The Roles of Faith, Devotion and Prayer in Holistic Medicine

Holistic medicine is becoming more popular, more sought out and is relied upon by individuals seeking treatment more than ever before. With this rise in popularity has come some misunderstanding about what the practice of holistic medicine actually encompasses. Holistic medicine is sometimes referred to as natural medicine, homeopathic medicine, spiritual medicine or earth medicine. In actuality, these are all aspects of the world of holistic medicine, which derives its name from the principle of focusing on whole-body healing and wellness.

Holistic medicine incorporates treatments for wellness for the mind and spirit as well as the body, instead of just focusing on treating specific physical ailments like traditional or conventional medicine does. Despite its many names and its rise in popularity, the most important element of holistic medicine is the focus on wellness for the whole person, for the mind, body and soul in equal parts. The inclusion of caring for the spirit and the soul is arguably the most important aspect of holistic medicine that sets it apart from conventional medicine.

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Holistic medicine cares for the whole person and requires the faith and focus of the person seeking to be well in order to achieve wellness. Holistic healing involves having faith in the ability of the body to heal and devoting oneself to prayer and devotion to a higher power in order to achieve wellness and healing. Because of this emphasis on the well-being of the spirit and the understanding of how one’s beliefs and faith can affect one’s whole well-being, faith, devotion and prayer play a vital role in the healing practices of holistic medicine.

In the introduction to The Clinician’s Guide to Holistic Medicine, Robert Anderson discusses the basic tenets of holistic medicine as outlined by the American Holistic Medical Association, or AHMA. Included in these principles of practice are the concepts that, “Holistic physicians encourage patients to evoke the healing power of love, hope, humor and enthusiasm and to release the toxic consequences of hostility, shame , greed…unconditional love is life’s most powerful medicine.

Physicians strive to adopt an attitude of unconditional love for patients, themselves, and other practitioners” (Anderson 3). From this explanation of some of the tenets that holistic practitioners follow, one can see that the concepts of faith and devotion are applied to the healers as well as to the healer’s patients. Holistic medicine works to heal the whole body as a whole instead of focusing on one specific ailment.

Instead of relying on pharmaceutical drugs or surgical procedures, holistic practices often combine dietary changes, stress reduction techniques, and prayer or faith practices like meditation and hypnosis to lead the patient towards a complete lifestyle change that will result in optimal wellness. Holistic healers incorporate everything from herbal supplements to energy healing to help their patients heal. Though treatments vary, the focus is on the complete health of the individual and these varied treatments are often combined to reach that ultimate goal.

The health of all aspects of the person are considered equally important and this means that the patient must be as willing to follow dietary regimens as they are to devote themselves to daily prayer and devotional time. This requires the patient themselves to understand the importance of faith and devotion and the power of prayer, and to be willing to implement it into their lives with a positive attitude. It is important to note that holistic medicine does not denounce or seek to replace conventional medicine.

Rather, it seeks to supplement or augment the medical knowledge that conventional medicine employs with wisdom about wholeness, wellness, and the healing of spirit, body and mind together through devotion, faith and positive energy. James Gordon explains that, “Holistic medicine…does not neglect the need for swift and sophisticated medical or surgical action, but does emphasize health promotion and patient education. In doing so, it respects the capacity people have for healing themselves and regards them as active partners in health care rather than passive recipients” (Gordon 19).

The ability that a person has to heal themselves through faith and prayer are considered just as important and effective as surgical procedures according to this philosophy and is regarded as being equally important in the healing process of a patient. Anderson also discusses the type of patient that usually benefits from holistic healing. While anyone willing to put in the time and devotion towards complete wellness can find benefit in holistic practice, Anderson finds that the majority of followers of holistic medicine and people that seek healing through holistic practitioners share several common characteristics.

Anderson found that a majority of followers of holistic medicine tend to be devoted to environmentalism, conservation, spirituality, and efforts towards inner and outer personal growth. Anderson further states that it is this state of mind that makes these people more attuned to the whole-body healing of holistic medicine and that followers of holistic medicine, “were generally more highly educated, espoused a holistic orientation to health and life, and many had had a transformational experience that shifted their worldview” (Anderson xi).

