Towards a model of distant healing
Easter, Alison Rose
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The studies presented in this dissertation examine distant healing using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Distant healing purportedly works through the mental intention of one living system affecting another at a distance. The literature to date shows mixed results with regards to its efficacy and very little examination of the experience of healers and healees who practice and receive distant healing outside of research settings. This thesis aims to clarify some of the gaps in the literature and to direct future investigations of distant healing through the development of a more comprehensive model of distant healing. To better understand the components that may contribute to distant healing, the first study presented in this thesis is designed to understand the role that belief and expectancy may have on outcomes in a trial of distant healing. Quantitative approaches to the study of distant healing have yielded mixed results (Astin, Harkness & Ernst, 2000), with some studies showing small positive effects of distant healing and others no effect or a slight negative effect. This clinical trial utilized a partially blind design to measure the impact of awareness of receiving distant healing. Therefore, half of the participants were blind to their allocation condition, while the other half were aware of their assignment to either the healing or no healing condition. While no effect of distant healing was found overall, there was an apparent effect of knowledge of allocation, with those aware they were receiving healing reporting better outcomes than those aware that they were not receiving healing (d = 0.76). This effect was not, however, significant in the analysis of covariance, and thus should be interpreted with caution. In the future, studies with a similar design and larger sample size should be pursued to confirm the effect of expectancy on healing outcome. The characteristics and perspectives of healers are largely ignored in the available literature, and may aid in understanding the phenomenon of distant healing. The primary goal of the second study was to investigate healer characteristics (N = 130) in the areas of personality, spirituality, exceptional experiences, boundaries and emotional intelligence. This was achieved using questionnaire measures and comparisons with population norms where available. Also included in the study was a series of open-ended questions that asked participants to define and describe spiritual healing and healers. Thematic analysis revealed that healers believed factors such as skill of the healer and healee receptivity to be especially important to the healing process. It was also recognized that healing might not be appropriate in all situations. For example, healers report that it should not be considered as a primary form of treatment for a broken leg and it may not be as effective if the healee is in a negative and unsupportive environment. Qualitative investigations of distant healing have been limited, with much of the research focusing more broadly on spiritual healing or other alternative approaches to healing. The third study investigated the experience of distant healing as reported by healees with a strong cultural context of belief or acceptance in the possible efficacy of mental healing. This study took place in Sri Lanka, and the healees were recipients of distant healing from a Buddhist monk and healer, Bhante Seelagawesi. Healees were interviewed about their experiences. Interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) of interviewees’ accounts revealed participants’ attitudes towards traditional and modern approaches to healing, such that while they showed an awareness and acceptance of the latter, they often preferred the former. The experiences were overwhelmingly positive, however a number of factors, in addition to distant healing, appeared to be therapeutic. There was a strong community aspect to healing, and overall a theme of empowerment was evident. Overall, these studies allow us to build a more complete and holistic model of the distant healing phenomenon, which is presented in the final chapter. The studies also fill in some of the gaps found in the current literature, particularly by utilizing a mixed methods approach and focusing on both efficacy and also healer and healee accounts.