Richard G. Petty, MD

Healing and Spirituality

For thousands of years, spiritual teachers and healers were one and the same. The first hospitals in Europe were founded by religious orders. There was always a rather interesting split: folk healers were primarily, though not exclusively female, while the hospitals were male dominated. One of the fruits of the Enlightenment was the separation of healing from faith. The separation of body and spirit was pursued vigorously by medical science as it advanced. Indeed, many in the medical establishment echoed Freud in comparing religion to a neurosis. A well-known figure in British medicine has made no bones about his opposition to the involvement of spirituality in medicine, which he says is the proper business of the church, and has nothing to do with science.

Over the last two decades, things have been changing. A number of physicians and scientists have recognized the importance of re-introducing a spiritual perspective into medicine. But do they have any right to do so? The answer is a definite “Yes”! There has been a gradual build up of scientific evidence that prayer and faith can protect health. A second area of investigation is whether religious or spiritual practice, in particularly intercessory prayer, can affect the health of those being prayed for?

First is the clear observation that faith and prayer can support physical and emotional well-being as well as the health of relationships. One school of thought is that this is all the consequence of an internal healing mechanism. Over 30 years ago Herbert Benson at Harvard first described the “Relaxation response,” a simple method of using techniques derived from Transcendental Meditation for changing a person’s emotional response to stress. He then demonstrated that prayer could also elicit a relaxation response.

In recent years, there has been a global effort to research the connections between faith and health, and I have been particularly impressed by the body of work being generated by the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University, that has provided incontrovertible evidence that religious people live longer, healthier lives. This seems to be more than just the stress-reducing impact of prayer and meditation.

We also have evidence that thankfulness and an attitude of gratitude may have a lasting impact on your mood and state of health and well-being.

Second is intercessory prayer. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the psychiatrist Daniel Benor. Like most people trained in Western medicine, he was very skeptical about spiritual healing until he saw a tough case that failed to respond to conventional medicine but was cured by a spiritual healer. He then started to study spiritual healing and has written the standard textbook on the subject, which runs to FOUR volumes. He once told me that the evidence for spiritual healing is stronger than the evidence for almost any other field of unorthodox medicine and stronger than the evidence for quite a number of practices in orthodox medicine!

The moral of the story? Do not neglect your own spirituality or the spirituality of those around you, and remember that empirical scientific research is showing us yet again, that the power of worship and prayer are far from being neuroses or primitive superstitions.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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