Is Prayer No More Than A Placebo?

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My Massachusetts colleague, Ingrid Peschke, discusses how prayer can pick up where placebos leave off.  Here’s Ingrid…

Debates abound on the power of the placebo.  There’s one man who has made it his mission to try and settle that debate, or at least shed significant light on it.

Described as wanting to “broaden the definition of healing” (The New Yorker), Ted Kaptchuk is considered the leading researcher on placebos as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard.

Kaptchuk’s research points to a question often left unanswered in medical treatment:  To what extent does a patient’s thought affect outcomes? The unseen, yet powerful elements of healing, such as hope in a certain result, may, according to his research, “fundamentally contribute to the improvement of patient outcomes” (

Kaptchuk was one of the experts on a panel discussion I attended at Harvard designed to explore the topic, “Placebo and Prayer:  Why Prayer Practice Might Help.”

I’ve heard skeptics compare prayer to placebos.  And while I’m no expert on the placebo effect, I have had a lot of experience seeing the effects of prayer on health.

I would suggest the prayer referred to as placebo is based on blind belief.  That kind of prayer, I will agree, is no different than placebo.  But the prayer that has depth of conviction, that seeks to understand and appeal to a distinctly divine Mind, ceases to rely on the human mind for healing.

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