Research on Healing


In 1995 Fred Sicher was in his retirement from being a psychologist, researcher and hospital administrator.  Now was the time to investigate something that fascinated him, the study of distant healing.  He contacted his friend Marilyn Schlitz, the director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in search of a researcher and was recommended Elisabeth Targ.

Elisabeth Targ was an orthodox psychiatrist in her early 30s at the time.  Elisabeth was the daughter of Russell Targ.  Russell Targ was the partner and successor with Hal Puthoff in their SRI remote viewing experiments.  Her father has a fabulous reputation for building impeccable experiments and had taught his daughter the respect for the importance of the air-tight, well-controlled trial.  She grew up believing that any sort of effect could be quantified, so long as you designed the experiment to control for variables.  Her father and his research partner Puthoff had proven that a well-designed experiment could even prove the miraculous.  Regardless of whether the outcome violated the researcher’s every expectation the outcome was always to be accepted.  Although her father had shifted his thinking over the years to embrace certain spiritual ideas, Elisabeth remained the cool rationalist.  At 13 she was already working in research at the Karl Pribram’s brain research laboratory at Stanford University, examining differences between left and right hemisphere activity.  Elisabeth also did some research with her father in remote-viewing and had been invited to work as the director of the California Pacific Medical Center’s Complementary Research Institute.  The rigours of scientific training was in her blood, she remained the cool rationalist and never forgot one of the other main lessons of her father: received wisdom was the enemy of good science.

Elisabeth agreed to assist Sicher.

Elisabeth began by trawling through the evidence of healing which was already available: attempts to affect isolated cells or enzymes: healing of animals, plants or microscopic living systems; and studies of human beings.  She was interested in the evidence showing the effects humans could have on plants and animals.  There was also some work showing the positive or negative thoughts and feelings could somehow be transmitted to other living things.

In order to set up her research experiment she had to ensure that any potential variables would not be able to affect the results.  Below are some of the potential variables which Elisabeth discovered from her predecessors work.  She went through over 150 research trials, these are just a couple to give you the background as to how Elisabeth set-up her rigorous experiment.

An ingenious trial by Gerald Solfvin showed that our ability to “hope for the best” might actually affect the healing of other beings.  Solfvin created a series of complex and elaborate conditions for his test.  He injected a whole group of mice with a type of malaria, which is usually fatal in rodents.  Solfvin then asked 3 lab assistance to each look after a portion of the mice telling them that only half of the mice were actually injected - false.  Then he told them that a psychic healer would be attempting to heal half the mice – not necessarily those with the malaria – although the assistance would not know which mice were to be the target – again false.  All the assistants could do was to hope that the mice in their care would recover.  One assistant was considerably more optimistic than his colleagues, and it showed. At the end of the study, the mice under his care were less ill than those cared for by the other 2 assistants.

An earlier study in 1974 by Rex Stanford also showed that people could influence events just by “hoping” everything would go well, even when they did not fully understand exactly what they were supposed to be hoping for.

In the 1960s Dr Bernard Grad, a biologist, of McGill University in Montreal was also interested to determine whether psychic healers actually transmitted energy to patients.  Grad used plants rather than human patients and made the plants “ill” by soaking their seeds in salty water which retards growth.  Before soaking the seeds he had a healer lay hands on one of two containers of salt water which were to be used to separate two batches of seeds.  After the seeds were soaked in the two containers of salt water the results were that indeed the seeds exposed to the water treated by the healer grew taller.  Grad chemically analyzed the water by infrared spectroscopy and discovered that the water treated by the healer had minor shifts in its molecular structure and decreased hydrogen bonding between the molecules.  This is similar to what happens to water when it is exposed to magnets.  These findings were confirmed by a number of other scientists.

Grad then was curious as to the effects of negative feelings having a potential negative effect of plants.  Grad arranged for several psychiatric patients hold containers of ordinary water.  One patient being treated for psychotic depression was noticeably more depressed than the others.  When Grads tried to sprout seeds using the various waters from the different containers the water held by the depressed man had suppressed growth in those plants.

Grad then moved onto mice that had been given skin wounds in a laboratory.  After controlling a number of factors, even the effects of warm hands, he found that the skin of the test mice healed far more quickly when the healers had treated them.   He also showed that healers could reduce the growth of cancerous tumours in laboratory animals.  Animals with tumours which were not healed died more quickly.  Other animal studies have shown that amyloidosis, tumours and laboratory-induced goiter could be healed in laboratory animals.

Carroll Nash, a biologist at St Joseph’s University in Philadelphia found that people could influence the growth rate of bacteria just by willing it so.  Other scientific studies proved that people could influence yeast, fungi and even isolated cancer cells.

There were various instances in which an intermediary would use one of a variety of methods to attempt to send healing messages, through touch, prayer or some sort of secular intention.  With therapeutic touch, the patient is supposed to relax and attempt to direct his or her attention inward while the healer lays hands on the patient and intends the patient to heal.

