Story: Alternative health therapies

Page 6. Religion, spirituality and health care

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Faith healing

Faith healing is the use of religious faith to heal people who are troubled or ill or have physical or mental ailments. In New Zealand it is associated with organised religion, mainly Christian denominations, and has been practised since the 19th century. Typical elements include prayers, commands, and physical acts like anointing with oil or the laying on of hands (which confer a blessing and allow the subject to receive the Holy Spirit). People undergoing faith healing are not necessarily required to have religious faith themselves, but most do. The best-known faith healer in New Zealand history is Tahupōtiki Wīremu Rātana, founder of the Rātana Church.

Many denominations and churches have healing ministries which are part of their pastoral care programme. They are a form of counselling service, but practitioners also believe the sick can be directly healed.

Critics argue that the efficacy of faith healing has not been proved. They say that the number of people who claim to have been healed in this way is similar to the proportion of sick people who recover spontaneously, and that faith is, at best, a placebo. Another controversial aspect of faith healing is people’s choice of prayer rather than medical advice and care when they or their family members are unwell. Cases that involve children usually receive the most publicity.

Spiritual healing

Spiritual healing is a term synonymous with faith healing, but it can be non-religious in nature. Spiritual healers call upon a life force or ‘universal source’ to help patients get well. There are two main forms of spiritual healing:

  • contact healing (the laying on of hands)
  • distance healing, when the patient is not in direct contact with the healer.

The National Federation of Spiritual Healing (NZ) represents New Zealand-based healers.

Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter yoga is an unusual form of yoga which combines laughter with breathing exercises. There are laughter clubs throughout New Zealand where people engage in exercises that encourage them to laugh for no reason. Exponents claim that this energises the mind and the body.

Meditation and yoga

Meditation is the act of focusing the mind inwards for personal contemplation or relaxation, using repeated words and phrases or a significant object. Yoga combines certain postures with breathing exercises and meditation for similar purposes, or as a form of exercise. Both practices may have strong spiritual elements, but in New Zealand are not necessarily associated with religion as they are in Asia (where they first evolved).

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Alternative health therapies - Religion, spirituality and health care', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/alternative-health-therapies/page-6 (accessed 18 June 2018)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 12 Jan 2018