Reply Tue 10 Jun, 2008 04:25 pm
Faith Healing has been looked at for many decades in a few ways.
The obvious is that it is totally fake and fraudulent.
The other is that it works.

Some people have said that it is a temporary relief of pain that is the result of a state of euphoria brought on by the state of mind at the time as well as the emotional influence that is incurred by having a crowd of people chanting and praying simultaneously.

But there have been cases that have been shown where a recipient has stayed in remission of their ailment for incredibly long periods of time...and never relapsed.

There have been skeptics and believers alike.


What are your thoughts?
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Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Jun, 2008 04:51 pm
@Aristoddler,
That people should see doctors.

I'm a big fan of spiritual healing - healing of the spirit. And I think some of these practices can positively influence one's health.

But you can treat the mind all day and never do anything to help that failing liver, or lung cancer, or whatever else is afflicting some part of the body.

So, basically, I see some overlapping usefulness of modern medicine and spiritual practice with respect to psychology, but that's it. Your lung cancer will not disappear because you believe it will. Regardless of the depth of faith.
paisleypea
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Jun, 2008 06:55 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
i personally have experinced immediate healing as a result of prayer, (granted it was a minor thing) so i have to say that i do think it works sometimes, obviously not for every instance.

i think it has to do with the placebo effect and chemical stuff going on in the brain when you are being "spiritual" or in prayer.

this probably sounds crazy to some of you guys but i think people work this way as a positive reinforcement for having faith from a somewhat hands off kind of creator that likes to remain anonymous a lot of the time. but thats a whole different topic really Smile
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Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Jun, 2008 09:48 pm
@Aristoddler,
Ok, let's set some things straight from a medical point of view.

First, individual anecdotes (of anything) have no probative value in medicine. Individual case reports and even case series are only useful in medicine when we lack an actual study. You can relate that you've been cured by faith healing, or that vitamin C cured your cold, or that asparagus cured your cancer. But that offers no causal proof even in your own individual case -- and it has no generalizability at all.

So if you want to discuss whether faith healing "works" in a general sense -- or for that matter the therapeutic efficacy of anything -- you need to set the anecdotes aside because they just don't help.

Second, if we want to talk about whether faith healing works, we need to first think about how that can be proved. This first involves defining the problem better. We need to think about how we will define our target population, our intervention, and our outcome measures.

For a target population, we need to choose a reasonably uniform group of patients with a reasonably uniform spectrum of disease. This allows us to limit confounding variables that have to do with their illness. So whatever, take patients with metastatic non small cell lung cancer, or patients with NYHA Class IV heart failure, or patients with dialysis-dependent renal failure, or whatever. Or an acute condition like community-acquired pneumonia, or meningococcal meningitis, or supraventricular tachycardia.

For outcome measures, pick something appropriate to the disease condition. So pick length of hospitalization, or rehospitalization rate, or cost of hospitalization, or 5-year survival rate, or recurrence rate, or pick a marker of disease progression. And define exactly when and how these outcome measures will be collected.

For intervention, you MUST find a way to isolate faith healing in a way that makes any effect on outcome clearly an effect of faith healing and not some other confounder. Thus, you CANNOT compare people who pray to people who don't pray -- because there may be innumerable other aspects of their psychology and lifestyle that affect outcome. You CANNOT compare people who KNOW people are praying for them with people who do not have such knowledge -- because it might be only the sympathy and not the prayer that has an effect.

In fact the best way is to take patients who never pray themselves, then either have true faith healers attend to half of them and false (placebo) faith healers attend to the other half. OR you need to have "secret" faith healing for half of them but not the other half and the patients never learn about it.

Finally, a little about biostatistics. In order to have statistically meaningful results, you first need to do a power analysis. What this means is that you need to pick a level of statistical confidence in your results and determine what sample size you need to recruit. Most clinical trials will require hundreds if not thousands of patients.


So let me ask, is there such a trial about faith healing that defines its parameters so clearly, that eliminates confounders, and that has a meaningful sample size? No, there is not. Which means that we really don't know if faith healing per se is helpful, or if the evidence in favor of it is confused by all kinds of other uncontrolled variables.

For instance, religious people might at a population level have better outcomes than non-religious people because of community support or because of optimistic outlook or because of avoidance of destructive health behaviors. So if you compare religious people with non-religious people, then it will be impossible to tell whether it's faith healing or some other factor that accounts for a difference in outcomes.
paisleypea
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 07:08 pm
@Aedes,
well some studies have been done. i'm not sure what all the controls and details were. maybe they weren't very accurate. but i thought we were just sharing our thoughts on the idea, not outlining how to conduct an experiment to test it, no? :confused:
Solace
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 07:27 pm
@Aedes,
Quote:

Posted by Aedes:
In fact the best way is to take patients who never pray themselves,


Well this sort of creates a problem for the whole deal, because most, if not all, people who believe in faith healing also believe that it is the patient's own faith that determines the liklihood of success.

