Medicine Meets Faith: Rivals Seek Reconciliation to Aid Healing

Article excerpt

A Physician's young son taught his dad a lesson he will never forget.

When little Louis became ill during the night, Dale Matthews twice administered over-the-counter medications and tucked the boy back in bed. But Louis awakened for the third time and appeared at his father's bedside, obviously still in need of relief. As Dr. Matthews tells it, "He said, 'Daddy, these medicines don't work. Can't we just pray now?' "

"Awed by {Louis's} faith and embarrassed by the lack of my own," Matthews says he prayed with his son and put him back in bed. Louis promptly fell asleep and awoke in the morning - well. To Matthews, who teaches medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, the incident points to a reconciliation under way in the US between two divergent disciplines: faith and medicine. Indeed, health-care providers joined with clergy this week in Boston for a three-day course at Harvard Medical School entitled Spirituality and Healing in Medicine. The course explored how spiritual beliefs affect the healing process and examined religions' "diverse experiences of spirituality and healing." Attendance here underscored a growing interest by health-care professionals in studying the connection between healing and spirituality. The 1,000 attendees eclipsed the number at last year's course by 200, and Harvard officials say interest is so high that the course will now be offered twice annually. "I didn't know last year whether the first conference was a success because of its novelty," says Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and the president of Harvard's Mind/Body Medical Institute. "But ... hundreds have signed up, so we're going to repeat it in March in Los Angeles. We'll hold another one next year here in December and in March 1998 at the Houston Medical Center." The institute has been studying the benefits of mind-body interactions for 25 years. New surveys, including one released during the meeting, indicate that more people, including physicians, are recognizing the role that faith plays in their lives - and in healing. George Gallup Jr., co-chairman of the Gallup Organization, reported that 9 in 10 people believe God loves them. Some 85 percent of Americans believe in miracles, and 84 percent believe God is involved in their lives. Further, almost 1 in 2 Americans is involved in a small group for nurture or worship, he reported. "The empirical evidence is mounting," Mr. Gallup says. "You will hear much about it and its implications for elevating societies around the world." Research from the Mind/Body Institute has shown that when patients repeat a prayer, word, or sound, it has a positive effect on a number of diseases. Dr. Benson refers to the result of the repetitive practice as a "relaxation response" and the religious beliefs that elicit it as the "faith factor. …


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