About half of my practice involves working with clients of all ages at a distance. I’ve recently received more questions about “what is it?” and “how does it work?” so I’m going to do a few basics here. Please understand that volumes have been written about this, so I’m not going to adequately capture this in a blog post, even one this long. But I’d like to at least address the basic question, so I’ll include my own personal thoughts, as well as some hard scientific research available to us. Today I’ll talk about research and some of those impacts, and in a following post I’ll get into the more personal and spiritual aspects of it.
Dr. Daniel Benor, MD, a leading researcher in this field, includes distance healing under the larger heading of “spiritual healing,” and defines it thus:
Spiritual healing is the systematic, purposeful intervention by one or more persons aiming to help another living being (person, animal, plant or other living system) by means of focused intention, hand contact, or passes to improve their condition. Spiritual healing is brought about without the use of conventional energetic, mechanical, or chemical interventions. … Psychological interventions are inevitably part of healing, but spiritual healing adds many dimensions to interpersonal factors…these types of healing include distant healing, which is healing that is deliberately sent by one or more healers as an intent, wish, meditation, or prayer to a healee who may be in the healers’ presence or may be far away. Distance, even thousands of miles, does not appear to limit the effects of healing.
Dr. Benor includes the clinical research of many studies on his website, as well as other articles related to holistic health and healing. One of the studies discussed by Dr. Benor was published by Sicher, Targ, et al, which studied the effects of distant healing on AIDS at California Pacific Medical Center’s Complementary Medicine Research Institute. This study focused on 40 volunteers who had advanced AIDS. Study participants were randomly assigned to receive either distant healing or no healing. All received standard medical care from their own doctors, at several different medical centers.
Distant healing was sent by 40 healers in various parts of the United States. All healers had at least five years experience, and were accustomed to sending distant healing. Healers had only the first names and photographs of five of the subjects. They sent healing for an hour each day, six days per week, over a 10-week period. Healers were rotated randomly in weekly patient assignments, so that every patient had 10 different healers who sent healing over the course of their treatment. Healers’ religious backgrounds included Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Native American and other Shamanic traditions, and healing traditions included several modern-day healing schools. After six months, a medical chart review was conducted by a doctor who was blind to treatment assignments.
There were no significant differences between healing and control groups on demographic and study variables prior to the start of distant healing treatments. At six months following the initial assessment, those sent distant healing had significantly fewer AIDS-related illnesses and lower severity of illness. Visits to doctors, hospitals and overall admissions to hospitals were less frequent. Mood indicators showed significantly more improvement in the group assigned to distance healing. If you’d like to read more about this study and others, you can find information here. If you’d like to read more about Dr. Targ, who presented the study, that can be found here.
Numerous studies about distance healing have repeatedly shown its efficacy, regardless of the beliefs of the study participants or researchers. Researchers at the HeartMath Institute showed distant healing could alter the rate of winding and unwinding of strands of DNA, which has far-reaching implications for other studies regarding our cell biology and genetics, assumptions about heredity and much more.
The typical opposition to distance healing comes in two basic packages. The first, and most common argument comes in some form of “I don’t understand how it could work.” My somewhat flippant answer to that is generally along the lines of “you don’t know how your TV works either, but it doesn’t stop you from watching the super bowl.” The truth is that I don’t know how my car works, but I drive it. I don’t know how to fix my washing machine, but I know who to call when the spin cycle goes on strike. So let’s get honest—do you know what makes your heart beat, or your neurons fire, how the antibiotics you take for strep work? For that matter, can you explain in scientific terms what makes you love your mother, your mate, your kids or your dog? An honest answer to those questions, for most of us, is “no,” and even a cardiologist can’t really explain the underlying energy that makes the human heart tick or not.
As Thoreau said, With all your science can you tell me how it is, and whence it is, that light comes into the soul? In truth, our own prejudice or inability to understand how something works should not be a real reason for refusing to utilize a viable and reliable form of healing.
On the flip side we find the placebo effect, which some physicians are actually beginning to refer to as “self-healing.” The placebo effect basically says that if you believe something works, then it will work. It has been assigned to the weak, uneducated, silly patient who is easily influenced by the mind. This dismissal of the power of the patient to be involved in his or her own healthcare is a model of curing, rather than of healing, and in my opinion misses the entire point. More thoughts on the differences in healing vs. curing can be found on the July 11, 2010 post on this blog.
A fascinating study conducted at the Baylor School of Medicine and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 studied arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee. The study was testing the efficacy of surgical procedures in patients presenting with arthritis of the knee. The study included 180 participants and the surgeries were performed by Dr. Bruce Moseley, the author of the study. Dr. Moseley was convinced that the knee surgery would help the patients, he just wanted to study which procedures helped the most and provided most symptom relief.
The study divided patients into three groups. Dr. Moseley shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of the first group. The second group concentrated on the knee joint itself, flushing out the joint and removing the material thought to be causing the pain and inflammation. The third group was the control and got a phony surgery. The patient was sedated, incisions were made and the patients were treated just as the other two groups were. Dr. Moseley even splashed water around to simulate the sounds of the knee washing part of the surgery. The three groups were prescribed the same follow up rehab, follow up visits and exercise.
The results were fascinating: There was zero statistical significance in the three groups. The groups who received the real surgery did in fact improve. But so did the placebo group, at exactly the same rates. The surgical groups did not have greater pain relief, arthritis or mobility. In fact, Dr. Moseley reported in his findings that objectively measured walking and stair climbing were worse in the debridement group than in the placebo group at two weeks, at one year and showed a trend toward worse functioning at two years.
The Discovery Channel later interviewed the doctor and some participants. One of the participants receiving the fake surgery, which was really no more than some incisions in the knee and follow up treatments, used to walk with a cane and had pain, trouble walking and so on. He reported feeling great and playing basketball with his grandchildren.
Dr. Moseley began his article in the New England Journal of Medicine by noting that over 650,000 knee surgeries are performed in this country each year, at a cost of over $5000 each. This does not include the cost, time and pain of follow up visits, physical therapy, lost time from work or life in general. He later said that he realized his skill as a surgeon had no effect on the patient or the knee. He attributed the entire healing to the placebo effect and followed up by saying, “In this world anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I know your mind can work miracles.”
So are the results of alternative medicine and distance work all placebo effect? That is the most interesting part of this for me. When working with small children who never talk to me or even know they are being worked on, when studying AIDS patients or many others, the results for distance healing seem to fair better than even mainstream surgery. You can read more about these things here.
I believe we create our own reality, but even more, I believe we are co-creators with the Divine, and that healing is always possible. While there is a difference between healing and curing, we are participants in both of those possibilities. Goethe said,
I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.
I think healing of all kinds, from all kinds of healers, helps all of us become aware we are capable of becoming and embodying the fullness of life, of love and of all that can hold.
Furthermore, I believe that if you pray for someone, you have just engaged in distance healing. I believe love heals. I believe warm cookies and good coffee, good conversation, time with good friends and the giggles of children are healing. Thinking of someone you love, even at a distance, lowers the blood pressure and opens the heart and mind. Using the services of a skillful healer can guide you on your own healing journey and can help you find peace and healing of many forms.
Stay tuned for the next post on distance healing, and feel free to post your own experiences with distance healing and its effects. Next time we’ll discuss the emotional and spiritual nature of distance healing. Same bat time, same bat channel 😉
Have a great weekend. 🙂