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Open Access Research article

Perceived outcomes of spiritual healing and explanations - a qualitative study on the perspectives of German healers and their clients

Michael Teut1*, Barbara Stöckigt1, Christine Holmberg1, Florian Besch1, Claudia M Witt1 and Florian Jeserich12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Economics Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Luisenstr. 57, 10117 Berlin, Germany

2 Catholic Academy The Wolfsburg, Project Medicine, Nursing, Management, Muelheim, Germany

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:240  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-240

Published: 12 July 2014

Abstract

Background

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.

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusion

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.