The Paula Gordon Show
Medicine Man

If your doctor wrote "pray" on the prescription pad, wouldn't you think he or she had given up on you? "Not So!" says Larry Dossey, M.D.  He insists prayer is very powerful medicine, part of the healing arts on which physicians should draw. And, Dr. Dossey says, there's growing evidence from laboratories, clinics and hospitals that this is good science as well as good medicine.

This is not a religious argument. Dr. Dossey's belief is based in data he could not escape as a practicing physician, as well as studies being conducted by scientists he respects. Dr. Dossey acknowledges garden variety physical reasons why people who have a sense of spiritual meaning and purpose in life, who feel "connected," are healthier. In the last five years, that's become so accepted that one-quarter of America's medical schools offer courses on the impact of spiritual matters on human's physical health.

When Dr. Dossey starts talking about prayer as empathetic intentionality at a distance, however, he steps out onto the leading edge of medical practice. He cites a growing body of evidence that shows prayer profoundly affecting the course of disease and recovery. Dr. Dossey goes farther. He believes prayer is responsible for non-local manifestations of consciousness anywhere in the world.  

As with any powerful medicine, there can be negative side effects. Prayer can also be manipulative, irresponsible, controlling, even harmful. It's a choice people make.

Where does prayer get its power? Larry Dossey believes it's the power of empathy, which also goes by the names compassion or love or concern for others. It works, he believes, because we are all connected, by a universal consciousness as fundamental to the universe as gravity. Prayer taps us in, is our avenue to the Absolute.

Dr. Dossey urges people to liberate themselves from the temptation to micro-manage the universe, suggesting we simply be open to a higher wisdom. He recommends prayers of gratitude and openness, with no goal in mind, including, "May the best thing happen," or "Thy will be done." This attitude relieves us of the burden to "play God."

Dossey sees himself first and foremost as a healer, eager to bridge the gulf between science and spirit as well as that between mind and body. He's convinced that when we honor the complexity of prayer and cease to trivialize it, we begin to heal our lives -- at all levels.

Larry Dossey

Larry Dossey, M.D., is the former Chief of Staff of Humana Medical City, Dallas, Texas.  He was the co-chairman of the Panel on Mind/Body Interventions in the Office of Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. He's currently executive editor of the peer-reviewed journal Alternative Therapies. His book Healing Words was a New York Times Bestseller. Be Careful What You Pray For...You Just Might Get It, is now available from HarperSanFrancisco []. Dr. Dossey lives in New Mexico.


Conversation 1

Dr. Larry Dossey tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell about dramatically changing attitudes toward prayer and it's power -- positive and negative -- within traditional Western medicine. Twenty-five percent of America's medical schools now have courses on how spiritual practices affect health, a dramatic increase in just five years. The "art" side of medicine is honored.

Conversation 2

Dr. Dossey tells how the National Institutes of Health formed the Panel on Mind/Body Interventions in the Office of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and he describes the political nature of the NIH.

Dossey tells how he, a practicing physician, was reluctantly forced by data to accept prayer and religious devotion - no matter what religion - as good for people's health. He describes a number of studies supporting his assertion that "When people are imbued with a sense of spiritual meaning and purpose, they do better in matters of health." Dr. Dossey offers both practical explanations and metaphysical ones, acknowledging how hard these ideas are for many scientists to accept. He recalls former "mysteries," including the effectiveness of hand washing, penicillin, aspirin and quinine. He understands prayer to be a discipline on the frontiers of understanding.

Conversation 3

The human experience accepting the universal force of gravity is compared to the challenge many people feel today when asked to accept that there is a non-local manifestation of consciousness. Dr. Dossey reminds us of William James' assertion "We don't want to foreclose our accounts with reality" because we don't understand what is happening. He compares the ideas being generated by physicists in quantum mechanics to non-local manifestations of consciousness. He appeals to physicians who feel uncomfortable with the ambiguity and uncertainty associated with ideas about the healing power of prayer. The ability to look at all the evidence, whether it fits our expectations or not, is the cutting edge of science.

Conversation 4

Dr. Dossey talks about "the dark side" of prayer, citing studies which demonstrate that people can inhibit and kill living cells in the laboratory through "negative intentionality." He describes the negative side of prayer as manipulative, arrogant, irresponsible and dangerously naive.

He believes there is an underlying assumption of a fundamental connectedness between all beings, unrelated to which religious tradition one honors.

Dossey suggests people stop trying to micromanage existence through prayer, simply be open to a higher wisdom. He suggests prayers with no goal in mind -- "may the best thing happen," or "Thy will be done." He describes the "tremendous relief" of this approach.

Conversation 5

Dossey sees prayer as "communication with the Absolute" and describes how anyone can do it, believing humans are physiologically endowed to do so.   He describes his own early attempts to reinvigorate a prayer life, unburdened by theology. He recalls the great practitioners of mysticism within the Christian tradition who refrained from naming the Absolute, living in deep quiet where words are shunned entirely. He also cites traditions where prayer is found in ritual, imagery, dancing, singing, and people coming together.

Conversation 6

Dossey believes empathy is central to the power of prayer and describes how it works in the laboratory. He talks about himself as a healer and calls on physicians and patients to reunite science and spirit, focus on healing on the individual level as well as in the wider world. He reiterates that when we honor the complexity of prayer and cease to trivialize it, healing will follow.


A year ago summer, publicist Anita Halton and her associates made a valiant effort to bring us together with Dr. Dossey. We thank her. Some things just take time.

Related Links:
Larry Dossey, M.D.'s latest book is Be Careful What You Pray For...You Just Might Get It, published by HarperSanFrancisco [] which also published his New York Times Bestseller Healing Words.

Inventing Memories is published by  HarperCollins Publishing(

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