by Stephanie M. Edwards, MBA, PsyD (ABD)
The power of belief is a fascinating area of exploration, a field that bridges faith with the physiologic basis of the body’s ability to heal itself. Scientists have been captivated by two effects: the placebo effect and the nocebo effect. Whether one believes that a process has a beneficial nature or harmful nature can drive a respective result. Researchers demonstrated, in one study, that the placebo effect can result in the same analgesic effect as a medium dose of morphine (8mg). This is both mind-boggling and miraculous, but is this process explainable in the realm of science? Or does it require a leap of faith to assume other forces are involved or heretofore unexplainable through the limits of science?
The Western model of health is reductionist and incomplete. It can only scratch the surface of the dynamic forces involved in life. Whether doctors accept or reject the relevance of faith practices on health, many people regularly pray to a higher power for hope, answers, and healing. In fact, the Blue Zone study found that a belief in a higher power is one of the elements of a long, healthy life.
In this personal narrative article, Stephanie approaches healing at the angle of belief systems and sociology. She recounts some of her personal experiences with faith healing and describes the influence on religion on the health of African American populations and other groups. She invites the reader to consider whether there can be room for faith healing to complement traditional, Western medicine.
No one knows what transpires with faith healing- whether it represents the interplay of self-healing mechanisms within the vascular system brought on by neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin with touch) and hormones triggered by faith and touch or the miraculous transfer of the healing power of God through a healer, or both. Do you believe?
Christopher M. Cirino, DO MPH
Editor and Founder of Your Health Forum
Faith Healing: Do You Believe? by Stephanie M. Edwards, MBA, PsyD
Table of Contents
The topic of faith and healing, commonly referred to as “faith healing,” has been considered a time-honored truth to some and a controversial fallacy to others. I would argue for it being the truth, based on my own experiences. When I was a tiny child, I remember my grandmother watching the Christian televangelists praying over people and claiming to heal them.
The process looked rather aggressive and scary to me back then; so, it is conceivable that some people will doubt that faith healing is real, or they may be put off by what they have seen. I had not thought much about it until a few years later when I saw some human-interest stories about faith healing. People were praying or just being very quiet and placing their hands upon others in various places in an attempt to heal. I was fascinated by the recipients who excitedly claimed that the people healed them.
Somehow, I was convinced that I could heal people too, even without understanding anything about prayer, because I wanted my sprained ankle to stop hurting, or for my cousins’ cuts, scrapes, and bruises (from all of our summer outdoors play) to go away quickly. I had so much more to learn! So, what is faith healing really?
Faith, Healing, and Faith Healing Defined
Faith is the binding confidence (Osler, 1910) in a set of deeply held beliefs and values that governs personal behavior and one’s outlook on life. It is often rooted in religion, focusing on the guidance of one deity or numerous deities. However, people can have faith in non-religious constructs or systems with characteristic guiding behaviors and practices, like science, medicine, luck (as with gambling), and astrology.
Imagination has an active influence on how faith operates (Osler, 1910). In other words, the mind’s eye has to have a vision for a desired or expected outcome or state of existence to aim for it. (Except for medical science, the non-religious types of faith will not be discussed or debated in depth here.)
Healing is the marked improvement of a person’s physical or mental state, or the complete eradication of injuries, sickness, or disease over time, or, in some instances, instantaneously and miraculously. So, faith healing embodies the belief that healing can ultimately be achieved through faith practices, including prayer with reverence to a deity and meditation (with or without such reverence), which can be done individually or collectively; and, those practices can be accompanied with other physical treatments and/or mental health counseling.
Faith healing is healing that amazingly and remarkably seems to result from solely relying on practices that are based on faith or combining them with science-based practices. Faith healing is far from new, and it has not been limited to Christianity, as people with all types of beliefs, including those who have practiced old world religions, have practiced faith healing.
Unfortunately, over the years, since the use of modern medicine, there have been many instances in which faith healing has been summed up as medical neglect and abuse, and even murder or manslaughter, when the outcome of sole reliance upon faith to heal has resulted in the death of a person, especially a child; and the practitioners faced legal penalties (Peters, 2008). These sad stories have made people shy away from the idea of faith healing, with a preference for modern, traditional medicine as the mode of treatment.