One typical study involved 96 patients with high blood pressure and a number of healers.  Neither doctor nor patients were told who was being given the mental healing treatments.  The results after showed that the systolic blood pressure of the group being treated by a healer was significantly improved, compared with that of the controls.  As a group the healers demonstrated overall success and, in certain individuals extraordinary results.  Four of the healers enjoyed a 92.3% improvement among their total group of patients.

In 1988 Randolph Byrd attempted to determine in a randomized, double-blind trial whether remote prayer would have any effect on patients in a coronary care unit.  Over 10 months, nearly 400 patients were divided into two groups, and only half (unbeknownst to them) were prayed for by a Christian prayer group outside the hospital.  All patients had been evaluated, and there was no statistical difference in their condition before treatment.  After treatment, those who’d been prayed for had significantly less severe symptoms and few instances of pneumonia, and also required fewer heart drugs, fewer antibiotics and diuretics, and less assistance on a ventilator than patients who hadn’t been prayed for.

Elisabeth was concerned that all these studies had sloppy protocol – key to all good research.  For example: in the blood pressure study the authors didn’t record whether the patients were taking blood pressure medication, so was it healing or drugs?.  In Byrd’s prayer study which was very well designed he omitted data concerning the psychological state of the patients when they’d started the study – had a disproportionate number of patients with a positive mental outlook landed in the healing group? 

Elisabeth had to separate out any effects that might be due to causes other than healing.  Even human expectation could skew the results.  She needed to find a way of controlling for the effects of hope or such factors as relaxation on the outcome of trials.  Cuddling animals or even handling the contents of Petri dishes, could potentially bias the results, as could the act of travelling to a healer or even a warm pair of hands.  The two groups needed to be matched as closely as you can in terms of health, age, socioeconomic status and any other relative factors.  If patients are ill you need to make sure one group isn’t more ill than the other.  In the studies which Elisabeth had researched few attempts had been made to make sure the populations were similar. 

She needed to make sure that the participation in a study and all the attention associated with it doesn’t itself cause improvement.  This had happened in a six-week study of distant healing on patients suffering from clinical depression.  Every patient improved.  All patients may have had a psychological boost from the session, which might have overwhelmed any actual effect of healing.

All these considerations represented a tremendous challenge for Elisabeth in putting her trial together.  Elisabeth and Fred spent months designing their trial.  It was double-blind so neither patients nor doctors could know who was being healed.  The patient populations was homogeneous and they had selected advanced AIDS patients of Elisabeth’s with the same degree of illness – the same T-cell counts, the same number of AIDS-defining illnesses.  All healing was to be done remotely.  All healers would be screened and be from diverse backgrounds and cover a whole array of approaches.  They screened out healers who were egotistical, only in it for the money or fraudulent.  Healers had to be dedicated, as they’d receive no pay and no individual glory.  Each patient was treated by at least ten different healers.

After four months of searching Fred and Elisabeth had their healers which were an eclectic assortment of 40 religious and spiritual healers.  Only a small minority described themselves as conventionally religious and carried out their work by praying to God or using a rosary: several Christian healers, a handful of evangelicals, one Jewish kabbalist healer and a few Buddhists.  A number of others were trained in non-religious healing schools, such as the Barbara Brennan School of Healing Light, or worked with complex energy fields, attempting to change colours or vibrations in the patients aura.  Some used contemplative healing or visualizations; others worked with tones and planned to sign or ring bells on behalf of the patient, the purpose of which, they claimed, was to reattune their chakras, or energy centres.  A few worked with crystals.  One healer, who’d been trained as a Lakota Sioux shaman, intended to use the Native American pip ceremony.  Drumming and chanting would enable him to go into a trance during which he would contact spirits on the patient’s behalf.  They also enlisted a Qigong master from China, who said that he would be sending harmonizing qi energy to the patients.  The only criterion was that the healers believed that what they were using was going to work.

The healers had also one other common element: success in treating hopeless cases.  Collectively the healers had an average of 17 years experience in healing and reported an average of 117 distant healings apiece.

The 20 patients were divided in half.  One researcher gathered up each patient’s name, photograph and health details into a numbered folder which was passed to a second researcher who then renumbered the folder at random.  A third researcher would then randomly divide the folders into two groups, after which they were placed in locked filing cabinets.  Copies in 5 sealed packets would be sent to each healer, with information about the five patients and a start date specifying the days to begin treatment on each person.  The only person in the whole study who knew who was going to be healed were the healers themselves.  The healers would have no contact with their patients who they had never met or meet.  All the healers had was a photo, a name and a T-cell count.

Each healer was asked to hold intention for the health and well-being of the patient for an hour a day, six days each week, for ten weeks, with alternate weeks off for rest.  Every patient in the treatment group would be treated by every healer in turn.  To remove any individual biases, healers had a weekly rotation, so that they were assigned a new patient each week.  It was the healing itself that would be studies not a particular method.  The healers were to keep a log of their sessions with information about their healing methods and their impressions of their patients’ health.