Because this majority has a tendency to think outside the box in other aspects of their lives and be devoted to other areas of improvement, like caring for the environment, they have the mental attitude that makes it easier for them to understand how well-being of all aspects of a person – mind, body and soul – are interconnected, and to devote themselves to full lifestyle and thought process changes that holistic practitioners often prescribe.

The openness of certain people to alternate ways of living and multicultural ways of thinking and beliefs systems also makes these same people more accepting of the teachings of holistic healing that differ from methods of conventional medicine. In understanding more about spirituality and its importance in the healing practices of other cultures, it is easier for one to understand the importance of faith and devotion in the effectiveness of holistic medicine.

In other words, the importance of prayer and faith in holistic medicine can be understood best by those individuals who already have an understanding and appreciation for faith and devotion in other aspects of their life. Many patients of holistic medicine turn to its full-body methods of healing and wellness seeking treatment or help with chronic conditions that conventional medicine has failed to remedy.

Patients suffering from chronic conditions like inflammatory pain, anxiety, depression or irritable bowel syndrome or potentially life-threatening conditions like cancer or diabetes often turn to alternative forms of treatment like holistic medicine when repeated attempts of treatment through conventional channels fail to alleviate their symptoms or discomfort or improve their way of life. These patients have often literally lost faith in their conventional doctors and pharmaceutical drugs and are seeking a new form of healing in which to place their faith.

For many long time sufferers their discomfort has also caused their quality of life to decrease and for their overall faith in positivity and in themselves to diminish. They have lost faith in the ability of their doctors to heal them and in life to improve. This is important because, as these patients find healing faith in holistic practitioners, their newfound faith often expands to other parts of their lives, helping them to better themselves as a whole instead of just the chronic condition they were initially seeking to cure.

Many of these patients that turn to holistic healing as a sort of last resort benefit from learning new ways to incorporate faith and devotional exercises like prayer and meditation into their everyday lives and how positive belief and devotion can positively affect their physical state and also help them improve their lives. The doctors and healers of ancient civilizations practiced methods of medicine that were much more closely aligned with holistic medicine than with conventional medicine.

Members of Native American tribes relied on the shaman to heal their physical ailments but also for wisdom and guidance in spiritual issues. Randal Lyons explains that a shaman’s “role in the community was that of a healer, priest, protector and/or diviner. As such, they were also often responsible for the production of the coming year’s crops…his means of communication with [his helping] spirits, the shamanic journey, is the central concept that distinguishes him from all others who performed these duties” (Lyons 25).

The shaman was responsible for taking care of his patients in all aspects of their lives in much the same way that modern holistic practitioners care for their patients by teaching them to change their total lifestyle in order to improve themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. According to James Gordon, this concept of the healer caring for patients in multiple aspects of their well-being stopped being common practice around the Middle Ages: “From that time on the separation of the religious and the medical function became more and more distinct.

The physician cared for the body and mind; the priest or minister or rabbi attended to the soul. Each kept a distance from the other” (Gordon 44). This makes sense given the radical changes that took place in religion and global religious perspectives during this time. The Middle Ages also saw many village midwives and wise women, who had practiced holistically by helping patients with both physical and spiritual issues and ailments, being condemned as evil and accused of witchcraft.

One can see how this time period began the separation of the doctor versus the priest. This division of the two has only recently started being joined back together by modern holistic practitioners. This longstanding division between healing the body and healing the soul is why many people misunderstand the concepts of holistic healing and the importance that holistic medicine places on faith and prayer, but in reality faith and health have always been connected.

There are many theories for why holistic medicine is increasing in popularity and why faith and prayer play such an important role in the effectiveness of holistic methods. As a global society, mankind is living longer than ever before, and this longer lifespan has led to the need to find cures and treatments for many age-related conditions being faced by an older population. In addition, we as a global society are more aware of other cultures and beliefs systems, making patients more accepting of beliefs and faith-based practices that are rooted in religions other than their own.

