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The Relationship Between Prayer, Spirituality and Patients’ Health Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2022


Over the years, there has been a considerable increase in academic interest regarding the relationship between prayer/spirituality and positive health outcomes among patients (Masters & Spielmans, 2007). One study investigating the use of prayers as a coping strategy for chronic health conditions found that cancer patients often rank religious activities, such as prayer, church attendance, and religious faith, as the most frequent coping response to their illness (Lavery & O’Hea, 2010). Another study demonstrated that relatives of sick patients use prayer and other aspects of religion as dominant coping resources in their life experience with sick members of the family (Plakas et al., 2011). However, despite these advances in research, very little knowledge about the ways in which prayers help patients to cope with their illness is discussing church members’ experiences with prayer as a coping strategy.


It is important to further explain the problem I will focus on and understand prayer and its’ connection to wellness. I will investigate whether the use of prayer by adult church members can result in an overall holistic sense of well being. When nurses encourage and incorporate prayer into the assessment process, patients will be more receptive to the hospital plan of care. I have chosen this topic because I believe that it is important for patients to have an additional non medical component to wellness.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed quantitative research study is to investigate whether the use of prayer by church members 18 years and above, both male and female, can decrease painful experiences and result in an overall holistic sense of well-being for patients at the local church. Many people experience misfortune as a normal process of life and the intense pain experienced within can be difficult to bear. Available literature demonstrates that such misfortune “… can lead to significant psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, as well as a decrease in overall quality of life” (Lavery & O’Hea, 2010, p. 55). The proposed project aims to explore the number of members who incorporate prayer into their lives as a strategy to decrease painful experiences. The resources used consist of the Internet and nursing journals.

Background Study

Prayer is the communication with a being considered more powerful with the belief in the existence of the being and with the aim of receiving a response (Head, 2004). In the field of healthcare particularly in nursing, patients and nurses use prayer to request for healing from the greater being (Benson et al., 2006). The idea of using prayer as a medical intervention has generated much attention in the medical field (Kutz, 2004). Studies have been done to verify the influence of prayer on recovery of patients (Head, 2004) though concrete evidence as to the effectiveness of prayer as an intervention has not been documented (Benson et al, 2006). Use of prayer as an intervention by nurses has been perceived differently by nursing leadership. In some cases, it is taken positively and even recommended (Kutz, 2004); in other cases, it is taken negatively. In some instances, cases that are reported to nurses are terminated for use of prayer on their patients, on grounds of “non-professional conduct” (Alderson, 2009).


The cause of the problem exists when there is no spiritual development addressed when nurturing patients. This topic impacts nursing because the process of prayer results in healing and serves as an alternative means of medical intervention..

Literature Review

The impact of prayer by adults, eighteen and above on their health


Research Problem

Research has been done on the issue of prayer and healing, but it has focused only on finding a correlation between the two on certain situations (Benson et al, 2006) thus ignoring the influence of spirituality and prayer on overall health. This study intends to fill the research gap on prayer and its power. The focus will be on the impact of prayer among local church members on their overall health and well being. Prayer positively influences the hope and confidence of adults and this psychological impact, causing an improvement in their overall health.

Summarize the professional literature relevant to the topic you have chosen.

Significance of the study

The study of this topic is necessary to in order to give the nurses and nursing leaders an insight into the impact of prayer on health matters affecting the target group (Burns & Grove, 2009). This will assist them to make the best decisions on how to handle spiritual matters, particularly prayer, when dealing with patients and their colleagues.


The study will be conducted in the form of a survey of adult Christian individuals. A two part questionnaire will be used. The first part will have questions measuring the level of commitment to prayer by the respondent. The second part of the questionnaire will have questions measuring the level of well being of the respondents (Knapp, 1998).

This research will also be performed deductively. The deductive theory refers to the relationship between a recommended theory and research. Research questions are, therefore, constructed on the basis of the literature reviewed (Bryman & Bell, 2007). For that reason, this section reviews the necessary literature in efforts to answer the research questions (Morrell, 2007).

