First, let me define what I mean by spiritual healing and add a few words about the obvious confusion in terminology, a clear indication that there has been confusion in considering these phenomena.
Spiritual healing is the intentional influence of one or more people upon one or more living systems without utilizing known physical means of intervention. It is commonly practiced in two major ways: 1. With a laying-on of hands -- the hands lightly touching or held near to the body, often combined with visualizations; and 2. With meditation, prayer or other focused intent, again often combined with visualizations. The two are often used simultaneously. I shall use the term healing to mean spiritual healing, not to be confused with physiological process of healing.
Lawrence LeShan pioneered the investigation of healing, and laid the groundwork for scientific approaches to the study of healing. He points out that a common denominator amongst healers is the visualization of the healer being "one with" the healee and with the "All." His book, The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist is highly recommended for a discussion of the second type of healing. Dolores Krieger pioneered the application of laying-on of hands healing, and her books on Therapeutic Touch are also highly recommended. My own books, Healing Research, Volumes I - IV consider these matters through the eyes of research.
I mention all of these because healing is, above all, an individual and subjective phenomenon. It is from the realms of experience we label noetic or ineffable. This means that we can know aspects of healing through inner awarenesses that are clearly perceptible but very difficult to describe in words. This is especially true in Western society, where our language is heavily biased towards the material aspects of experience. From that vantage point, we are led to believe that whatever is not perceivable by the outer senses and measurable with mechanical, electromagnetic or particle physics instruments is considered "non"sense or "im"material. For these reasons, one must consider the observations of multiple researchers in order to arrive at a rough consensus of what healing might be.
In our materialistic and reductionistic Western world we are taught that reality is "objective". We are led to believe that there is a constancy to the world and that it is consistently measurable by reliable scientific instruments. I will address these beliefs from clinical and research perspectives.
My personal introduction to healing illustrates the difficulties a Western person can experience in learning about healing. As a medically trained doctor with a Batchelor's degree in psychology and specialty training in psychiatry, plus research experience, I was most skeptical about healing. I had years of study, omnivores reading and clinical experience in how people can innocently and unconsciously misguide themselves into believing nearly anything - about themselves and each other. When Walter, a new-found friend, asked my opinion about healing in 1980, I told him in no uncertain terms: "I am convinced that healing can be no more than suggestion, placebo or other self-healing effects, defensive denial of unwanted illnesses, wishful thinking, and sometimes even deliberate charlatinism."
Walter challenged me, "Have you ever personally observed a healer?" I had to admit I had never bothered to study something so obviously attributable to self deception. Somewhat reluctantly, I accepted his invitation to observe Ethel Lombardi, a Reiki healing Master. This challenge changed my life.
Ethel brought about a physical change in a young man that was impossible according to all my medical and psychological understanding of how the body functions. A lump under his nipple started out measuring 1 x 2 centimeters, was rubbery-firm (like an eraser), was more fixed than one would like to see in any lump (suggesting it might be invasive), and was quite tender. Ethel treated him with a laying-on of hands, placing her hands over the chakras -- the energy centers on the midline of the body. After only half an hour, during which time the young man sobbed heavily -- without explaining what he was experiencing (that bothered me as a psychiatrist!) -- the lesion had changed. It had shrunk by a centimeter, was soft, freely mobile and not tender.
Fortunately, another physician was there with me and we agreed on our palpation of the lesion before and after the healing. Otherwise I am certain I would have let what we call retrocognitive dissonance convince me that I must have mismeasured or misremembered my perceptions - in order to explain away something that contradicted my expectations and understandings of what can happen with a lump under a young man's nipple in half an hour.
Tremendously impressed with Ethel's healing, I went to the literature to see what research had been published. This was the start of a collection of 155 controlled studies of healing that is now published in my book. These include studies of humans, other animals, plants, bacteria, yeasts, cells in laboratory culture, enzymes and more. Some of the studies were with touch healing, some with hands held near the studied organisms, and some were done from distances of several meters to several miles. More than half of these studies demonstrate significant effects.
There can be little doubt that healing is a clinically potent intervention in a variety of living organisms and laboratory systems. Let us examine one of the 155 controlled studies in humans.
Distant healing produced significant effects in patients with cardiac problems. Randolph Byrd, M.D. arranged for prayer healing to be sent to 192 patients on a coronary care unit, while another 201 patients served as controls. This was done with a double-blind design, where neither the patients nor the treating or evaluating physicians knew which patients were sent the healing and which were not. The patients were randomly assigned to either of these groups, and no significant differences were noted between the groups on many variables. Highly significant effects were found in the treated group, in which there were lower incidences of intubation/ ventilation, use of antibiotics, cardiopulmonary arrest, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and the use of diuretics. The study was published in the respected, conventional Southern Medical Journal in 1988.
