Is Prayer No More Than A Placebo?

© GLOW IMAGES Model used for illustrative purposes

© GLOW IMAGES Model used for illustrative purposes

Healthy thinking has an impact on our lives wherever we live, even here in Southern California. My colleague from Massachusetts, Ingrid Peschke, writes regularly on issues and trends in health care, and here is her recently syndicated blog, posted on Metrowest Daily News.

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.

Link to Ingrid’s complete article

About the author

Guest We are pleased to present Notes from the Field authors, who are assistant committees and church members in the Southern California region; and Notes from The Mother Church authors, who are Committees from the United States and around the world, as well as the Federal Committee on Publication office.


  1. Evelyn Brookins says

    This is so valuable. We need to differentiate between prayer that is simply “positive thinking” and the effective prayer based on a deeper understanding of the power behind true prayer. If the ones who do these tests don’t understand the difference, then the results will not be accurate.

  2. Rhonda says

    It’s good to know that this type of research is being pursued. It can only lead to what Mary Baker Eddy, the author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” found to be true many years ago…thought does indeed have a profound affect the body.

    She writes, referring to Christian Science, “The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind.
    Experiments have favored the fact that Mind governs the body, not in one instance, but in every instance.” Here she is referring to the divine Mind, God.

    I have found this to be indispensable to finding harmony and health.

  3. Anne Hughes says

    Anyone who has found that prayer is much more than reciting some comforting words knows that prayer is not the same as a placebo. No effort by the patient goes into taking a placebo except faith in its effectiveness because an “expert” administered it. Healing prayer involves an understanding of God’s all-power and goodness, a recognition of our present perfection as God’s beloved spiritual ideas. It often brings moral reformation or a needed change of attitude. Prayer brings about a wholeness that Jesus spoke of when he healed people. Their lives were changed and sweetened. A placebo may change a body, but it doesn’t bring about the transformation that goes with healing prayer. I’ll take prayer anytime!

  4. Pamela says

    How nice t come home late this evening and find this on my computer. Thanks Ingrid for explaining this distinction between a placebo and prayer. Too many individuals think of prayer as not doing much when in fact it is doing a great deal if done with understanding.

    I love Mrs. Eddy’s statement on page 397 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures where she writes, “When an accident happens, you think or exclaim , ‘I am hurt!’ Your thought is more powerful than your words, more powerful than the accident itself, to make the injury real.” This statement tells me that if my thought is that powerful then what I am thinking at any given time is extremely important. Maintaining a prayerful thought of God’s all power and goodness at all times, under all circumstances has been a blessing to me and has brought healing to many situations and challenges.