Particularly, people had historically misunderstood the Christian Science movement to be one that rejects physical methods of healing, when that movement was meant to address the mental and emotional aspects of dealing with the fear and stress from daily living, which can ultimately lead to the development of various functional disorders (Osler, 1910). Here, the focus is on the positive outcomes of faith healing as a stand-alone treatment or as one that can be coupled with traditional medicine, (natural or herbal) alternative medicine, and complementary or integrative medicine.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons
Faith Healing within Society
There is the misconception that faith healing and medicine have to be “all-or-nothing” approaches to restoring people to healthy states. Sometimes it is that way, depending on the health problem that exists. However, patients can work with their primary doctors to establish health action plans to incorporate both faith healing and medicine, if necessary.
One study found that family physicians are more likely to ask patients about their religious backgrounds to gain an understanding of health behaviors that can affect health outcomes (Lee-Poy et al., 2016). Although 65% of the physicians that participated in the study responded that they thought it was important to ask patients about their patients’ religious beliefs sometimes, over half of the physicians that participated in the study believed that their patients’ religious beliefs were irrelevant to health care, and one-fifth of the respondents believed that it was not their business to ask (Lee-Poy et al., 2016).
Attitudes like that can make it more challenging to answer physician’s questions about how well patients are healing, whether better or worse than expected. In some cases, the physician’s level of training played a role in asking about their patients’ religious backgrounds (Lee-Poy et al., 2016); so, that is an issue that should be reviewed by medical colleges and universities to help close a gap in understanding.
Among African-Americans, study have shown that a high level of religiosity and worship participation has protective effects on health that mitigate the effects of stress and other psychosocial factors, like grief (Levin et al., 2005). Interestingly, at the time of those studies, such effects had not been found in other racial groups to the same extent (Levin et al., 2005). This calls to mind the early 2020 orders to shut down churches and also, specifically, to prevent choirs from singing during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the African-American community across the United States.
Regarding health maintenance, could it be possible that doing so caused the African-American members of church congregations to experience more harm than good during the COVID-19 shutdowns? There is a relevant biblical scripture: “Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me! I will sing his praises with instruments every day of my life in the Temple of the Lord (Isaiah 38:20 NLT).”
Personal Experiences with Faith Healing
I have had a number of personal experiences with faith healing. Some of them were before I officially was baptized and became a member of a United Methodist Church. The majority of the faith healing experiences were afterward because I had begun to better understand the mind, body, and spirit connection, prayer, and building and re-building faith, based upon the life of Jesus. I also have some understanding of human anatomy, physiology, and psychology from my academic studies, which provides some insight into causation and makes it easier to focus on where to direct the healing.
I learned about an intention-based, hands-on, and distance healing method that some Christians might object to, as they may consider it to be a New Age treatment. However, my understanding is that Jesus healed some people by touching them and others through their faith, without physically handling them; so, I am able to make the mental correlation in practice.
Several years ago, I took a class to get certified to practice a hands-on and distance healing technique called Quantum Touch (QT). My mother had been taking exercise classes at a senior center, and the instructor was getting certified as a trainer of QT. The instructor needed people to attend the classes, so she invited my mother and her friend (a nurse) to register. They thought it would be good for me to take the class, too, since I had been enrolled in a post-baccalaureate pre-medicine program.
I decided to take the class because I remembered my earlier fascination with healing and thought it might be interesting. It just happened that I had not been able to hear with my right ear for about a month and a half. (I have had problems with my ears since I was an infant, and, as a small child, I was diagnosed with partial hearing loss in my right ear.) For a while, during the training, I did not seem to be able to do much with the techniques to help the other participants, as we all were taking turns practicing on each other. I was not quite convinced that it was a worthy method of healing until my mother took her turn practicing on me.
The lead trainer suggested that we focus on some particular issue that I had, so I told my mother to try the techniques on my right ear. I felt uncomfortable for a while, then I started this feeling unsettling pain, which I had not felt before. I told my mother that she was hurting me, but then I realized that her hand was mostly hovering over my ear or just very lightly touching it. It took about 10 minutes before my ear suddenly popped, then it felt like something huge was being pulled out of my ear. It popped one more time, and I could hear! Everything was loud and clear! That built my confidence.
The next time I practiced on a fellow participant, I could see the difference as we were trying to level her uneven hips. This was all because I started to believe that the QT methods worked. I had newly developed faith that those methods were a viable healing option. Since then, I have used some QT methods to get rid of headaches, to straighten out a student’s dislocated thumb through distance healing (from across a sitting area), to help a badly injured kitten stand again, and to realign my own dislocated knee.
