Many believe faith heals
December 16, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Andrew Holtz
DURHAM, North Carolina (CNN) -- Family doctors overwhelmingly believe that religious faith can help patients heal, according to a survey released Monday.
Ninety-nine percent of doctors in an American Academy of Family Physicians survey believe there is an important relationship between the spirit and the flesh.
Duke University Dr. Harold Koenig is one of the many M.D.s convinced that faith can aid in the healing process.
"Of those thousands of people that I've talked to, a large percentage of them will just right off the bat talk about their faith," Koenig said of his research into how people cope with serious illness. "They say, `Well, prayer helps me to cope, reading the Bible helps me, talking to God, Jesus, helps me to cope.'"
Lorene Burns is a patient of Koenig's who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. She is also under the watchful eye of her husband, Paul.
Paul Burns regularly reads the Bible to his stricken wife in the belief that it can only help. There is also the chance that Burns' faith may be helping him get through the trauma of her disease.
Power of prayer?
Koenig and colleagues recently found that people who regularly attend church have half the rate of depression of infrequent churchgoers. But the poll of 4,000 people did not find any similar correlation between depression and people watching religious television programming, or those praying at home.
Doctors do not believe the effects of faith are as straightforward as, say, the benefits of a good diet. Nor do doctors think a sudden conversion during severe illness would be of the same benefit as a lifelong commitment to a religious belief.
Research in the U.S. has focused on people of Judeo-Christian faiths, leaving the effects of other spiritual beliefs unprobed and unclear.
Duke's Koenig still relies on medicine as his weapon of choice against disease, but he does see a role for faith. Practical experience and a growing collection of medical evidence support his position.
"Patients want their doctors to address religion, because it's so meaningful in their lives," said Koenig. "They want their doctors to address it."
Medical researchers say the benefits of religion may be as simple as helping the immune system by reducing stress.
But the faith of people like Paul Burns is not placed entirely in logical explanations offered by learned men in white coats.
"I think maybe God had something in mind when he put me and my wife together," said Burns. "I think he probably felt that she needed somebody to help her."
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