When Toni Robertson checked into the UCLA Medical Center here in
January, doctors told her she had two months to live. The dire
prognosis convinced her it was time to try a treatment she once
considered radical: prayer.
So began the nightly prayer vigils, in which Ms. Robinson asked
friends of many faiths from around the country to support her in
their prayers. Each day, visitors to her hospital room hugged her,
held her hands, sang, meditated, and used visualization techniques.
"I had heard testimonies of others who had been cured of disease
through prayer, and I believed that it would help me as well," she
Stories like Robertson's have been repeated so often across the
country that medical doctors, hospitals, and medical schools are
increasingly beginning to study and provide alternative treatments
- from prayer and meditation to acupuncture, homeopathy, nutrition,
Robinson was raised Presbyterian, then examined other
denominations before pursuing her own spiritual path.
"I wanted a course of treatment that viewed me as a whole
person, with mind, spirit, and soul," says the mid-career film
consultant. She credits both the medical treatment and the prayer
for recent improvements in her condition.
Doctors who are treating Robinson have supported her choices.
Not only did they accept her desires, but they also provided her
with an on-site chaplain in a nascent program known as Clinical
"Patients want spirituality included in their treatments," says
psychiatrist David Larson, author of the teaching workbook "The
Forgotten Factor," which discusses his research on the relationship
between religion and health.
Behind his work is a host of recent nationwide polls by Time,
CNN, Gallup, and others that spotlight the growing trend: Sixty
percent of Americans would like to discuss spirituality with their
doctors, and 40 percent would like their doctors to pray with them.
The public looks elsewhere
Physicians also report that more patients are seeking the aid of
priests, rabbis, ministers, or faith healers to help deal with
their medical conditions. The American Academy of Family Physicians
last October found that 91 percent of physicians sought the aid of
such spiritual leaders.
One in 3 Americans now turns to alternative healers, say
pollsters. A Gallup survey has reported that visits to holistic
healers now outnumber visits to conventional medical doctors.
"Doctors and psychotherapists have not traditionally been taught
to deal with religious issues or even bring them up in treatment,"
Dr. Larson notes, "but that is beginning to change."
Among the evidence:
*Research by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a San Francisco
organization for research in mind-body health, shows that 50 of
America's 135 medical schools are supplementing anatomy and
biochemistry classes with subjects that include acupuncture, prayer
or meditation, nutrition, massage, and homeopathy.
*The number of medical schools applying for grants to the
three-year-old Faith and Medicine Program at the Georgetown
University School of Medicine has tripled since 1994. Winning
applicants get $10,000 to develop curricula that examine
spirituality as a variable in health. Eleven schools are currently
using the grant money to implement such programs.
*Last summer, a panel convened by the Office of Alternative
Medicine at the National Institutes of Health recommended that all
medical and nursing students be exposed to alternative-healing
theories and techniques. …