Prescribing Prayer For Health Care

Hal Stevenson of Columbia, S.C., participates in a prayer service Thursday March 20, 2003, at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., for those involved in the war with Iraq. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky)
To treat her arthritis and her thyroid condition, 63-year-old Elizabeth Allendorf sees her doctor every few months, but she prays everyday.

"Without faith, without meditation, without God, I am telling you, it wouldn't be," says Allendorf. "It would be just awful, it would be just terrible."

It turns out, as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, a lot of people feel the same way when it comes to prescribing prayer for health care.

One-third of Americans are using


Dr. Anne McCaffrey of the Harvard Medical School conducted the survey of 2,000 Americans and found that faith is a critical part of health care for many and something most doctors don't consider.

"It's not a fringe thing," she says. "I think very mainstream Americans are using prayer in their daily lives."

The survey found that of the one-third using prayer to address health concerns, 75 percent pray for general wellness, 22 percent pray for help with a specific medical condition like cancer and 69 percent said prayer was helpful.

There is no clinical evidence that prayer improves health, but that's not the point of the study, says McCaffrey. She's not advocating that doctors include prayer in practice, she just wants them to wake up to the reality that it's a big part of many patient's lives.

"Doctors need to realize that we don't have the market on what people are doing to make themselves feel better," she says.

Doctors now recognize that acupuncture, massage and even some herbal treatments can be useful when combined with traditional medicine. This survey suggests that prayer may be another powerful tool that can't be ignored.