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Review: “distant healing” is often effective for improving patient outcomes

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 QUESTION: Is “distant healing,” defined as prayer, mental healing, therapeutic touch, or spiritual healing, effective treatment for any medical condition?

Data sources

Studies were identified by searching Medline, PsycLIT, EMBASE/Excerpta Medica, CISCOM, and the Cochrane Library from their inception to 1999 with terms related to spiritual healing, mental healing, faith healing, prayer, therapeutic touch, Reiki, distant healing, psychic healing, and external qigong and with the terms clinical trials, controlled clinical trials, and randomised controlled trials. Bibliographies of relevant studies were scanned, leading researchers in the field were contacted, and personal files were searched.

Study selection

Randomised controlled trials were selected if distant healing was compared with placebo, sham, or otherwise “patient blindable” or adequate control interventions; clinical rather than experimental investigations were done; humans with any medical conditions were studied; and publication was in peer reviewed journals.

Data extraction

Data were extracted on year of publication, design, study quality, sample size, experimental and …

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  • Sources of funding: National Institutes of Health; Wellcome Trust; Maurice Laing Foundation.

  • For correspondence: Dr J A Astin, Complementary Medicine Program, Kernan Hospital Mansion, 2200 Kernan Drive, Baltimore, MD 21207-6697, USA. Fax +410 448 6875.