According Brandeis University (2009), the relationship between health and religion has stood for a long time. For thousands of years, people have believed that intercessory prayers play an important role in the healing process. Therefore, prayer has been a scientific study of interest for many scholars.

An increasing body of knowledge has associated factors related to religion, faith and spirituality to the health results of adults and older patients (George, Ellison, & Larson, 2002; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001). Such health results include a reduction in the risk of mortality (McCullough, Hoyt, Larson, Koenig & Thoresen, 2000). In addition, further studies have revealed greater use of spirituality amongst the most disadvantaged. This is mostly among the elderly, minority groups, and women (Barna, 2002).

However, the mechanisms underscoring the influence of prayer are yet to be confirmed. Various scholars have proposed divergent mechanism in the explanation of the patients’ health outcomes in relation to faith and spiritual factors. These aspects include improved emotional states, as well as positive psychology and attitudes that may influence psychoneuroimmunological pathways (Levin, 2004). Faith-health researchers have endorsed complex designs to evaluate the pathways through adequate controls, causal designs, and longitudinal research. This is meant to cover this methodological gap in scientific surveys. In a population survey that made use of structural equation modeling (SEM) evaluation, church-based activities were related to improved health outcomes in elderly patients (Nardi, 2002). In this model, religious support and optimism facilitated the relationship between the spiritual activities and improved health outcomes (Krause, 2002).

The act of prayer can virtually bring individuals to their knees in a sense of vulnerability, especially during a crisis. Despite the development of scientific reasoning during the past century, almost 95% of Americans continue to believe in God or an ultimate, supernatural, higher being. Notably, approximately nine out of 10 individuals pray (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999). A cross-national study revealed a high prevalence of spirituality in the United States when it was compared to 21 other countries. The popularity of prayer was attributed to its perceived influence on promoting the well-being of patients. An estimated 94% of the respondents acknowledged the influence of prayer in managing depression or low self-esteem (Levin, 2004; Gallup and Jones, 1989).

It is evident that science has not only provided the solution to well-being; and neither has any of its offspring’s such as modern science. Among those challenged with the prospect of undergoing open heart surgery, which is a prominent form of advanced technical medicine, prayer and spirituality were a common management practice. This was a spiritual activity showing their intent to survive the operation (Ai, Peterson, Bolling & Koenig, 2002). The use of spirituality to manage stressful situations is common among the elderly patients in America. In the recent past, various studies have revealed the positive consequences of religious events on the physical and emotional aspects of elderly patients. This was specifically in the amelioration of melancholy. Various scholars consider religious coping to be a way in which individuals obtain significance in stressful situations. Cardiac surgery is an example of a stressful circumstance in the final stages of the life of elderly patients (Strawbridge, Shema, Cohen, Bobert & Kaplan, 1998).

Several researches have been conducted on the effect of stressful occurrences that lead patients to seek prayer as an intervention. Most of these studies reveal that individuals often turn to spiritual activities for the provision of comfort and support when they encounter life threatening or stressful events. In a poll run by Gallup, the results showed that about 80% of Americans regard prayers to be a means of managing a crisis or problem (Poloma & Gallup, 1991). In this regard, spiritual practices such as prayer may be considered as useful tools for coping with problems and stressful situations especially in relation to chronic illness.

Rate of use of prayer in the healing process of medical conditions among church members age 18 years and above

The adoption of prayer as a means of influencing one’s health is common among the population globally. Sick people pray for support, strength and guidance from God (Chatters, Taylor, Jackson, and Lincoln, 2008). In the United States, the frequency of praying depends on the age and race. A study conducted by Chatters, Taylor, Jackson and Lincoln (2008) concluded that African Americans use prayers more often than their white counterparts.

