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Spiritual healing — a panacea, a placebo or plain old poppycock?

By Michael Bland

Pharmacists are the last people to be interested in spiritual healing — they only want to sell drugs. This was the not untypical response of a “spiritual” colleague when I said that I was speaking on stress management at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Pharmacy in a New Age roadshows and was going to include something on the human energy field and the spiritual dimension.

Of course, I knew that the charge was unfair but even I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of interest shown in a spiritual approach to life and health by a number of pharmacists after each roadshow. Nor is it just some pharmacists who are interested in spiritual healing: many doctors, psychiatrists and hard-nosed scientists actually practise it — and it is available on the National Health Service. So what is it and how does it work?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. The National Federation of Spiritual Healers defines spiritual healing as “restoring the balance of body, mind and spirit of the recipient — the channelling of healing energies through the healer to the patient”. As to how it works: the only certainty is that no one really knows, although quite a few claim to. It is much the same with science. The old adage, “The more you learn the less you realise you know”, is something of which every good scientist is aware and with spiritual healing many people start out looking for an explanation and then increasingly realise how elusive one is.

To say that it is the work of a higher force (as in faith healing) or the manipulation of the human energy field, or merely a load of old nonsense is to be guilty of gross over-simplification in all cases, although all of these explanations, and many others, are worth exploring further.

Having said that no one knows how it works, it is nevertheless interesting to speculate on some of the forces that might be at work here. For me, a possible clue lies in an understanding of quantum physics and the realisation that at the subatomic level everything is made not of solid particles of matter but of dynamic pulses of energy which are constantly changing their state and affecting the behaviour of the particles around them — and, indeed, of every particle in existence. We exist in an invisible, inter-connected “energy soup”.

Another phenomenon that might be involved is the way that thought could translate into energy. The brain can be scanned to show a single thought flashing across the cerebral cortex: millions of neurones communicating via a chain of chemical/electrical connections at 225 miles an hour. If we follow Sir Arthur Eddington’s maxim that “when the electron vibrates the universe shakes”, then all that particulate activity in the brain may well have a knock-on effect outside the body and transmit signals through the “energy soup” mentioned earlier. Certainly, when healing, we feel that we are in some way transmitting the intended healing to work on the patient.

Those of us who work in spiritual healing and other such practices are aware of some sort of human energy field both within and outside the body. Some can see part of this field as an aura. Most of us sense it with the palms of our hands.

Many healing practices are based on the principle of working with this energy field to achieve beneficial effects for the body, mind and spirit. Some manipulate the energy, using their hands and mental activities such as visualising colours; some act as channels for other, higher states of energy; some use needles; some use prayer. There are many types of energy-field healing.

If we do indeed have an energy field then it often feels when we are healing as if we are helping to balance and/or boost the patient’s own energy. We also feel able to direct a flow of healing energy to a particular area and it may be that this energy flow can stimulate healing in a damaged area just as ultrasound, massage or a cortisone injection might. Our method seems more vague and more hit-and-miss than allopathic techniques for stimulating the body’s own healing process, but it is also less intrusive. And it does not appear to have any side effects.

The many anecdotal episodes I have experienced still do not make up a scientific proof, but they have certainly convinced me that something is happening over and above simple suggestion and placebo effect (and besides, what is wrong with placebo?). But I also find that results vary, perhaps according to how well or otherwise the patient’s and my energies respond to each other.

I have sometimes simply touched a chronically damaged knee or back, or given healing for a “soft” condition such as “ME”, and the patient has had an immediate “miracle” recovery. On other occasions I have laboured away with every technique and all the love in the book, and the patient has not responded one jot. Most times the outcome is somewhere between the two, and responsible healers and their teaching organisations are aware that healing is usually most valuable when used as a complement to the GP, hospital or pharmacist, not as an alternative.

But there is one tangible benefit to healing which attracts even the more cynical doctors: the process of being sat down, calmed and “healed” for half an hour or more almost always leaves the patient feeling more relaxed and at peace with the world — and what doctor or pharmacist can spare half an hour of TLC per patient?

It must be realised, too, that if this stuff actually does work then it must also be possible to do harm rather than good (one thinks of the Aborigines and other Shamanic cultures pointing the bones or putting curses on people) so it is important to train with a reputable healing organisation. Here the healer will be taught the “dos and don’ts” as well as the vitally important principle of “channelling” beneficial energy rather than transmitting one’s own. There are many tales of untrained natural healers becoming drained and ill from healing others, as if in some way they are giving away their own energy.

If at the end of this you still think it’s a load of old poppycock, I don’t blame you. It is a highly subjective and personal subject, and few of us in the healing business are out to convince or proselytise. But for those who accept Hamlet’s statement that “there are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, healing can be a fascinating study and, in many cases, enormously beneficial to patient and healer alike.

Further information

For further information — either to know more about healing or for patient referral — contact:


The National Association of Spiritual Healers, Old Manor Farm Studio, Church Street, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex TW16 6RG

Tel 01932 783164


London only

The College of Psychic Studies, 16 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2EB

Tel 020 7589 3292



Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20006089

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