What is Spiritual Healing?
Many forms of spiritual healing exist: faith healing, intercessory prayer, reiki, therapeutic touch, psychic healing, Joheri healing, wart charming, etc. The common denominator is that healing ‘energy’ is channelled via the healer into the body of the patient. This ‘energy’ is supposed to enable the patient’s body to heal itself. The term ‘energy’ needs to be put in inverted commas because it certainly is not energy as understood by scientists, but rather it has a spiritual or religious basis. All attempts to detect it have so far failed.
Healers view themselves as instruments of a higher power with healing ability bestowed upon them from above. Most state that they have no idea how their treatment works, but are nevertheless convinced that it does. The patient on the receiving end often feels warmth or tingling as the ‘energy’ apparently enters the body.
Consulting a healer usually involves a short conversation about the nature of the problem. The healer then starts the healing ritual. Initially this can be diagnostic by nature. For instance, the healer’s hands may glide over the patient’s body to identify problem areas. Eventually the healing starts, and ‘energy’ is supposed to flow. Many patients experience this as extremely relaxing, while healers often feel drained after a session. With other forms of spiritual healing, however, there is no personal contact between healer and patient. Sessions can be conducted at great distances, over the phone or the internet. Some healers offer their services for free, while others charge up to £100 for a half-hour session.
What is the Evidence?
The concept of healing ‘energy’ is farfetched. Many clinical trials of various healing techniques are available. Some initially generated encouraging results, but about twenty of these studies are now suspected to be fraudulent. More recently, rigorous trials have emerged and shown that spiritual healing is associated with a large placebo effect – but with nothing more.
Spiritual healing is biologically implausible and its effects rely on a placebo response. At best it may offer comfort; at worst it can result in charlatans taking money from patients with serious conditions who require urgent conventional medicine.
For More Information:
This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine