HEALTH Healing rooms tout prayer

The movement encourages prayer in addition to medical treatment.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The first step in healing prayer is to overcome your feelings of inadequacy, Bill Malone says, his eyes scanning the four faces in the room. Most people don't think they have the power to do it.
Malone is here to assure them: Their prayers can heal the sick. All they have to do is believe God wants people to be physically and emotionally fit.
"We're not faith healers, as you've heard the term," Malone said. "But our definition of faith healers is having faith that God can do the healing."
Enter the realm of divine healing, an age-old religious practice being revived across the country. The practice has attracted a new following since 1999 when a couple opened a healing room in Spokane, Wash., on the site where a man named John G. Lake is said to have healed thousands through prayer in the early 1900s. When news of the Spokane site spread four years ago, people traveled across the country and overseas, hoping to be healed -- of cancer, backaches, headaches and depression.
Additional locations
Healing rooms opened in other cities, many under the umbrella of the International Association of Healing Rooms in Spokane. The organization now has 210 sites worldwide.
The rooms typically are set up in professional offices or shopping centers, rather than churches. The sick come during scheduled hours. Some make appointments, but walk-ins generally are allowed. There is no charge, but people can drop money into donation boxes. They fill out forms and wait to be called into a private healing room. The clients sit in comfortable chairs surrounded by at least three people trained to pray away sickness.
The association instructs its members to work with medical professionals. It does not tell people to stop taking medicine or stop seeing doctors. It encourages those who think they are healed to get documented proof from their physicians.
In late January, Malone and his wife, Pam, opened the Healing Rooms of Tampa Bay, and they held their first training seminar this month. Only four people showed up at their cozy sanctuary.
The Malones, who live in Clearwater, Fla., became known for their involvement in the National Day of Prayer and as founders of the Pray USA! Ministry.
Fight with disease
They started to believe in healing prayer in the 1980s as Pam battled an immune deficiency disorder. She went through eight doctors. One day, she went to a healing seminar and watched people pray for the sick. She studied teachings about healing. The teachings said Jesus' death paid the price for sickness. Even though she was ill, Pam started praying for other people. Some of them felt better, she said.
Finally, a doctor figured out that she'd contracted hepatitis during a trip to Hawaii and that a misdiagnosis had led to other illnesses. He gave her the right treatments. That, combined with trips to a chiropractor, vitamin therapy and prayer, made her better, she said.
"Through it all, God was moving," she said. "But not all are healed, and people wonder why," Bill said. "Why aren't people healed? That's a mystery, and only God knows why people aren't healed."
What science says
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a psychology professor at Duke University, says growing research indicates that people who pray and engage in other activities of faith have less stress and are better able to cope with life. That can translate into better health among those people because they have fewer stress-related illnesses, such as heart attacks and strokes.
But when it comes to intercessory prayer -- people praying for others -- scientific studies are varied. "It's very much a mixed bag," Koenig said.
Researchers have performed about a dozen studies on intercessory prayer since 1969, he says. In about half, intercessory prayer had no significant effect. The other half showed only slight differences in favor of intercessory prayer, he said.
Margaret Poloma, a sociologist at the University of Akron in Ohio, is a member of a prayer team at the Healing Rooms of Greater Cleveland. Poloma says she has prayed for people who have later reported being healed of illness. But such healings would be difficult and costly to study and document, she says.
"I would suspect that many of the healings are more inner healings than physical healings," Poloma said.