Prayer is a kind of communication between an individual and God. Prayer carries with it an implication of humility and superiority, namely that the person praying is a created being (therefore becoming humble) who is petitioning the Creator (God, who is superior to creation). In a more general sense, prayer is a mechanism faith based people use to communicate with and petition spiritual entities. Prayer automatically is associated with religious belief, since the recipient is believed to be a spiritual being. Specifically in regards to mental health, there is ample research that demonstrates prayer can have a deep positive impact on individual growth, regardless of faith or belief. People have been using prayer as a form of mental healing for thousands of years. Faith is an important aspect of who we are as human beings because for many it answers questions that cannot be answered by science, history, or society. If you are a person of faith, then regardless of whether or not your therapist believes in your faith, a good therapist will respect your religion and recognize the importance that prayer provides in your life. It is not the role or job of a therapist to 'weed' you away from your faith, but to provide treatment in harmony with, and in respect of, your spiritual beliefs.

Goals of Prayer

Prayer can have many goals such as seeking answers, asking for events to happen, to acquire things, to make it through a task, to express gratitude, help someone else, or simply to feel connected and forgiven. A common goal of prayer as a form of therapy is to find the truth within oneself through God. To feel connected to the divine creates a sense of purpose, meaning, and hope in the deepest places of the human heart. This awareness can be so powerful, that it becomes transcendent. So often, people can get caught up in daily routines, and life can seem to go by so fast. Yet, all of our time in this world is finite, and it is running out with each day that passes. It is easy to simply avoid thinking of our mortality, we can distract ourselves and never even consider the reality of death. Prayer is a potent mechanism that brings this human awareness back into our conscience. This in turn can have a profound effect of helping one to focus on things that really matter in life, and thus, be a helpful therapeutic aid in sorting out priorities and discovering oneself. This is seen as a process rather than a method.

When is Prayer Used?

Prayer is used by people worldwide, of all faiths and persuasions. Logically, those who identify as atheist or agnostic would not use prayer in any serious way. Because Christianity is the most popular religion in North America, we will speak from that perspective. We want to pay respect to all faiths, but there is not room in this article to cover all world religions, so we will narrow our focus for the rest of this article to Christian prayer for the sake of time.

Speaking from the view of Christianity, prayer can be used at any time, day or night. Frequently, people will pray when they feel distressed about something. Common problems usually discussed are emotional, spiritual, or sexual problems, or issues with family or marriage. Since it involves speaking with the Lord about our problems and he is always there to listen, we can basically pray about whatever we want. However, the true health benefits of prayer have been unable to receive recognition due to the fact that healed patients may have gotten better through other factors. For example, many Christians do not drink or smoke which contributes to their overall health, yet those who pray are also less likely to exercise. Studies have shown that praying can have a similar affect on the heart to yoga.

Obviously this form of therapy is designated strictly to those who believe in a higher power. If one does not believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit, there is no way one can expect their problems to be solved through such guidance.

How Prayer Works

The style of this therapy is similar to traditional therapies in that the client has a session with a prayer counselor who will meet them either in a home or office setting. Each session begins with an open prayer. The patient expresses their thoughts and feelings about whatever is bothering them, and the prayer counselor’s job is to remain understanding and ask the patient many questions about his or her experiences. Some problems are more obvious than others, but it generally takes a few sessions before discovering the root cause of the patient’s problem. The prayer counselor draws up conclusions with the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, and may pray privately or out loud at any given time during these sessions. At times, the counselor may also guide the patient with a prayer by having him or her repeat their words, usually for the purposes of confession, repentance, recognition, comfort, renouncing, or healing.

Prayer is always going to be the main focus of this therapy. It is important for the patient to understand that they are opening themselves up to God and letting in his forgiveness, love, grace, healing, and compassion. It is a way of communicating intimately with Him. Praying during counseling sessions usually involves holding hands with the minister or even having the counselor rest his or her hands on the patient’s head or shoulders.

Depending on the church’s particular style of prayer counseling, the counselor may spread oil on the patient’s forehead or hands during prayer. Other times a particular song might be played to help motivate the patient’s prayers, and sometimes even an instructional video is included in the counseling. It is common for the prayer counselor to assign “homework” between sessions such as watching instructional videos, listening to recordings, or further reading and writing. These are meant to help speed up the recovery process.

Criticisms of Prayer

Religion is controversial in and of itself, so of course there is plenty of criticism on this form of therapy, generally by non-believers or even those of a religious faith who have not had success with this form of therapy. Some would say that psychology is rooted in science and prayer and science are contradictory. However, if the goal of therapy is to help the individual client, and if that client is a firm believer in their religion, the client is not being helped at all if they are made to feel foolish for their religion.


Cohen, C.B.; Wheeler, S.E.; Scott, D.A.; Edwards, B.S.; Lusk, P. (2012 March 6) Prayer as Therapy: A Challenge to Both Religious Belief and Professional Ethics. The Anglican Working Group in Bioethics, DOI: 10.2307/3528046

Parker, W. R.; St. Johns, E. (1983). Prayer can change your life: Experiments and techniques in prayer therapy. Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.). Book (ISBN 0136947867 [pbk])

Magaletta, P.R.; Brawer, P.A. Prayer in psychotherapy: A model for its use, ethical considerations, and guidelines for practice. Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol 26(4), 1998, 322-330.

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