And that's about all I'll say on the matter, cause my own views on faith healing won't likely find a very receptive audience.
0 Replies
 
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 07:38 pm
@paisleypea,
Quote:
So let me ask, is there such a trial about faith healing that defines its parameters so clearly, that eliminates confounders, and that has a meaningful sample size? No, there is not. Which means that we really don't know if faith healing per se is helpful, or if the evidence in favor of it is confused by all kinds of other uncontrolled variables.


So, from a medical standpoint, we would have to say that we have not identified any theraputic benefit associated with faith healing, and that there has not been an appropriate* trial of faith healing.

*By appropriate I mean a trial that meets the criteria you outlined above. I'm not trying to imply that faith healing should be the subject of such a trial.

Quote:
For instance, religious people might at a population level have better outcomes than non-religious people because of community support or because of optimistic outlook or because of avoidance of destructive health behaviors. So if you compare religious people with non-religious people, then it will be impossible to tell whether it's faith healing or some other factor that accounts for a difference in outcomes.


So we cannot even begin to assign any medical usefulness to a particular religious practice, faith healing, though we do have reason to suspect that some religious practices may be positive influences on health - excluding those religious practices which are of obvious medical value, like abstaining from the use of alcohol.
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 09:12 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Solace wrote:
Well this sort of creates a problem for the whole deal, because most, if not all, people who believe in faith healing also believe that it is the patient's own faith that determines the liklihood of success.
Well, you're right. It is a problem. And if you contend that faith healing only works for those that have faith, then you immediately acknowledge that it is not an intervention with generalizable benefit in medicine. And you are therefore stuck finding a way to demonstrate that it's faith healing and not faith that actually influences health. And you STILL have to show a beneficial endpoint in a defined clinical scenario.

Quote:
And that's about all I'll say on the matter, cause my own views on faith healing won't likely find a very receptive audience.
Well, if your views on faith healing are purely a matter of faith, then you probably don't care much about medical evidence. And it makes one wonder why you would ever go to a doctor or take a tylenol for a headache.

Didymos Thomas wrote:
So, from a medical standpoint, we would have to say that we have not identified any theraputic benefit associated with faith healing, and that there has not been an appropriate* trial of faith healing.

*By appropriate I mean a trial that meets the criteria you outlined above. I'm not trying to imply that faith healing should be the subject of such a trial.
Basically correct. We DO have evidence that faith healing works in some scenarios. The problem is the trials are of very poor quality, and their conclusions (whether positive or negative) are limited by the inherent limitations in study design.

And that's a NEUTRAL statement about faith healing. The upside of faith healing is that it's likely to be harmless (so long as it doesn't cause delays in delivering needed conventional therapy). This can't be said for everything. Plenty of medical therapies are potentially harmful.

And in medicine (and especially my own subspecialty of pediatric infectious diseases) we have to make many decisions without the support of strong medical evidence. But at least in these cases our decisions are made rationally based on an understood mechanism of disease and an understood mechanism of our therapeutic choices. I don't think such a rational justification exists for faith healing -- it's a faith-based justification.

Quote:
So we cannot even begin to assign any medical usefulness to a particular religious practice
This is a good exercise for all of us. Let's look at the published evidence out there for benefit in specific conditions and evaluate how strong it is. I bet the strongest literature is for people with psychiatric and substance abuse problems. I'll be away until Sunday, but I'll look into it.
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 09:50 pm
@Aedes,
Quote:
This is a good exercise for all of us. Let's look at the published evidence out there for benefit in specific conditions and evaluate how strong it is. I bet the strongest literature is for people with psychiatric and substance abuse problems. I'll be away until Sunday, but I'll look into it.


This isn't about any specific condition, but the story does cover spiritual practices which might offer some health benefits, and even some insights into understanding aspects of our physiology that we do not entirely understand:

Harvard Gazette: Meditation changes temperatures
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jun, 2008 12:18 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
There may very well be parts of our brain, that when tapped into, have the ability to heal other parts of our body.

I don't believe, however, that it is anything "magical", and probably has a very logical explanation as to why it may occur.
Solace
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jun, 2008 02:31 pm
@Aedes,
Quote:

Originally posted by Aedes:
Well, if your views on faith healing are purely a matter of faith, then you probably don't care much about medical evidence. And it makes one wonder why you would ever go to a doctor or take a tylenol for a headache.



Lol, I may come across sometimes as a religious nut-job, but beleive me, I'm not. My view on it is rather opposite from what you're suggesting.
Didymos Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2008 03:28 pm
@Solace,
Zetherin - I think you're absolutely right. And I think the monks would also agree - nothing magical is happening.
0 Replies
 
edwardelrich
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2008 03:55 pm
@Zetherin,
The way i see it it's miraculous when a person is all of a sudden cured from
a certain ailment when prayed for. I say God wether people believe or not.
I also think there are just some things that shouldn't be questioned and
can't be explained atleast, not by our minds.
0 Replies
 
 

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