Last week, a patient asked me what role I felt prayer had in one's health.
Now, I’m religious in my own way, but in terms of ascribing specific healing properties to prayer, this was murky territory for me. I've always had my own thoughts on this topic, but up until then, no one had really put me on the spot about it.
Every few years, Time or Newsweek publishes a cover story about the role of prayer in a person’s health- and the basic gist is always the same- there is one camp who firmly believes that faith can help someone heal, and the opposing camp who stands firmly with ’science’ and believes that faith has no role in someone’s health & wellness.
My answer to this patient's question actually goes back to a distinction I make over and over again throughout much of my work: There are people who are sick and there are sick people.
Here’s how I differentiate the two, given two individuals with similar conditions;
The Difference Between a Person Who Is Sick...and a Sick Person
A patient who is sick wakes up in the morning and says ‘I have a lot to do, and it’s going to be hard because I’m sick.’ The sick patient wakes up and says ‘I cannot do anything because I’m sick.’
This is a subtle distinction, and it plays directly upon the ways psychology affects physiology. When illness becomes part of a person’s identity, rather than a transient anomaly, the condition becomes a lot harder to shake, and the person feels the symptoms more severely. You have probably met people in both situations.
How Prayer Can Help
This differentiation is where I think faith and prayer can go a long way towards helping someone to feel better. One thing I’ve noticed, is that most people of faith know that they will get better- it is a belief from which they never waver, and this knowledge sets up the psychological conditions which facilitate wellness.
Does this mean you need religion or faith to recover? Of course not. But it does underscore the need for psychological health as well as physiologic health when dealing with chronic pain. If religion is nor part of your repertoire, consider meditation or simply setting aside part of the day for relaxation or breathing exercises to reestablish a connection with your own spirituality and to promote your wellness.
Andrew Kirschner, D.O., is a board-certified physician with a private practice in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, and a consultancy in Miami, Florida. He specializes in treating individuals and couples with musculoskeletal and back pain. To learn more about his practice, please visit BackTogether.org.