On the basis of this evidence
from the many significant studies, and in view of the absence of negative side
effects of healing, I believe that if healing were a medicine it would be on the
Is there a theory to explain healing?
If it is true that in distant healing one person may influence another without known physical energies, and even from a distance, we have to change our theories and views about the world. Because this is strange within conventional understandings of the world, the evidence is generally ignored. It is easier to do this than to reassess our basic beliefs about the world.
Albert Einstein pointed out, earlier in this century, that matter and energy are interchangeable. Quantum physics has amply confirmed his theory.
Conventional, Newtonian medicine continues to address the body primarily as matter. Healers have been saying for a long time that they are addressing the energy body when they do healings.
Healers report that several interpenetrating, subtle energy fields surround the physical body. They claim that the physical body is an expression of the states of these energy fields, each of which is distinctly related to an aspect of being (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual). The fields are said to be hierarchically organized. The emotional and mental fields can therefore also influence the physical body.
These subtle energy fields extend to various distances from the physical body. Though only a few sensitive people are able to perceive these subtle energies as visual halos or auras of color around the bodies of living organisms and inanimate objects, many people can sense them with their hands. One has only to hold one's hand's near each other and then move them slowly apart and back together to sense these. About 90 percent of doctors and nurses I have instructed in workshops on healing are able to perceive these, and 25-75 percent of general audiences can do so as well. (The lower percents are among academics and others who have difficulties in letting go of thinking about what they are doing in order simply to do it or be with it and let their bodies experience these energies.)
The human body is a very sensitive instrument for the perception of subtle energies. This presents problems of "noise" in perceiving and interpreting human reports. There is also a wide variability in healers' subjective experiences of perceiving and directing energies. Most people who are gifted with healing are not academically or research oriented. These problems have contributed to the difficulties of science in accepting reports of healers.
We can see that energy medicine and allopathic approaches simply represent the two sides of Einstein's equation, E = mc2.
am fascinated as a psychiatrist and healer to read about the psychological and
social processes of paradigm shifts, as scientists assimilated the new concepts
of quantum physics. It took several decades of research before these observations,
which run counter to our ordinary experiences of the world, were accepted. A similar
process is apparent with psi healing.
Why is it so hard for conventional medicine and science to accept healing as a valid and potent treatment?
Modern science has gone through a similar process with quantum physics.
Some of the observations of modern physics, which relate to the energy side of the equation, are counter-intuitive to conventional physics, and to "everyday, common sense."
In conventional physics and medicine, linear interactions are the rule. (Note another prejudicial term.) We deal with measurable forces which produce measurable effects in material objects or chemicals.
In quantum physics, it has been shown that non-local effects may occur. An electron may be understood both as a particle and as a wave function. Single electrons may bilocate when passing through two slits. Time may flow backwards as well as forwards. The universe is so intricately interwoven that every element in it is ultimately influenced by every other element. An event may be considered as both occurring and not occurring -- until an observer intervenes and determines which is the case. In other words, the observer cannot be separated from the system which is being observed. Much has been made of the similarities between modern physics and psi phenomena in excellent books, such as Fritjof Capra's The Tao Physics, so I shall not belabor these.
It took several decades for scientists to accept these counter-intuitive observations of modern physics. The same is happening with healing.
may be greater difficulty with the acceptance of healing, however, as this involves
a shift in world views with far more personal consequences than the abstract and
highly theoretical shifts with quantum physics. Many people find it threatening
to learn that another person might influence them through thoughts or intentions.
Rather than examine and deal with their discomforts, they prefer to reject the
threatening concepts and to distance themselves from those who propose them. This
is analogous to the ancient method of killing the messenger who bears bad news.
People who advocate a belief in healing may be discredited and may suffer various
discriminations against them.
England is a world leader in integrating spiritual healing with conventional medicine
In the mid 1970s British healers formed a healing organization which lobbied to allow healers to treat patients in National Health Service hospitals. With one governmental (not medical) decision, 1,500 hospitals were opened to healers.
In the early 1980s, the major healing organizations joined in a Confederation which standardized a code of conduct. The code of conduct was approved by the Royal Colleges of Medicine, Surgery, Nursing and Midwifery.
Since 1988, the Doctor-Healer Network has provided a forum for doctors, nurses and other conventional health care professionals to meet with healers, other complementary therapists and clergy to explore how healing can be integrated with conventional medical care.
There are DHN regional groups in various cities in England: London; Yorkshire; Lancaster; Bath/Bristol and others. There are General Practitioners who have healers working in their surgeries, and some of the healers are paid under the NHS. Many more doctors are referring patients to healers at the healers' treatment rooms. Some doctors are developing their own healing gifts. Doctors can obtain Postgraduate Education Allowance credits for learning to develop their healing gifts. Two hospital pain centers, three hospital cancer centers, a rheumatology ward and a cardiac rehabilitation center have healers working there regularly. The Doctor-Healer Network Newsletter shares the experiences of healers and doctors between DHN groups and with interested subscribers around the world.
has this been possible? Clearly, the National Health Service, with its centralized,
governmental management facilitated this process. England is also a country where
eccentricities are cultivated, so that an interest in healing may be more tolerated
than in the States.
