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The Science of Prayer and Healing


Yesterday I wrote about praying for others and how it can improve and stave off depression in many cases. Sometimes I get accused of not being “scientific” enough for some tastes – understandable – so I thought I’d throw a little science into the equation today.

I found a study on the U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health website that I wanted to share with you. The purpose of the study was to find out how effective person-to-person prayer is in the treatment of depression. In other words, researchers wanted to find out if someone with depression would improve if they had someone directly praying for them.

I won’t go into all the details because you can read it for yourself, but the outcome was pretty amazing:

At the completion of the trial, participants receiving the prayer intervention showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism compared to controls (p < 0.01 in all cases). Subjects in the prayer group maintained these significant improvements (p < 0.01 in all cases) for a duration of at least 1 month after the final prayer session. Participants in the control group did not show significant changes during the study. Cortisol levels did not differ significantly between intervention and control groups, or between pre- and post-prayer conditions.

Now, if you’re not the praying type or you think the idea of God is nothing but baloney, this study might not mean much to you. I know what you’re thinking because despite my faith in God, I tend to analyze things pretty deeply. Maybe the people in the prayer group improved because they knew they were being prayed for, and thus felt more cared for and just felt more positive knowing that someone was trying to intervene on their behalf. You could argue that humans just swap and absorb each other’s energy, positive and negative alike, and that’s why the depressed participants improved so dramatically. You could also attribute patients’ improvement to the meditation and repetitious aspects of prayer, though many believers, including me, would tell you there is nothing repetitious about their prayer lives.

I say it lends a backbone to what Christians have known all along: prayer changes things. And yes, I’m sure that positive energy and feeling loved is part of that equation, but those are as much a part of our faith as crosses hanging above the altar and shaking hands with people as they walk into church.

Here are a few more statistics to consider. These come from separate studies at Dartmouth, Duke and Yale universities on the effect of prayer on healing in general.

Hospitalized people 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.

Yes, sometimes when we ask God for something, He says “no.” Understanding that requires more brain cells than I can rub together. It’s a harsh reality of life.

But one thing seems to be pretty obvious about prayer: it can’t hurt.

The Science of Prayer and Healing

Julie Fidler

I am a Christian suffering from bipolar disorder. I know what it's like to deal with the stigma, the ignorance, and the rejection. I'm hoping that through this blog, I can help prevent someone else from having to go through the same thing. See my story here.

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APA Reference
Fidler, J. (2014). The Science of Prayer and Healing. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Jul 2014
Published on All rights reserved.