Spiritual healing

March 22, 2017


Spiritual healing

Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Absent healing, archaeus, bioenergy healing, bioenergotherapy, chakras, clairsentient readings, distant healing, faith healing, intercessory prayer, laying on of hands, LeShan, magnetic or sympathetic medicine, mental healing, od, odyle, orgone, paranormal healing, pneuma, prani, prayer, psychic healing, reiki, scanning, shamanism, telesomatic reactions, therapeutic touch.

  • Note: Researchers apply the term "spiritual healing" somewhat loosely. Some consider all energy-based modalities as forms of spiritual healing, even though they are taught as secular.


  • The use of spiritual healing can be traced as far back as the New Testament of the Bible. In modern times, a number of therapeutic techniques involve spiritual aspects, and there is overlap between these different approaches. Individuals and organizations involved with spiritual healing may use many different approaches and styles.

  • Some schools offer certification in healing, although official licensure is lacking in this area. In England, there are thousands of practitioners registered in numerous healing organizations. Organizations may require a minimum of 2 to 3 years of training for healers.

  • Some of the therapies used in the United States that involve spiritual healing or mind/body medicine include distance healing, therapeutic touch, Ayurveda, prayer, pastoral counseling, supernatural healing sources, metaphysical healing and Reiki. These therapies may be grouped under the concept of holistic care.

  • Spiritual healing is often practiced without charge, and many different approaches and durations have been used. Treatments may be given at healing centers, in the medical setting, in hospice programs, in the home, and from a distance. Spiritual healers may also work with patients over the Internet.


  • Various theories have been proposed by healers and healing organizations to explain how these techniques might work. Reliable scientific study of these theories is limited, likely due to difficulties designing research in this area. Some healers suggest that illness is caused by imbalances in the body, and that channeling of "energy" via the healer to the patient may be therapeutic. In this model, spiritual healing is considered to be a direct interaction between the healer and an ill individual, with the intention of bringing about an improvement or cure of an illness. The healer is generally not considered to be the source of healing energy, but rather to serve as a vehicle for channeling greater forms of energy or power to the patient.

  • Depending on the technique, it is believed that energy can be passed through physical contact or distance healing. Distant approaches may include directing compassionate thoughts, intentions, or prayers towards others. Participation by the patient may also be included, and healers may encourage visualization techniques, prayer, or positive thinking.

  • Most healers do not diagnose specific illnesses, and may not relate to the disease categories used in Western medicine. More often, the aim is to help patients in more general non-specific terms, by increasing well-being or quality of life.

Scientific Evidence


These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.



It is not clear whether spiritual healing has any effect on symptoms or quality of life in asthma patients. Further research is needed.



Cancer patients, especially those who fear recurrence or are unhappy with their physicians, commonly use prayer and spiritual healing. More research is needed to address the effects of spiritual healing on anxiety, depression, and quality of life in patients with cancer.


Chronic illness

Different forms of spiritual healing have been studied for a variety of illnesses. There is not enough evidence to make a strong recommendation about the use of spiritual healing for chronic illness.


Chronic pain

There is not enough evidence to make a strong recommendation about the use of spiritual healing for the management of chronic pain.



There is limited research on the use of spiritual healing for eczema. Further research is needed.


High blood pressure (hypertension)

There is limited research on the use of spiritual healing to reduce high blood pressure.



Distant healing and prayer have been used in patients with HIV/AIDS. There is conflicting evidence in this area and more study is needed.


Neck stiffness

Spiritual healing may improve flexibility and pain in patients with neck stiffness.


Psychiatric disorders

Early research suggests that when spiritual healing is added to psychotherapy, psychiatric patients have improved relaxation and sense of well being. However, strong recommendations cannot be made at this time.


Rheumatoid arthritis

There is currently not enough evidence that spiritual healing adds any benefit to conventional treatment in rheumatoid arthritis.


Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders

Recent research suggests that spiritual healing, in the form of shamanic healing, can treat temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. More studies are needed to determine whether spiritual healing is an appropriate and effective treatment for TMJ disorders.