This increased knowledge and acceptance of the faiths of other cultures also makes patients more willing to open themselves up to holistic healing treatments like yoga, Qi gong, and other faith based healing methods rooted in other cultures. Robert Lyons connects a current need for people to reclaim their ability to heal and their need to renew their spirituality: “One of the main causes for this movement is that the average person wants to reclaim the absolute power that has been bestowed upon mainstream medical doctors…the exact same scenario is occurring in the area of spirituality.

More and more people are looking for an experience of the divine rather than hearing second-hand about their own relationship with the sacred” (Lyons 15-16). People today want to be more in control of their own healing and of their own spirituality. Whether this need comes out of feeling that mainstream medicine has failed them, that they are unfulfilled by their current religious affiliation or just that they need a change in their lives, people find this connection between personal wellness and spiritual harmony in holistic healing.

Holistic medicine allows people to connect their spirituality and their healing and to understand how the two are connected through faith, positive energy and prayer. Chapter II: Faith and Devotion in Behavioral Holistic Medicine The practice of holistic medicine incorporates several types of healing that work together to better the mind, body and spirit of a patient as one. Holistic practitioners helping a patient with cardiovascular problems, for example, might recommend herbal supplements to lower cholesterol levels along with an exercise regimen to lose weight and stress reduction techniques like yoga to improve the spirit.

While all of these together form a holistic approach, the areas commonly referred to as behavioral medicine and spiritual medicine are the holistic disciplines that emphasize the importance of faith, prayer and devotion or spirituality the most. An examination of some of the techniques and exercises used in these two fields of holistic specialty will show how faith and devotion are used in conjunction with other holistic methods to achieve wellness and optimal health.

The area of holistic medicine known as behavioral medicine encompasses methods used to help patients improve their health by changing their behavioral practices and patterns in their everyday lives. Many of the techniques utilized in behavioral methods involve patients allowing themselves to be relaxed or hypnotized into an altered state of consciousness in which their heart rate and circulation slow down and the patient’s safety is in the hands of their practitioner. In these cases the patient must have faith in their practitioner to keep them safe and to guide them properly through the exercise.

The patient must also have some level of faith in the method or practice itself and its healing potential. The patient begins their journey of faith by placing his or her faith in the practitioner, which in itself is a big step. For a patient turning to holistic medicine after conventional medicine has failed to heal them, finding faith in a healer can be challenging. This placement of faith is the first step towards the patient renewing their faith in the healing process, which increases their ability to heal themselves. The patient must be willing to let go of their control over their mind and body enough to let the healing happen.

Robert Anderson refers to this as the “de bonafide effect” which means “good faith” (Anderson 9). As holistic medicine teaches patients to use the healthy methods and changes they learn to improve all aspects of their life, so can finding faith in a healer allow a patient to renew their faith in their higher power and in life itself. Another reason that these kinds of holistic techniques have a proven positive effect is because of the healing effect that positive energy has been shown to have on the human body. Christiane Northrup explains that, “Our bodies are influenced and actually structured by our thoughts and beliefs.

Every thought is accompanied by an emotion or feeling, and every emotion creates a specific biochemical reality in our bodies” (Northrup 29). The beliefs that we hold onto affect the emotions that we feel, and those emotions in turn affect how our bodies react to the world around us and function in general. Because of this connection between mind, body and spirit, it is important to understand how the energy that originates in a patient’s belief system can affect the healing process. If the patient does not have strong faith or devotion to a belief system, they may doubt in the power of prayer.

That doubt will then carry over into their holistic healing process and they will doubt the abilities of the healer and the effectiveness of the techniques. This doubt will cause the patient to not heal in the way they expected to. Conversely, a patient that has a strong connection to a belief system or a deity will likely find it easier to have faith in the healing abilities of a holistic healer and to devote themselves to prayer, meditation and other holistic remedies. This positive belief and energy towards the holistic healing process will then produce better wellness and results.

