Prayer Is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer by Larry Dossey, MD, Harper, San Francisco, 1996, 249 pages, $20

The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons for Creating the Life You Want by Deepak Chopra, MD, Harmony Books, New York 1995, 170 pages, $15.95

Review by Del Meyer, MD

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

In this column we review books by our colleagues even if they may not be politically correct. This month we are exploring the topics of "religion, health, and medical ethics" and the two books mentioned above were on booksellers’ shelves this past month.

Dr Deepak Chopra was brought to my attention over a decade ago when the late Earl Nightingale sent me a copy of audio tapes on "The Higher Self," a favorite topic of Dr Chopra then and now. He has written 15 books with such titles as Creating Health; Quantum Healing; Perfect Health; Ageless Body, Timeless Mind; Journey into Healing; Perfect Weight; Restful Sleep; and others. Recently when I was at the San Francisco Airport for a one day conference on Workers Compensation, Dr Chopra was hailing forth in the next room. The lady at the registration desk told me there were 850 people enrolled for this five day, $1500 seminar (One and a quarter million dollars gross revenue at the door before selling a roomful of books, tapes and videos is one answer to diminishing incomes.) I was intrigued by seven banners on the wall which proclaimed the essence of this volume: 1) A wizard exists in all of us. 2) This wizard sees and knows everything. 3) The wizard is beyond opposites of light and dark, good and evil, pleasure and pain. 4) Everything the wizard sees has its roots in the unseen world. 5) Nature reflects the moods of the wizard. 6) The body and the mind may sleep, but the wizard is always awake. 7) The wizard possesses the secret of immortality. The 850 people in that room seemed to be searching for their wizard in upright, sitting, and supine trances. Some of them never moved from the time of one workers’ compensation break to the next, while Chopra continue to spew forth his mellifluous entrancing poetic eupeptic faire. You can get the $1500 message for $15.95 at the book store. But will you find "the wizard" in the book?

Dr Larry Dossey likewise has written many books and recorded many audio and video tapes, and is the editor of the journal "Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine." He was the co-chair of the Panel on Mind/Body interventions for the National Institutes of Health. His book titles include Healing Words; Meaning & Medicine; Beyond Illness; Space, Time & Medicine and others. We see chaplains write on our hospital charts that they prayed with our patients, we see nurses call for spiritual counselors, but we seldom see physicians involved. Dr Dossey tells us why this is so. When he discusses a Supreme Being, he hedges and tries to remain politically correct. He prefers to use a neutral term: the Absolute. He urges his reader to insert their preferred name whether God, Allah, Krishna, Brahman, the Tao, the Almighty... As the Sufi aphorism soberly states, "No man has seen God and lived."

He states that prayer has been sitting on the sidelines for most of this century but is moving toward center stage – and into experimental laboratories. Medical journals are more willing than ever to publish studies on the healing effects of prayer and faith. In May 1995, JAMA published an article entitled, "Should Physicians Prescribe Prayer for Health?" This article described the steadily increasing evidence that religious correlated with increased physical health.

Dossey mentions a survey that shows 75 percent of patients believe their physicians should address spiritual issues as part of medical care, and 50 percent want their doctor to pray not just for them but with them. He states that about one-third of the medical schools in the United States have developed courses in alternative/complementary medicine, many of which emphasize spiritual issues in health care... Five medical schools have developed programs explicitly dedicated to exploring the relationship between faith and health. In December 1995 a conference entitled "Spirituality and Healing In Medicine" was held at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Dossey is quick to add that while prayer may be good medicine, "I am not suggesting that it is the only medicine or that it must be relied on instead of other medicines." He considers it complementary.

I would not have dreamed these statistics would be that high in my practice. Perhaps I had better listen more closely.

                    Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you
                            Bless them that curse you,
                                    and pray for them which despitefully use you.

                                                                                            Luke, the Physician

Words we can all live by, regardless of our religious preferences.