Can you be cured if the doctor disagrees? A case study of 27 prayer healing reports evaluated by a medical assessment team in the Netherlands

Dirk J. Kruijthoff, Elena Bendien, Cornelis van der Kooi, Gerrit Glas, Tineke A. Abma

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The setting: between 2015 and 2020 a medical assessment team evaluated 27 reports of prayer healing in the Netherlands. Objectives: Three research questions were formulated. What are the medical and experiential findings? Are there medically remarkable and/or unexplained healings? Which explanatory frameworks can help us understand the findings? Methods: The reported healings were analyzed using both medical files and patient narratives, as part of a case study research design compiled by a multidisciplinary research team. An independent team of five medical consultants, representing different fields of expertise, evaluated the 27 case files. According to criteria these were selected from a larger group of 83 received reports. Experiential data was obtained by in-depth interviews and analyzed. Instances of healing could be classified as ‘medically remarkable’ or ‘medically unexplained’. Subsequent analysis was transdisciplinary. Results: Eleven of the 27 healings assessed were evaluated as ‘medically remarkable’, none were labelled as ‘medically unexplained’. Recurring characteristics were common to some degree in all healings, whether ‘medically remarkable’ or not: a temporal connection with prayer, instantaneity and unexpectedness of healing, strong emotional and physical manifestations, and a sense of ‘being overwhelmed’ and transformed. The healings were invariably interpreted as acts of God. Positive effects have persisted for 5 to 33 years, with 2 relapses. Conclusions: Our findings on remarkable healings do not fit well in the traditional biomedical conceptual framework. All healings exhibited important non-medical aspects, whether or not they were assessed as medically remarkable. We need a broader multi-perspective approach in which all relevant data is considered to be valuable, both experiential and objective. This so-called horizontal epistemology may be helpful when trying to understand the findings, and it may bring about mutual understanding between patients, health practitioners and relevant disciplines.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2022


  • Case study research design
  • Healing
  • Medical evaluations
  • Prayer
  • Transdisciplinary analysis

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