Ask Surly Amy: Spiritual Healing
Dear Surly Amy,
Could you recommend some accessible resources on the (non)efficacy of spiritual healing? I have a friend with MS. She has met a healer who claims he ‘cured’ his own MS, and can cure 50% of the people he treats. She is in emotional turmoil at the the idea of a cure. I’m very worried. The treatment is expensive and the healer’s practice is upstairs, with no lift, so disabled patients have to drag themselves up the stairs. I hate the thought of her pain being exploited. She won't discuss it with her GP. I used to practise Reiki, and stopped after coming to the conclusion that it didn’t live up to the claims made for it. I’ve written to my friend telling her this, explaining my concern with unproven treatments. She may not want to discuss this further with me, but I’d like to have some good resources available.
Dear Musical Atheist,
I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. MS is a terrible, debilitating disease and I can completely understand the sense of frustration and desperation your friend must feel. You are correct that spiritual healing techniques are only effective as a type of placebo and never technically cure anything. Spiritual healing itself is a faith-based treatment and is therefore technically outside the realm of science. You have to believe in a spirit or an untestable energy force to buy into the idea of spiritual healing at all and those things can not be tested.
Many who practice these techniques for money do so solely for financial gain. It is a tragedy. The sick are given only false hope in exchange for their money and time.
Time and money that could be better spent on proven treatments or something else that may bring them joy, like maybe a pony or a Caribbean vacation. Seriously, so much money is wasted on charlatans it makes me wish that Karma and Hell were real things.
The website I recommend most often to show evidence of this lack of efficacy in sham treatments is, What's The Harm. What's The Harm is a database that shows some of the damages caused by these unscientific treatments.
Another exccellent resourse is a website called, Quackwatch. From Quackwatch's mission statement:
Quackwatch is an international network of people who are concerned about health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct. Its primary focus is on quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere.
Indeed. That website has a lot of resources that may help. Everything from quacks to watch out for to help for those affected by sham treatments.
The Skeptics's Dictionary is another great site with a lot of valuable information. If something seems fishy to you, that site is an excellent place to start your search. If it is a scam, they will probably have an article on it.
Another reliable website that can help you understand the difference between sceince-based treatments and quackery is, Science Based Medicine. They have a handy search box to help you find articles that apply to your concerns.
James Randi wrote a book about exposing the charlatans of faith healing called, The Faith Healers. You can pick up a paperback or kindle copy for cheap. The definition of faith healing vs. spiritual healing does vary slightly but many of the techniques are similar and that book can give you insight on the scams being run.
If you want the nitty-gritty, cold-hard, honest-to-goodness facts then try your hand at Pub Med. Pub Med is a website that gives you access to all published medical studies and you can search by topic. I wouldn’t recommend this to a lay person though. It's takes a bit of understanding of what is a good study is compared to a not-so-good study is but it is definitely an excellent resource if you decide to further your education on any particular topic.
I hope this was somewhat helpful and I hope your friend doesn’t get taken for all her money and that she also continues to see a legitimate medical doctor.
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Photos of monsters and light by me.