But spiritual healing – a mix of meditation, prayer and laying of hands – has been re jected by Scottish researchers after a £27,000 academic study found that the technique has no effect in helping to relieve the symptoms of asthma.
Academics treated 88 patients who were placed into three groups: one received sessions with a spiritual healer; another spent time with an actor pretending to be a healer in a “sham” trial; and a final group were made a control.
The groundbreaking trial received a grant of £17,348 from the Chief Scientist’s Office and £9856 from Grampian Health Board.
But the results found that there is “no evidence for clinically valuable impacts from spiritual healing for asthma”, a condition that affects 390,000 people in Scotland.
The lead author of the three-year study, Evaluating Spiritual Healing For Asthma, claimed it was justified because of the interest patients have shown in alternative therapies.
Dr Jennifer Cleland said: “Spiritual healing as a therapy had not been studied before.
“The national guidelines for asthma produced for all health boards show that there is a clear interest from patients to look for alternative therapies.”
Cleland said: “While there is no evidence that spiritual healing is effective, what has emerged is that the group of patients did gain benefits from having the chance to talk about their specific condition and spend time with a therapist . That may be something we go back to in the future.”
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said the funding was awarded under a grant scheme run by the Chief Scientist Office and that the Health Services Research Committee had awarded the project a “satisfactory” rating.
Ken Wyatt, chief executive of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers, said he was glad the study had been carried out, despite the results.
“It is very difficult to apply healing to a conventional scientific test,” he said.
Spiritual healing works by directing energy towards areas of physical pain or illness, and is popular with patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Wyatt added: “It is especially helpful for conditions that are stress related – asthma, if caused by stress and tension, may appear to get better in a patient because they are receiving healing.”