Relaxation techniques are a common method of the behavioral branch of holistic medicine that is often used to help patients reduce stress and blood pressure. Many relaxation techniques that involve slowed breathing and focused mind exercises can actually slow down the process of some hereditary diseases like coronary disease. (Anderson 9) The patient gradually learns to use relaxation techniques on a daily basis that put them more in touch with their body’s responses and understanding what increases stress levels and blood pressure that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

While these relaxation techniques are often combined with dietary and lifestyle changes, the relaxation techniques are the holistic area wherein the patient must apply faith to see results. The patient must devote themselves to performing the relaxation techniques on a regular basis and have faith that they will work. In discussing holistic approaches to dealing with anxiety, Anderson advocates a combination of relaxation techniques and prayer and states that, “Prayer appears to reap significant benefits in this condition and can be especially beneficial” (Anderson 258).

Many holistic practitioners teach relaxation techniques in order to help a patient center themselves and use this centering to then lead them into a prayer in which the patient can communicate with their higher power to ask for healing and the ability to heal themselves. In this way, relaxation techniques are often used as a gateway to help the patient connect with their god and to pray on behalf of their health and wellness. Biofeedback is another area of behavioral medicine that requires the patient to place faith in their healer and also to connect themselves to a spiritual center of relaxation in order for the technique to be helpful.

William Collinge defines biofeedback: “Biofeedback uses special instruments attached to the body to give the person information about what is happening in the body…they can then use this visual or auditory feedback to learn to regulate certain bodily functions. Many people find this form of assistance very helpful for learning to relax: (Collinge 182). Many holistic practitioners utilize biofeedback machines to teach a patient what areas of the body they need to focus on healing and then instruct the patient on which areas need attention during hypnotherapy or meditation sessions.

During biofeedback sessions patients are often instructed to use relaxation techniques or prayer to calm themselves so that the machines can obtain accurate readings and so that the patient will be connected with their body’s responses. Once the biofeedback results are obtained, the patient can then use that information as a focus for prayer and meditation on their healing. Hypnotherapy is one of the most commonly used behavioral methods of holistic medicines. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood in its purpose and how it is performed.

Because of its representations on television and in the media as being something used by stage magicians to make audience members do or say embarrassing or funny things, hypnosis is often not considered to be a worthwhile healing method by many patients. But Larry Credit explains that, “Hypnotherapy is an approach during which the therapist guides the client into a trance-like state called hypnosis…in the hypnotic state, the client becomes relaxed, capable of intense concentration, and open to suggestions for change” (Credit 78).

Once again, this is a method that requires the trust of the patient not only in the healer’s ability to keep them safe and to guide them through the process correctly, but also in the process of hypnosis itself to benefit them and to help them find ways to heal. While under hypnosis, patients often receive suggestions for change about their lifestyle choices, drinking patterns, eating habits, and their spiritual lives.

Healers can use hypnosis sessions to suggest to the patient that they pray more or to help them reflect back on events from their past that made them stray from their faith or religion so that they can reconcile those issues and return to a place of positive spirituality and positive belief in a higher power. Hypnotherapy often involves suggestions to the patient that they can use during their everyday activities to connect with their chosen deity and to incorporate positive faith in their daily routine as a way of continually healing holistically.

Chapter III: Prayer and Faith in Spiritual Holistic Medicine Behavioral methods of holistic healing require a patient to have faith in the process and in their healer, and these methods often enable a patient to renew their faith in their deity or in other aspects of their life. These methods help a patient re-learn the concept of devotion by requiring them to devote themselves to daily exercises and techniques that will change their lifestyle and their health, and in turn these same methods help patients attune themselves with their spirituality and faith.

The branch of holistic medicines known as spiritual medicines, however, focus directly on the spirit and helping the patient to heal this part of themselves in order to achieve overall health. Spiritual medicine encourages positive beliefs and focus on positive connections, including a positive connection with a higher power, to help patients empower and heal themselves. The replacement of negative thoughts with positive beliefs and focus on spiritual positivity is important since many scientific studies have proven that negative thoughts and emotions like distrust and disbelief can have significant negative physical effects on the body.

