A group of British investigators headed by H. Walach has studied the psychological mechanisms of 'distant healing', a form of spiritual healing, in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

409 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) were randomized from 14 private practices for environmental medicine in Germany and Austria in a two by two factorial design to immediate versus deferred (waiting for 6 months) distant healing.

Half the patients were blinded and half knew their treatment allocation. Patients were treated for 6 months and allocated to groups of 3 healers from a pool of 462 healers in 21 European countries with different healing traditions. Change in Mental Health Component Summary (MHCS) score (SF-36) was the primary outcome and Physical Health Component Summary score (PHCS) the secondary outcome.

This trial population had very low quality of life and symptom scores at entry.

There were no differences over 6 months in post-treatment MHCS scores between the treated and untreated groups. There was a non-significant outcome (p = 0.11) for healing with PHCS (1.11; 95% CI -0.255 to 2.473 at 6 months) and a significant effect (p = 0.027) for blinding; patients who were unblinded became worse during the trial (-1.544; 95% CI -2.913 to -0.176).

The investigators found no relevant interaction for blinding among treated patients in MHCS and PHCS. Expectation of treatment and duration of CFS added significantly to the model.

In patients with CFS, distant healing appears to have no statistically significant effect on mental and physical health but the expectation of improvement did improve outcome.

Article: Walach, H., Bösch, H., Lewith, G., Naumann, J., Schwarzer, B., Falk, S., Kohls, N., Haraldsson, E., Wiesendanger, H., Nordmann, A., Tomasson, H., Prescott, P., Bucher, H.C., 'Effectiveness of Distant Healing for Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Randomised Controlled Partially Blinded Trial (EUHEALS)', Psychother Psychosom 2008;77:158-166.