Photo Source: Creative Commons
Faith Healing as a Christian
I was a member of the choir at my church. At the time, I had been going through some challenges, and one of my favorite gospel songs to make me feel better was called “Open My Eyes” (Miami Music Workshop Choir, 2000). I had never sung solo in church but ended up singing that very song. It was at the bedside of one of the church musicians while he was hospitalized. He had been in an induced coma for an extended period, and his doctors were unable to wake him.
The situation was becoming desperate. His wife got the idea to ask if the hospital would allow the choir to come to sing to him in the ICU because she just knew that he would hear us and wake up, as he loved being a musician at the church and working with the choir. The hospital granted her permission to give it a try.
When I arrived with one of the other choir members, our new pastor and a nurse were the only people in the room. The pastor said that she wanted to pray over our musician, but she needed singing to help usher in the Holy Spirit. She asked me to sing. I almost panicked, telling her that I did not sing solos at church. She asked me just to sing one of my favorite songs and then asked other choir members to do the same after I finished.
The pastor told me to hold the musician’s hand while I sang. I picked up his hand and held it, closed my eyes, and sang. When I finished, the other choir member picked a song that required both of us to sing, but he sang the solo part. He was holding the musician’s hand then. As we were finishing up the song, the pastor began praying, and I closed my eyes.
Soon, I felt someone touch my back; so, I opened my eyes and saw that the rest of the choir had arrived and were standing behind us. Can you imagine that there were more than 20 people in that ICU room? The pastor continued to pray. We then sang a few songs before leaving.
Late the next morning, I was checking my email, and I saw a group message from the choir director’s mother, who had an outpatient visit at the same hospital, so she stopped by to visit the musician. Her message simply read, “This morning, at 8:30 AM, (Musician) OPENED HIS EYES!” I took her message to be a sign from God to absolutely believe that He works healing miracles.
I also found it interesting that I never saw the choir director’s mother in the room with us before or immediately after I sang that song, “Open My Eyes” (Miami Music Workshop Choir, 2000). Maybe she had come in while I was singing, briefly left, and returned with the rest of the choir members. It does not really matter, though, because I am convinced that our combined faith led to a miracle healing in less than 24 hours.
Another example of using faith healing was when my daughter was about four years old, and my adult niece broke a bowl in the kitchen sink, sending a small shard of glass into my daughter’s left eye. My daughter screamed and ran out of the kitchen.
At first, she appeared to be fine. After several minutes had passed, she started crying and saying that her eye hurt. I was concerned, because I had been observing for changes in that particular eye since her birth; it stayed red for months and was easily irritated. My daughter never liked for her face to be touched near her eyes and nose. She would fight to keep me from wiping at her eyes. I did not know what to do because she was wailing. So, I sat her on my lap, hugged her, lightly placed my right hand over her eye, and started praying over her out loud.
In less than two minutes, something made me move my hand back. When I did, this 3mm by 2mm shard of glass popped out of her eye and into my hand. The crying stopped. I had not been able to see the glass in her eye, but it had moved up and back. I praised God for that small miracle! To follow up, I have had my daughter’s eye thoroughly checked by eye doctors several times since then, and there has never been any sign of damage.
Is Faith Healing Worth Trying?
No matter which belief system a person subscribes to, each person demonstrates faith in something at some level. This means that there is some modality of faith healing that can work for everyone, provided that no one neglects to seek urgent care or emergency medical treatment when there is an obvious physical need to do so.
In every belief system scenario, there is the possibility of faith healing getting bad reviews when there are bad actors or very uninformed people who blindly follow corrupt leaders with evil intentions. If you keep the mindset that the purpose of having faith is to drive all of your efforts to becoming and maintaining your best possible self with the best outcomes, you could understand that health optimization is a part of the process.
Faith healing is definitely worth trying, especially as a complement to traditional medicine, as long as the modality is within your comfort zone and according to your faith.
About the Author
Stephanie M. Edwards, MBA, PsyD (ABD), is a Chicago native. She has studied the life sciences, community health, sociology, business administration, and psychology and has a broad range of employment experiences, including several that have focused on developing people and providing them with the resources they need or desire to thrive and live healthy, well-adjusted lives. Currently a homeschooling parent, Stephanie works independently. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, catching up with friends, listening to music, singing, making jewelry, creating art designs for her Redbubble online artist’s shop, taking dance classes, and watching gymnastics, ice skating, extreme sports, basketball, and boxing.
Isaiah 38:20. Holy Bible. New International Version. https://bible.com/bible/116/isa.38.20.NLT
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