Does God or some other type of transcendent entity
The answer, according to a new Arizona State University
study published in the March journal Research on Social
Work Practice, is "yes." David R. Hodge, an assistant
professor of social work in the College of Human Services
at Arizona State University, conducted a comprehensive
analysis of 17 major studies on the effects of intercessory
prayer - or prayer that is offered for the benefit of
another person - among people with psychological or
medical problems. He found a positive effect.
"There have been a number of studies on intercessory
prayer, or prayer offered for the benefit of another
person," said Hodge, a leading expert on spirituality
and religion. "Some have found positive results for
prayer. Others have found no effect. Conducting a meta-analysis
takes into account the entire body of empirical research
on intercessory prayer. Using this procedure, we find
that prayer offered on behalf of another yields positive
Hodge's work is featured in the March, 2007, issue
of Research on Social Work Practice, a disciplinary
journal devoted to the publication of empirical research
on practice outcomes. It is widely recognized as one
of the most prestigious journals in the field of social
Hodge noted that his study is important because it
is a compilation of available studies and is not a single
work with a single conclusion. His "Systematic Review"
takes into account the findings of 17 studies that used
intercessory prayer as a treatment in practice settings.
"Some people feel Benson and associates' study from
last year, which is the most recent and showed no positive
effects for intercessory prayer, is the final word,"
said Hodge, referring to a 2006 article by Dr. Herbert
Benson of the Harvard Medical School that measured the
therapeutic effect of intercessory prayer in cardiac
bypass patients. "But, this research suggests otherwise.
This study enables us to look at the big picture. When
the effects of prayer are averaged across all 17 studies,
controlling for differences in sample sizes, a net positive
effect for the prayer group is produced.
"This is the most thorough and all-inclusive study
of its kind on this controversial subject that I am
aware of," said Hodge. "It suggests that more research
on the topic may be warranted, and that praying for
people with psychological or medical problems may help
The use of prayer as a therapeutic intervention is
controversial. Yet, Hodge notes that survey research
indicates that many people use intercessory prayer as
an intervention to aid healing, which raises questions
about its effectiveness as an intervention strategy.
"Overall, the meta-analysis indicates that prayer is
effective. Is it effective enough to meet the standards
of the American Psychological Association's Division
12 for empirically validated interventions? No. Thus,
we should not be treating clients suffering with depression,
for example, only with prayer. To treat depression,
standard treatments, such as cognitive therapy, should
be used as the primary method of treatment."
In addition to his inclusion in the upcoming issue
of Research on Social Work Practice, Hodge is widely
published and has appeared on the pages of Social Work,
Social Work Research, Journal of Social Service Research,
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, and Families
in Society. He has also authored the book "Spiritual
assessment: A handbook for helping professionals."