Elisabeth, although open minded about the healers, her training and own predilections kept surfacing.  She remained fairly convinced that Native American pipe smoking and chakra chanting had nothing to do with curing a group of men with an illness so serious and so advanced that they were virtually certain to die.

And then…… she saw her patients with end-stage AIDS getting better.

During the six months of the trial 40% of the control population died.  All ten of the patients in the healing group were not only still alive but had become healthier, on the basis of their own reports and medical evaluations.

At the end of the study, the patients had been examined by a team of scientists and the condition had yielded one inescapable conclusion: the treatment was working.

Elisabeth and Fred didn’t believe their own results.  They checked and rechecked their data in search of anything which was different: T-cells, doctors, medication, diets, length of being HIV positive.  They found one difference only, the average age of the non-treated group was 45 compared with 35 for the treated group.  Had this made the difference?  They followed up with the patients after the study and found that those who’d been healed were surviving better. 

Elisabeth and Fred decided to do the test again.  In researching such a controversial field Elisabeths science dictated that you have to assume that the effect isn’t real unless you are really sure.  Would 10 years difference make that difference?  They did it all again.

The new 40 patients matched perfectly for age, degree of illness and many other variables, even down to their personal habits.  The amount they smoked, or exercise they took, their religious beliefs, even their use of recreational drugs were equivalent.  In scientific terms this was a batch of men who were as close as you could get to a perfect match.

By this time protease inhibitors had been discovered.  All the patients were told to take standard triple therapy for AIDS (protease inhibitors plus two anti-retroviral drugs such as AZT) and to continue their medical treatment in every other regard.  Because of the triple therapy Elisabeth assumed that, this time, no one would die so she was now looking to see if the distant healing could slow down the progression of AIDS.  Could it result in fewer AIDS-defining illnesses, improved T-cell levels, less medical intervention, improved psychological well-being?

After the 6 months trial was complete the treatment group were healthier on every parameter – significantly fewer doctor visits, fewer hospitalizations, fewer days in hospital, fewer new AIDS-defining illnesses and significantly lower severity of disease.  Only two of the treatment group had developed any new AIDS-defining illnesses, while 12 of the control group had, only 3 of the treatment group had been hospitalized compared with 12 of the other group.  The treatment group also registered a significantly improved mood on psychological tests.  Midway through the study all participants were asked if they thought they were being treated.  In both groups half thought they were, half thought not.  This meant that any involvements of positive mental attitude would not have affected the results.

Elisabeth conducted 50 statistical tests to eliminate whether any other variables in the patients might have contributed to the result.  She found nothing more than chance.

The results were inescapable.  No matter which type of healing they used, no matter what their view of a higher being, the healers were dramatically contributing to the physical and psychological well-being of their patients.

Elisabeth studied the healers.  It didn’t matter what method of healing was used, so long as the intention for the patient to heal was there.  Calling on Spider Woman, a healing grandmother star figure common in the Native American culture was every bit as successful as calling on Jesus.  The techniques used by the healers had been profoundly different.  One “flow alignment” practitioner felt, after working with several of the patients, that there was a common energy field in all of them which she came to think of as the “AIDS energy signature”, and she would work on getting in touch with their healthy immune system and ignore the “bad energy”.  With another it was more a case of working on psychic surgery, spiritually removing the virus from their bodies.  Another, a Christian, carried out healing in front of her own alter with pictures of the Virgin and saints and many lit candles claimed to have summoned up spirit doctors, angels and guides.  Other, like the kabbalistic healer, simply focused on energy patterns.

The one common factor in all these methods was an ability to get out of the way.  They set their intention and then stepped back and surrendered to some other kind of healing force, as though they were opening a door and allowing something greater in.

Many of the more effective healers had asked for help, from the spirit world or from the collective consciousness or even from a religious figure such as Jesus.  It was not an egoistic healing on their part, more like a request: “please may this person be healed”.  Much of their imagery had to do with relaxing, releasing or allowing the spirit, light or love in.  The actual being, whether it was Jesus or Spider Woman, appeared irrelevant.


In a project called the Copper Wall Project, in Topeka, Kansas, Elmer Green found that experienced healers have abnormally high electric field patterns during healing sessions.  Green enclosed his participants in isolated rooms made with walls constructed entirely of copper, which would block electricity from any other sources.  The healers had generated electrical surges higher than 60volts during healing sessions, as measured by electrometers placed on the healers themselves and on all four walls.  Video recordings of the healers showed these voltage surges had nothing to do with physical movement.  Studies of the nature of the healing energy of Chinese Qigong masters have provided evidence of the presence of photon emission and electromagnetic fields during healing sessions.  These sudden surges of energy may be physical evidence of a healer’s greater coherence, his ability to marshall his own quantum energy and transfer it.