procedures in people hospitalized in the coronary care unit. But not all research agrees.
  • HIV/AIDS. Early research shows that using distant healing for 10 weeks does not affect how much virus is circulating in the body of people with advanced AIDS, but it might reduce the risk of developing other conditions associated with AIDS.
  • High blood pressure. Some research shows that distant healing might lower blood pressure, but is no more effective than a control treatment in people with high blood pressure. But not all research agrees.
  • Infertility. Some early research shows that adding distant prayer might improve pregnancy rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).
  • Long-term kidney disease (chronic kidney disease or CKD). Early research shows that prayer does not affect any mental or medical measurements associated with kidney disease.
  • Leukemia. Early research shows that using intercessory prayer in addition to standard care for 15 months does not improve survival in children with leukemia.
  • Migraine. Early research shows that adding prayer to drug therapy might reduce pain in people with migraines.
  • Pain. Early research shows that distant healing does not improve chronic pain.
  • Feelings of well-being. Early research in people with cancer shows that praying seems to improve spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Early research shows that adding prayer to standard treatment for RA does not improve symptoms. Distant healing seems to improve pain and quality of life in people with RA, but only when these people are aware that they are receiving distant healing. This shows that the benefits of distant healing might be due to a “placebo effect”.
  • Sepsis. Early research shows that prayer does not reduce the risk of death in people with blood infections.
  • Sickle cell disease. Early research shows that attending church might reduce pain in people with sickle cell disease. But prayer and bible study do not seem to reduce pain.
  • Burns.
  • Childbirth.
  • Critical illness (trauma).
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Diabetes.
  • Quality of life.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Stress.
  • Stroke.
  • Swelling (inflammation) of membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
  • Symptoms of menopause.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of prayer, distant healing for these uses.

How does it work?
There are many different theories about how prayer and distant healing might help during illness, but nothing is proven.

Prayer might have psychological effects that result in relaxation. Prayer and spiritual faith might make some people feel more positive or hopeful. This can support relaxation, reduce anxiety, and lower the effects of stress. Prayer might also provide a certain amount of social support. This might help change how people think about their own illness or situation. This might also lower stress in the body.

Religious systems of belief suggest that a higher power hears and decides if and how to respond to the prayers of individual people. This higher power is believed to have the ability to influence people’s health.

Is there concern for the safety of its use?
Prayer and distant healing are LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately. Scientific research has not found any side effects. However, prayer and distant healing shouldn’t be used in place of standard treatments or therapies

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if prayer and distant healing are safe during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, there’s no reason to suspect safety concerns when used correctly.

Are there any drug interactions?
There are no known interactions with medications. Before taking this product, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

Are there any interactions with herbs and supplements?
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there any interactions with food?
There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?
The appropriate or safe use of prayer and distant healing depends on several factors such as the condition being treated or the person administering the treatment. Be sure to seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.

By what other names is the product known?
Absent Healing, Attitudinal Healing, Centering Prayer, Compassion and Healing, Compassionate Intention, Distant Healing, Divining, External Qigong, Faith Healing, Intentionality, Intercessory Prayer (IP), Kahuna Healing, Native American Faith Healing, Noetic Therapy, Psychic Healing, Quantum Healing, Reiki, Religion, Remote Healing, Remote Prayer, Spiritual Healing, Sufi Healing.

Natural Medicines disclaims any responsibility related to medical consequences of using any medical product. Effort is made to ensure that the information contained in this monograph is accurate at the time it was published. Consumers and medical professionals who consult this monograph are cautioned that any medical or product related decision is the sole responsibility of the consumer and/or the health care professional. A legal License Agreement sets limitations on downloading, storing, or printing content from this Database. Except for any possible exceptions written into your License Agreement, no reproduction of this monograph or any content from this Database is permitted without written permission from the publisher. Unlawful to download, store, or distribute content from this site.

For the latest comprehensive data on this and every other natural medicine, health professionals should consult the Professional Version of the Natural Medicines. It is fully referenced and updated daily.

© Copyright 1995-2021. Therapeutic Research Faculty, publishers of Natural Medicines, Prescriber’s Letter, and Pharmacist’s Letter. All rights reserved.