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Author says prayer can make difference in healing

April 10, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - People have long believed prayer makes a difference in their own and other lives, but do prayer, wishful thinking or an optimistic outlook have a scientifically quantifiable effect on the outcome of illness?

More than 200 studies have been conducted on the mind's effect on health and Dr. Larry Dossey, the author of "The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things," has concluded that "prayer makes a difference." Friday at Chambersburg Hospital's annual seminar on health and religion, the physician spoke to staff and guests about mind and medicine.

"Two thirds of these studies show what we call statistically significant results," Dossey said after his speech. "There is an effect of intentions and willing, wanting and wishing that can't easily be attributed to chance," Dossey said.

The effect is more pronounced when there is an emotional bond between the person praying and the person for whom they are praying, he said. "When the healers entered into prayer or healing intentions ... key areas lit up in the MRI scan of the brain of the recipient" in one study, Dossey said.

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A recent Harvard University study of "third-party prayers" on cardiac patients indicated no effect on the patients' outcomes, but Dossey said the study was "flawed" in that it consisted of "strangers praying for strangers." The missing ingredient was, he said, "the same level of love and compassion as compared to real life."

The power of a positive attitude in health and healing has long been known, he told those at the seminar.

"In general, optimists live longer and have a lower incidence of major diseases" than pessimists, said Dossey. People can choose to be one or the other, he said, "so if you're going to pick one, be an optimist."

The keys to optimism are a belief in control over life's outcomes; a commitment or purpose in life; and being open to new challenges, he said. He cited a "potted plant" study in which the health of nursing home residents improved simply by making them responsible for the well-being of a houseplant.

"The attitude of a patient ... is everything and attitude can be helped with a strong sense of purpose, a strong sense of spirituality," Dr. Pierre Turchi, a local physician, said in a later panel discussion.

Sherry Taylor believes in the power of prayer. The Chambersburg woman said she had been diagnosed with melanoma, but opted against surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments and is now free of the disease.

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