Healing and NEWLIFE
Limited research has been conducted on contemporary spiritual healing in European countries. The aim of this article is to report how German healers and their clients experienced and perceived the outcomes of spiritual healing and which explanations they use to describe the perceived effects.
Semistructured interviews and participatory observation was used to collect data from spiritual healers and their clients. Analyses were based on the methodological concept of directed qualitative content analysis. Data was analyzed using MAXQDA software, discussed and reviewed by a multidisciplinary research team consisting of medical anthropologists, medical doctors and a religious studies scholar.
In total 15 healers and 16 clients participated in this study, 24 interviews with healers, 20 interviews with clients and 8 participatory observations were analyzed. Healers and clients reported outcomes as positively perceived body sensations, increased well-being, positive emotions and symptomatic relief of medical complaints. Clients often described changes in their self-concepts and adapted life values. Explanations for perceived effects included connecting with transcendent sources, construction of meaning, as a result of the client-healer relationship, and as empowerment to make changes. Because the interviewed clients were recruited by the healers, a selection bias towards positive healing experiences is possible.
We hypothesize that concepts of meaning construction, resource activation and the utilization of the clients’ expectations help to explain the data. Grounded in the emic perspective, we propose to use the following outcomes for further prospective studies: positive body sensations, changes of self-concepts and values, changes of medical symptoms and complaints. From the etic perspective, physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing, sense of coherence, meaningfulness of life, empowerment, resource activation, change and symptom control should be further explored as potential outcomes.
Healers, also often called “spiritual healers”, are people who exercise above all the practice of laying on of hands and distant healing . Due to globalization the techniques healers use have diversified and are derived from various spiritual and religious practices . In Germany, some of these healing traditions have a long history. In the 1990s an estimated number of at least 7000 healers were practicing and treating clients, most of whom were lay healers and non-medical Complementary and Alternative Medicin (CAM) practitioners (German “Heilpraktiker”) . Today the total number of German healers is unknown, but may have increased considering the positive trend of CAM usage in the last decades . The German Federal Constitutional Court decided to allow spiritual healing as non-medical consulting in 2004 and made it legal for laymen to practice as long as no diseases were treated. Spiritual healing seems to be embedded in a general increase of spiritual interest by the German population, seen in the boost of esoteric and religious literature and corresponding offers on the seminar and counselling market. Globalization and the internet have also opened up new avenues to participate in a wide range of religious and spiritual systems.
Over the past two decades some quantitative studies on spiritual healers were conducted in the field of medical and psychological research [5–9]. Many of these studies aimed to investigate whether spiritual healing has a specific effect compared to control therapies. Often, the basic assumptions about the aims of treatment between biomedical researchers and healers differ: In biomedical clinical research great value has been placed on the established diagnosis (e.g. “major depression”) and its specific treatment. However, healers do not usually concentrate on a specific disease or a range of symptoms, but give attention to the “whole person”. Therefore their success might rather be attributed to spiritual and personal development than in the disappearance of specific symptoms [1,10].
Many of the quantitative studies on spiritual healing presented inconclusive and heterogeneous results. Spiritual healing itself is not well understood and remains difficult to define. Therefore, it has been argued that qualitative research strategies might help to develop better hypotheses and study designs and thus should be applied before designing further quantitative studies .
While there is a large body of anthropological research about indigenous healing systems in non-western countries, not much anthropological research has been conducted on contemporary European spiritual healing (see, however, [2,3,11–13]).
Addressing this lack of literature on European healers, we therefore conducted a qualitative study with German spiritual healers and their clients from 2010 to 2012. This qualitative study, performed by a multidisciplinary study team, collected data about the subjective experiences, biographies, concepts and motivations of healers and their clients. The aim of this paper is to report how healers and their clients experienced, perceived, described and explained the outcomes of spiritual healing and to generate hypotheses for future research.
Semistructured interviews and participatory observations of healing treatments were used as qualitative research methods to collect data. The study was approved by the ethics committee of the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin (02.11.2010 – EA1/238/10).
A snowball sampling technique  was used for recruitment. This technique is often used in qualitative research to recruit hidden populations which are difficult for researchers to access. Healers were selected on the basis of recommendations of several German healer organizations and personal recommendations of healers or patients already included in the study. For this purpose, we established contacts with several healer organizations, which focus their membership on medical doctors, non-medical CAM practitioners (“Heilpraktiker”) and lay healers. We also visited and participated in healing events to gain access to the research field. The aim was to recruit contemporary German healers with a good reputation within their healers network. In particular we asked for addresses and contact of healers with a good reputation. We aimed to include medical doctors, non-medical CAM practitioners and lay healers. The healers were asked to arrange contact with their clients so that they could be invited by the researchers to participate in the study and as well as recommend other healers. The clients were then contacted in person, by telephone or by email and asked to participate. We paid an expense allowance of 100 Euro to the healer for participating in the interviews and 50 Euro to the client.
The following inclusion criteria applied:
Healers: 18 years of age and older, providing written informed consent. Clients: above 18 years of age, previous or current treatment by the healer, providing written informed consent.
The following exclusion criteria applied:
Healers: Lack of knowledge of the German language.
Clients: disease that makes the participation in the study impossible (e.g. being unable to speak, cognitive impairment or loss of orientation).
Based on the research questions and a literature review of publications about spiritual healing in the last 20 years a semi-structured comprehensive interview guide for healers and clients was developed by the research team. The interview guide was used to support the interviewers and allowed flexibility to vary and deepen interesting aspects. After the first interviews, the interview guideline was critically reviewed by the research team and revised accordingly. Table 1 shows the interview guideline.