*Key to grades:A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).


The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • Aging, alcohol withdrawal, amyloidosis, anxiety, blood vessel disease, breast cancer, cervical disc disease, depression, diabetes, dissociative identity disorder (DID), epilepsy, fibromyalgia, gallstones, gastrointestinal disorders, goiter, Graves' disease, growth rates, heart attack, heart disease, immune system enhancement, influenza prevention, insomnia, intestinal blockage, labor and delivery, low back pain, malaria, migraine headache, multiple sclerosis, pancreatic cancer, pregnancy, quality of life (breast cancer), reducing side effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, schizophrenia, sickle cell disease, stress, surgical anxiety, tension, tranquilizer/sedation, trauma, tumors, viral infection, warts, wound healing.


Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

  • Spiritual healing should not be used as the only treatment approach for medical or psychiatric conditions, and should not delay the time it takes to consider more proven therapies. When spiritual healing leads to delays in medical treatment, disease symptoms may worsen.

  • Spiritual healing may be unsafe to use in individuals who may be inclined to self-blame or shame if they do not get the desired results from spiritual healing.

  • Spiritual healing techniques appear to be otherwise safe. Many medical traditions include spiritual aspects as a part of their overall approaches to ill patients.

Author Information

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Astin JA, Harkness E, Ernst E. The efficacy of "distant healing": a systematic review of randomized trials. Ann Intern Med 2000;132(11):903-910. View Abstract

  2. Astin JA, Stone J, Abrams DI, et al. The efficacy of distant healing for human immunodeficiency virus--results of a randomized trial. Altern Ther Health Med. 2006 Nov-Dec;12(6):36-41. View Abstract

  3. Atwood KC. The efficacy of spiritual healing. Ann Intern Med 2001;134(12):1150. View Abstract

  4. Brown CK. Methodological problems of clinical research into spiritual healing: the healer's perspective. J Altern Complement Med 2000;6(2):171-176. View Abstract

  5. Crawford CC, Sparber AG, Jonas WB. A systematic review of the quality of research on hands-on and distance healing: clinical and laboratory studies. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 May-Jun;9(3 Suppl):A96-104. Review. View Abstract

  6. Ernst E. Complementary and alternative medicine for pain management in rheumatic disease. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2002 Jan;14(1):58-62. Review. View Abstract

  7. Everett W, Aberra F, Bisson G, et al. Spiritual healing as a therapy of chronic pain: a randomized, clinical trial. Pain 2002;96(1-2):219-220. View Abstract

  8. Gerard S, Smith BH, Simpson JA. A randomized controlled trial of spiritual healing in restricted neck movement. J Altern Complement Med. 2003 Aug;9(4):467-77. View Abstract

  9. Gundersen L. Faith and healing. Ann Intern Med 2000;132(2):169-172. View Abstract

  10. Jonas WB, Crawford CC. The healing presence: can it be reliably measured? J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Oct;10(5):751-6. View Abstract

  11. le Gallez P, Dimmock S, Bird HA. Spiritual healing as adjunct therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. Br J Nurs 2000;9(11):695-700. View Abstract

  12. Montazeri A, Sajadian A, Ebrahimi M, et al. Factors predicting the use of complementary and alternative therapies among cancer patients in Iran. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2007 Mar;16(2):144-9. Review. View Abstract

  13. Salib E, Youakim S. Spiritual healing in elderly psychiatric patients: a case-control study in an Egyptian psychiatric hospital. Aging Ment Health 2001;5(4):366-370. View Abstract

  14. Vuckovic NH, Gullion CM, Williams LA, et al. Feasibility and short-term outcomes of a shamanic treatment for temporomandibular joint disorders. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Nov-Dec;13(6):18-29. View Abstract

  15. Walach H, Lewith G, Bosch H, et al. Spiritual healing as a therapy for chronic pain: a randomized, clinical trial. Pain 2002;96(3):403-405. View Abstract

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017