How do doctors change their beliefs about healing?
The research data is crucial to doctors in considering whether they would have anything to do with healing. However, the research alone will not bring about changes. In addition to convincing people at an intellectual level, they must be introduced to healing experientially.
One would think that the observation of clinical changes in patients as a result of healing might be convincing, but it usually is not. Most doctors ignore such occurrences or dismiss them as either misdiagnosis or "spontaneous remissions" (which is a convenient vehicle for admitting ignorance while not having to re-examine one's theories).
On an individual basis, it is very difficult to change the view of health care professionals. Each individual is afraid of peer censure, which can be brutally vicious. Doctors, nurses and researchers may imperil their professional advancement, research grants and their jobs by advocating something which their peers or supervisors do not accept. (In many ways this is akin to the treatments received by heretics who espoused beliefs which differed from those of their religious compatriots. This has led some to suggest that scientism is the religion of the Western world.)
I do not criticize people who are slow to assimilate new observations and theories. It took me two years after observing Ethel's healing before I was ready to explore the development of my own healing gifts, and several years more before I integrated spiritual healing into my practice of psychotherapy.
Getting doctors and nurses together in groups helps them to deal with these concerns. When one doctor lets on that he's seen a good response in a patient from healing, and a second allows that someone in his own family responded well to healing, the ice is broken. Each empowers the others to speak up. Gradually, with several meetings over a number of months, the process of healers rubbing elbows with health care professionals leads to greater mutual understanding and to cross referrals of patients.
On broader fronts there are further approaches which can be fruitful.
lobbied successfully to obtain recognition for their treatments, with almost no
research evidence to support their claims or explanations for treatments. Their
principal selling point with the medical and governmental authorities is that
they have professional standards of conduct and peer regulation. Lobbying is a
legitimate way to alter the status of healing and other complementary therapies.
The public is learning to appreciate healing and other complementary therapies much more quickly than the health care professionals
One of my favorite cartoons is of a patient standing before the receptionist's desk, asking: "Does the doctor hug?"
The public, voting with their dollars, are bringing about greater acceptance of complementary therapies in the US. David Eisenberg, M.D. published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in January, 1993, which showed that almost as many dollars were spent in 1990 on complementary therapies as on conventional medical care. It was not long after that numbers of medical schools, including Harvard, introduced courses for medical students on complementary therapies.
In England, money also speaks. A General Practitioner in Devon published a study showing that the healer working in his practice saved money by halving the visits of patients with chronic problems and reduced their medication bills. This has been a popular item in the news media.
The safety of healing is also impressive, as measured by malpractice insurance costs. Healers pay under £4 annually for roughly the same coverage which doctors pay over £1000.
Much of the
foregoing related to the material world with which we are familiar. Perhaps even
more important is the opening to spirituality which occurs with involvement with
Healing opens us to our spirituality
Spirituality is an awareness which has atrophied in our society. Western culture is something of an aberration when compared to the majority of other cultures, where the spiritual dimensions are experienced and conceptualized as normal parts of existence -- not paranormal, mystical, or to be rejected.
Again we must clarify our terminology. When I speak of the spiritual I intend to address those realms or dimensions where awareness can visit, where time future and time past are all in the now, and where form and space are purely mental constructs.
In these dimensions our spirits continue their existence and development between physical lives. There is research evidence for this from a wide range of psi phenomena, including: Remote viewing (sometimes called traveling clairvoyance); out-of-body, near-death and deathbed vision experiences; apparitions (ghosts); channeling and other mediumistic phenomena; and reincarnation research. The research evidence from these diverse fields is, overall, consistent and produces a coherent picture. We haven't the time to review this in detail, but it is summarized in Volume III of Healing Research.
the vantage of the spiritual dimensions, our existence within the material realms
of earth is an exploration, or digression, into the very densest levels of energy.
The material body is like a garment taken up by the spirit in order to explore
particular lessons for the advancement of the soul. In our lessons we are repeatedly
present us with choices regarding relationships, attitudes and actions. If we
make poor decisions, we may not graduate into the next levels of existence, but
might have to repeat the class with other teachers. If we do graduate and leave
physical existence, we might choose an elective tutorial, sticking around in our
spirit bodies in order to help those still struggling in the physical classrooms.
At some point, we move on to further personal spiritual development in universities
which we cannot even begin to comprehend from the vantage of our earthly existence
Presented originally as Spiritual healing as the energy side of E = mc2, Lecture at the 5th Mind/Brain Symposium of the Scientific and Medical Network, Institute of Psychiatry, London, October 1994.
Copyright © Daniel J. Benor, M.D. 1994