Role of Prayer in Reducing Painful Experiences and Promoting a Holistic Sense of Well-being among Church Members

Across history, people have dealt with pain and illness in spiritual ways. Therefore, using prayers to quell an illness is not something new. Many studies have shown that there is a relationship between religion and general health and well being (Wilkinson, Saper, Rosen, Welles and Culpepper, 2008). Additionally, these studies have concluded that there is a neutral or beneficial relationship between religions (prayer) and health (Wilkinson et al., 2008).

Circumstances or factors that encourage prayer and its healing ability within the organization

According to Chatters, Taylor, Jackson, and Lincoln (2008), people pray for strength and endurance when faced with difficult situations. The thought that God will help patients cope with their illness is, therefore, what motivates people to pray. Standley (2012) states that the rules of prayers include asking in private, believing and receiving. This means that for one to receive healing through prayers, he/she must have faith in the prayers. For that reason, healing through prayers is all about believing in a supernatural power.

How prayers benefit nurse leaders and nurses when used as a facilitation tool in the patient’s healing plan

Studies relating spirituality to medical aspects are not new (Bridges & Moore, 2002). The recent change of culture towards customer service has seen medical institutions turn to considering patient requirements and incorporate prayer into clinical practice (Kutz, 2004). However, this is hardly the only reason. Studies have shown that a patient’s belief in prayer and its purpose in healing causes emotional calm and rest, which is associated with better healing. A study by the British Medical Journal in 2001 also indicated that patients who prayed had a shorter hospital stay (Kutz, 2004). Prayer has also been seen to assist patients with chronic illness to cope with their conditions (Wachholtz & Sambamoorthi, 2011).

Critique of the literature reviewed

The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has increased during the last two decades (Frass et al., 2012). However, the success of these therapies, on a clinical setting, remains controversial among many medical professionals (Frass et al., 2012). According to Deem (n.d.), a study conducted in the San Francisco General Medical Center showed that there was a positive correlation between the prayers and the response of cardiac patients to medication. However, Carry (2006) stated that patients who are aware that they are being prayed for are likely to experience a high rate of post-operative complications such as abdominal heart rhythms. The general conclusion from these studies is that prayers produce mixed results.

Nonetheless, the use of prayers in the healing process is of great importance to medics (Frass et al., 2012). It is interesting to know whether people use prayer as a substitute for medical care or to hasten their healing. Moreover, there is a need to know what types of patients pray and what the repercussions of their actions are. This is what drives this study.

Hypothesis & Key Research Questions

The selected area of study impacts nursing because anecdotal evidence demonstrates that the process of prayer results in healing and may serve as an alternative means of medical intervention (Head, 2004). Studies have demonstrated that prayer has the capacity to decrease anxiety and depression, as well as promote wellness and enhance the overall quality of life (Lavery & O’Hea, 2010). Consequently, a study on this topic is beneficial to nursing practice as it will provide nurse leaders and staff with an avenue to deal with spiritual matters and demonstrate deeper insights into the major impact of prayer on health matters affecting the target group. More importantly, the study findings may assist reinforce the assertions that prayer as a non medical intervention not only facilitates the healing process and serves as a conduit that results in positive health outcomes, but also assists in the patient’s overall plan of care (Head, 2004). Going by these assertions, the proposed study will aim to prove or disprove the following hypothesis:

H1: The use of prayer initiates a positive coping mechanism to deal with painful experiences and therefore, increases the overall holistic sense of well being among church members of the local church.

The proposed study will be guided by the following research questions:

  1. How prevalent is the use of prayer related to the healing process of medical conditions among church members aged 18 years and above?
  2. What roles does prayer have on reducing painful experiences and promoting a holistic sense of well being among church members?
  3. What circumstances or factors encourage prayer and its healing ability within the organization?
  4. How can nursing leaders and nurses benefit from using prayer as a facilitation tool in the patient’s healing plan?


In conclusion, the process of creating this research consisted of a unique pathway. Identifying the problem was foremost and focusing on it gives credit to the total correlation of prayer and its ability to promote wellness. The literature reviewed above focuses on certain criteria that explore the connection between prayer and well being.