Replacing these negative emotions with positive ones and beliefs in a deity that the patient trusts enables the patient to cleanse themselves of negative energy, giving themselves room to allow spiritual healing to happen. Spiritual medicine involves techniques that help a patient connect with their spirit, understand their spirituality and establish a framework of devotion, faith and prayer that will enrich their spiritual selves and in turn help them become healthier overall.

According to Anderson spiritual medicine “includes prayer, meditation, distance healing, laying on of hands, and effects of belief systems, which for many have a religious or spiritual connotation” (Anderson 10). An examination of some of these methods of spiritual medicine will show how prayer and faith are used to encourage healing and to incorporate whole-life improvement and betterment. Meditation is one technique frequently by healers focusing on a patient’s spiritual health. Meditation has been used by many cultures in Asia and the Middle East and is often utilized to help an individual attain a closer relationship with their god.

Although meditation has been used as a spiritual tool and instrument of spiritual health in many global religions, meditation can be utilized by people of all faiths. It is possible to personalize meditation to suit an individual patient’s particular religious affiliation and spiritual needs. Emma Jardine explains that one way to personalize meditation is with the visual aids used in the process: “Visual aids to meditation can also be used: some people concentrate on the flame of a candle, others on a flower.

Rosaries, prayer wheels, portraits of spiritual leaders, statuettes and thang-kas may also be used” (Jardine 35). In this personalization, patients are able to reap the benefits of meditation as a relaxation technique and also use it to strengthen their connection with their chosen faith. It is important to recognize that tools like meditation that have roots in Eastern religions can still be used by holistic patients of any faith, so holistic patients can always personalize their treatment with the help of their healer.

Larry Credit explains one way that this is done: “Christian meditation, often called contemplation, is a process of quieting the mind with the intention of becoming more fully aware of God, the teachings of Christianity, and yourself” (Credit 122). This is a good example of how a holistic technique like meditation also allows a patient to strengthen their relationship with their god and to renew their faith in spirituality. Meditation involves first asking one’s higher power into themselves and connecting with it, then asking it for guidance and assistance in the journey to heal.

Christiane Northrup explains how this process can bring about holistic healing and change: “When you sincerely invite in the sacred (your inner guidance or spirit) to assist you with your life, you are granting permission for your life to change” (Northrup 634). When a patient is able to create a connection with the higher power or spiritual being that they feel most religiously connected to, they are then able to utilize that power of prayer in all aspects of their holistic healing journey.

Remote healing is another aspect of spiritual medicine often used by holistic healers to both improve the health of a patient and to strengthen their faith. This is a process that takes place when the patient and the healer are not together, but are actually a long distance from one another. This requires focus and faith from both parties. Anderson explains how the process worked in one study: “Each healer engaged in relaxation, attuned him/herself to a Higher Power or Infinite Being, affirmed in images the patient’s perfect state of health, and expressed gratitude to the Source of all power and energy” (Anderson 51).

This process involves the faith of both the healer and the patient in order to be effective, which the study that Anderson referenced proved that it could be. The healer must focus and connect themselves to a higher power or spiritual being and focus on images of the patient being healthy and happy. They must also give thanks to that higher power for the patient’s health, which is a form of prayer. The patient, in turn, must also have faith in the healer’s ability to connect with that higher power and in the higher power’s ability to help them to heal.

Reiki is a process that is similar to the laying on of hands techniques that is often used in holistic healing. Reiki is rooted in Japanese culture and involves the healer acting as a channel for positive healing energy to pass through in order to enter the patient and heal them. Collinge describes the process: “The Reiki energy enters the practitioner through the top of the head and exits through the hands, being directed into the body or energy field of the recipient” (Collinge 285). During this transfer of healing energy, the patient is often instructed to meditate or pray about their healing.

