New Treatment Showing Up in Hospitals: Prayer A Growing Number of Patients Are Turning to God and Alternative Medicines in Quest for Better Health Series: Hospital Staff at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston Begin Care for a Patient. More Americans Are Saying They Want Their Medical Treatment to Include a Spiritual Element - and a Growing Number of Health-Care Professionals Are Taking Notice of the Demand. NEAL MENSCHEL/FILE

Article excerpt

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 says. 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, and massage. 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 Pastoral Education. "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. …


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