Ai, A. L., Peterson, C., Bolling, S. F., & Koenig, H. (2002). Private prayer and the optimism of middle-age and older patients awaiting cardiac surgery. The Gerontologist, 42, 70–81.

Alderson, A. (2009). Nurse suspended for offering to pray for elderly patient’s recovery. Web.

Barna, G. (2002). The state of the church. Ventura, CA: Issacher Resources.

Brandeis University. (2009). The healing power of prayer? Science Daily. Web.

Bryman, A., & Bell, A. (2007). Business research methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Burns, N., & Grove, S.K. (2009). The practice of nursing research: Appraisal, synthesis, and generation of evidence. Philadelphia: Saunders/Elsevier.

Carry, B. (2006). Long-awaited medical study questions the power of prayer. Web.

Chatters, L.M., Taylor, R. J., Jackson, J. S., & Lincoln, D.K. (2008). Religious coping among African Americans, Caribbean blacks and non-Hispanic whites. J. Community Psychology 36(3): 371–386. Web.

Deem, R. (n.d.). Web.

Frass, M., et al. (2012). Use and acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine among the general population and medical personnel: a systematic review. The Ochsner Journal, 12:45–56. Web.

Gallup, G. H., & Jones, S. (1989). One hundred questions and answers: Religion in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Research Center.

Gallup, G., & Lindsay, D. M. (1999). Surveying the religious landscape: Trends in US beliefs. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse.

George, L. K., Ellison, C. G., & Larson, D. B. (2002). Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 190–200.

Head, J. (2004). ‘Please Pray For Me’: The Significance of Prayer for Mental and Emotional Well Being. Web.

Knapp, T.R. (1998). Quantitative nursing research (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Koenig, H. G., McCullough, M., & Larson, D.B. (2001). Handbook of religion and health. New York: Oxford University Press.

Krause, N. (2002). Church-based social support and health in old age: Exploring variations by race. Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57B,S332–S347.

Kutz, M. R. (2004). Observations on Prayer as a Viable Treatment Intervention: A Brief Review for Healthcare Providers. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, 2(1). Web.

Lavery, M. E., & O’Hea, E.L. (2010). Religious/Spiritual coping and adjustment in individuals with cancer: Unanswered questions, important trends, and future directions. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13(1), 55-65.

Levin, J. (2004). Prayer, love, and transcendence: An epidemiologic perspective. In K. W. Schaie, N. Krause, & A. Booth (Eds), Religious influences on health and well-being in the elderly (pp. 69–95). New York: Springer.

Masters, K.S., & Spielmans, G.I. (2007). Prayer and health: Review, meta-analysis, and research agenda. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(4), 329-338.

McCullough, M. E., Hoyt, W. T., Larson, D. B., Koenig, H. G., & Thoresen, C. (2000). Religiousness involvement and mortality: A meta-analytic review. Health Psychology, 19, 211–222.

Morrell, K. (2007) Web.

Nardi, P. M. (2002). Doing survey research: A guide to quantitative research methods (1st ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Plakas, S., et al (2011). The role of religiosity as a coping resource for relatives of critically ill patients in Greece. Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, 39(1), 95-105.

Poloma, M. M., & Gallup, G. H. (1991). Varieties of prayer: A survey report. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International.

Standley, L.J. (2012). The healing power of prayer it works! Retrieved 2nd October from

Strawbridge, W. J., Shema, S. J., Cohen, R. D., Bobert, R.E.,&Kaplan, G. A. (1998). Religiosity buffers effects of some stressors on depression but exacerbates others. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 53B, S118–S126.

Wachholtz, A., & Sambamoorthi, U. (2011). National Trends in Prayer Use as a Coping Mechanism for Health Concerns: Changes From 2002 to 2007. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality , 3(2), 67–77. Web.

Wilkinson, J. E., Saper, R. B., Rosen, A. K. Welles, S. L., & Culpepper, S. (2002). Family Medicine 638. Web.

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