They often focus on the healing energy itself entering their body at the place where their body or mind needs healing or improvement and visualize it healing them. Patients often also pray to a spiritual being during this process to ask that the energy be directed to the right place and that they might be able to benefit from its healing power. Some view Reiki as a spiritual version of full body massage in that it works on parts of the body, but it does so through a spiritual connection and visualization.

In the process of guided imagery, the patient works with their holistic healer to develop images that will help them to induce natural healing responses within their body. These images are created with the patient and the healer to help the patient create an image to focus on and to use when needing to control physical or mental reactions or functions. Guided imagery can be useful in helping patients control fears like claustrophobia or to deal with anxiety or stress.

In addition, guided imagery can be beneficial when dealing with physical conditions like migraine headaches or irritable bowel syndrome. These guided images are always positive images of the patient, or of something that the patient relates to as being positive, controlling the situation and taking power over the condition that needs to be controlled. Spirituality plays a role in guided imagery because the patient is often instructed to focus on this image and pray about the condition that they are dealing with as a way of asking their higher power or deity to help give them the power to control it.

The patient can choose to include an angel in their imagery or a halo of protective light around them that symbolizes the protection of a higher power and focus on this element during prayer and meditation. The use of positive imagery like guided imagery has had some effectiveness in halting or curing conditions in holistic patients. Anderson states, “Patients have used imagery of their immune systems overcoming or defeating cancer cells and imagery of themselves returning to health.

Authoritative research confirms that the efficacy of imagery is highly related to the features of biological imagery (vividness, effectiveness)” (Anderson 95). Gordon further connects the use of conventional surgical and diagnostic techniques with those used by holistic healers like guided imagery: “A holistic oncologist (cancer specialist) may rely on computer-assisted X rays to locate a malignant tumor and then call on the power of the patient’s faith and imagination to help reduce the size of the tumor” (Gordon 20).

It is important to note that neither of these statements indicates that guided imagery is a suitable replacement for X rays or conventional cancer-fighting treatments, but both of them clearly indicate that guided imagery and other holistic techniques have been proven to be effective when used in conjunction with such methods. The power of a patient’s imagery and prayer on a goal, such as the reduction of a malignant tumor, can be as powerful as other methods.

The holistic healer relies on the patient’s faith in their ability to heal and in their devotion to their god in order to help them to heal and to overcome physical, mental and spiritual ailments. This ability to mentally visualize a physical change taking place and then seeing the change actually occur is sometimes referred to as psychic healing. This is another branch of spiritual medicine that involves the patient focusing on an aspect of their health that needs remedied or improved upon and then calling upon a higher power to help them gain the power to heal themselves.

Gordon explains that psychic healing can, “include sudden improvement following prayer, changes brought about by other people (medicine men, priests, and so on) by groups (as in group prayer) or by the patient’s presence in a sacred place…prayer and positive thinking, laying on of hands, and religious rituals are some of the ways people try to bring about psychic healing” (Gordon 77).

Psychic healing results are often so named because there is no other physical explanation for why or how a person has healed except for the religious ritual or person that the patient has come in contact with. While some may denounce this aspect of holistic healing as superstition, there are many who believe in the power of prayer or in visiting a sacred place and there are many documented cases of such recoveries. Many of the positive results that are obtained through guided imagery and other techniques of spiritual medicine are referred to as the “placebo effect”.

This term is used frequently to describe the healing of a patient not because of a medical procedure that was performed, but because of their belief in their ability to heal and have power over their ailment. In other words, the patient’s belief that they can heal is just as powerful as the techniques being used to heal them. Gordon defines this as, “a placebo response – the result of a patient’s positive expectations and their esteem for their practitioner” (Gordon 15). The placebo effect has a direct connection to faith and prayer for the holistic patient.

The patient is given a series of exercises or life changes to make from their holistic healer, but they have to have faith in those exercises and in their healer in order for them to work. If they do have that faith, then the exercises they do will posses the positive energy of that faith and positive results will follow. Waller defines the placebo effect and the end result it can produce in a patient’s life very simplistically: “If we believe we will get better from a treatment, we will, even when the treatment has


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