Spiritual/religious practices are used around the world to cope with and treat health illnesses. These tools are commonly referred to as complimentary and alternative/integrative medicine. Although these holistic practices may be taboo or stigmatized, there is a growing body of science supporting some of these modalities. For more information on integrative and spiritual health click here.
One commonly under-reported but effective spiritual tool is praying. According to Professor of Psychology Thomas Plante, prayer is a conversation with the sacred, and all of the major religious traditions encourage prayer making it inclusive. Prayer can be as ritualistic as repeating statements or equally as spontaneous and unstructured.
Prayer is central to many spiritual people's lives, and can be used as a tool to improve wellbeing. Although people are most likely to pray when their needs are greatest, more than 55 percent of Americans pray every day. Therefore, prayer may be done more frequently in times of crises, but it is also habitual and significant for the majority of American's everyday.
Scientists organize prayer into the following types:
- Contemplative-meditative prayer (e.g., worshiping God, reflecting on the Bible)
- Ritualistic prayer (e.g., repeating statements)
- Petitionary prayer (e.g., asking God for things)
- Colloquial prayer (e.g., thanking God for things)
- Intercessory prayer (e.g., praying for others)
What are the health benefits?
Not only are there many kinds of prayers, but also there are many ways in which they can be used to improve mental health. Techniques such as psychotherapy, meditation, audiovisual resources, and pastoral services can all incorporate prayer to help improve wellbeing. Research suggests these spiritual techniques are associated with decreases in depression and stress, and may reduce clinical symptoms, especially anxiety.
Scientists used qualitative and quantitative methodologies to measure the relationship between prayer and spiritual health. They found private and public prayer predicted better levels of spiritual health. Specifically, they found that both forms of prayer increased participants' closeness to God and having a stronger sense of identity. Scientists also suggest that praying for oneself and for others has been found to be beneficial for spiritual-health and relationships.
Moreover, prayer has statistically significant positive effects on health. It can be used as a preventative or coping strategy. By practicing prayer, patients can increase their self-esteem and overall mental health. Additionally, prayer can improve one's spiritual health and identity.