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How Illusive Is Health?

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Photo by ce matin, un lapinMost of the world knows what’s going on in Hollywood because that’s what Hollywood does best – show the world how artistic and creative the entertainment capital of the world is.

Since I’m really a transplanted Midwesterner, I developed my insights about Hollywood and its workings through my wife when she was in graduate school studying theatre arts. She was preceded at her university by Tennessee Williams, whose Master’s thesis was rejected by the head of the department with the statement, “Every artist must paint his nudes.” The rejected thesis was “The Glass Menagerie.” Well, we know what happened with “The Glass Menagerie” – it became a classic.

Today, my interest has been aroused by the passionate debates about health care. Some proposals have recently been introduced, such as mandatory and standard benefit insurance coverage. Will this debate need to go through what “The Glass Menagerie” went through, and what will be the result?

As this debate continues, evidence is mounting that more than just the body needs to be considered when treating for health – that mind-body and spiritual qualities are integral to health. For example, UCLA is one of nine locations funded by the Templeton Group Foundation to develop tools for physicians and chaplains to work together in treating patients. This initiative ties in with the 2002 NIH study indicating that when complementary therapies were used for patient treatment, of the ten therapies assessed, prayer was the most used by patients (43%).

Even within the medical field, physicians are validating the need for spiritual care. A survey of American family physicians found that 99 percent of these physicians are convinced that spiritual beliefs can heal. Further, 75 percent believe that the prayers of others can help a patient recover more quickly. This opening of thought is also evident in the general public, as shown by a Pew Research survey in which 36 percent of Americans say they’ve experienced or seen healing through prayer.

From biblical times to the contemporary, individuals such as Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine, have found the link between thought and the body. Dr. Benson found that when he started his medical practice more than 35 years ago, the term “mind/body medicine” was unknown. Contrary to the medical thought of the late 1960’s, his work linked stress to physical health. Now he feels gratified by today’s unprecedented interest in the unity of mind and body and working in this scientifically validated field.

Mary Baker Eddy, an early researcher, and the author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, noted, “If we understood the control of Mind over body, we should put no faith in material means.”

As Hollywood continues to lead thought in presenting art forms, researchers and patients are in a position to lead thought toward the fact that spirituality and prayer are more than just options. They are at the core of health.

Photo Credit: ce matin, un lapin

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About Don Ingwerson

Previously in the education sector as Superintendent of Schools, Don Ingwerson now serves as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Southern California and corrects misconceptions about Christian Science. Don is a frequent blogger about health and spirituality.
  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @ Don,

    Patients should have the right to be treated how they wish,but, that decision should be based upon fact NOT fiction. The human mind is a mysteriously powerful organ that can help people overcome huge obstacles and just because we don’t fully understand how or why this happens (as of yet) doesn’t lend any credibility to a tradition that hasn’t had any scientific evidence to back it up in over 2000 years!

    Honestly, I still don’t get how this material gets published under Sci/Tech when it is neither!

  • Don Ingwerson

    Thank you for your comments about the article I wrote. The next article I write on prayer & health I will try to at least mention other views. I do appreciate your acknowledgement that there might be two or more sides to the question. I think the debate on health should continue and that the public should be able to make a choice in how they wish to be treated.

  • It’s a big leap to claim that prayer is beneficial to health, particularly as its advocates almost always disregard the fact that illnesses naturally run their course and never, ever consider the possibility that the patient would simply have got better on their own whether they had prayed or not.

    Belief in the efficacy of prayer is mostly just confirmation bias: the patient recovered, therefore the prayers must have worked. (If the patient didn’t recover, rationalization kicks in, the usual excuses being “it wasn’t in God’s plan” or “she didn’t have enough faith”.)

    Interestingly, Mr Ingwerson cites only opinion polls conducted among doctors (appeal to authority) and the general public (appeal to popularity) in support of his thesis. He either disregards or hasn’t heard of the numerous studies demonstrating that prayer doesn’t work – or, more specifically, that the results of prayer are indistinguishable from chance.