Perceived outcomes of spiritual healing and explanations – a qualitative study on the perspectives of German healers and their clients | BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies | Full Text


A total of 15 healers and 16 clients participated in this study. We conducted and analyzed 24 interviews with healers and 20 interviews with clients; in addition, we conducted and analyzed eight participant observations of healing sessions.

The average age of the healers was 55 ± 7.9 (mean ± sd) years (nine men, six women; two healers did not want to provide information on the age), four healers were physicians, four healers were alternative practitioners, another seven healers were lay practitioners. Seven healers used combinations of healing methods, nine healers primarily practiced psychic healing, eight practiced healing with hands and seven through prayer, one healer used incantations. Of the healers who prayed, two healers were Christian Science practitioners. Christian Science is a faith community that sees healing as a fundamental mission for practitioners. The other healers related to other philosophies and religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism and also Shamanism. Very often healers referred to a mixture of religions and philosophies.

The average age of the clients was 56 ± 13.8 years (13 female, three male), six clients were employed, three clients worked in healthcare, two in the media industry, one as a lawyer, one client unemployed and four pensioners.

The interviews each lasted between 45 and 120 minutes.

A. Perceived Outcomes During and After Healing Sessions

Perceived outcomes from healing sessions were reported by all clients, but also by many healers. They fall broadly into the following categories:

  1. 1)

    Changes in sensations and feelings,

  2. 2)

    Changes in self concepts and values,

  3. 3)

    Changes in medical symptoms and conditions.

  4. 1)

    Changes in sensations and feelings

“Yes, in the first treatment I found so much peace and relaxation, (…) I perceived my body (…) with a fairly strong relaxation, and heat went through my body, which I found very pleasant. (…) And there is no sense of time.” (D_H2_K1; client)

The majority of the clients surveyed reported pleasant sensations and feelings during the healing treatments and afterwards. This was a consistent theme regardless of the type of healing treatment. Clients described multi-sensory perceptions with sensations of warmth or light and “energy” flowing through the body. Experiences of relaxation, inner peace, increased feeling of harmony, inner balance and joy were reported most frequently. Some clients have described and explained this perceived phenomenon as a process of “cleansing within”. The state of consciousness during healing has been described by some clients as a dream-like state where the sense of time is lost.

After treatment, clients reported more inner strength and power, e.g. “My energy level has increased”. Some clients have reported changes that started with one treatment several years ago, and the results have continued to this day. Side effects or deteriorations were rarely reported, these were interpreted as “temporary deteriorations” in the initial healing process.

  1. 2)

    Changes in self-concepts and values

“So now I can let go at any time. I totally opened up to my own abilities. I feel authentic and no longer play the role I played for a long time.” (C_H1_H2_K3; client)

“My whole attitude to life has changed since then. Yes, I’m actually much more conscious in my life, with my partner, with my children. Things that were important before are no longer important. Yes, I used to be happy when I went shopping, but that’s no longer important to me.” (D_H2_K1; client)

A large proportion of the clients surveyed stated that their lives were after to have changed significantly in terms of participation in medical treatments. Many clients described a process of change that led to changed self-concepts, values ​​and lifestyles. Many clients have expressed that after healing, they realized the importance of using their lives for a meaningful purpose rather than shopping, watching television, smoking, or engaging in other consuming activities. Improving family life was an important topic for many clients in the discussions with the healers after the treatments. Many clients reported that healing treatments helped them focus more on social relationships and enjoy family life and friendships. Family life is said to have changed for the better in many cases. Some clients also embarked on new career paths, others discovered religion and spirituality, or felt more connected to transcendent sources.Some of the clients even started to work as healers themselves (see also our publication on biographical similarities between healers and their clients in: Stöckigt B, Besch F, Jeserich F, Holmberg C, Witt CM, Teut M: Biographical Similarities between healers and their clients in Germany – a qualitative study. Submitted). Healers explained these changes as clients regaining their ability to live their own lives, follow their own path, and make important decisions independent of outside influences.

Clients and healers both explained that clients are in the process of healing regain confidence in the meaning of life, activate resources and are empowered to change. Specifically, the ability to feel and give love, to let go, to accept, to make peace and to be reconciled with personal destiny, family and friends was mentioned. A process of increased self-knowledge helped the clients to evaluate and redefine their “life story”. The healers described this as a process in which clients become more self-aware and work through problems and difficulties in their actual life and biography. You take on more personal responsibility and thus gain control and the ability to change. Several clients have described this process as an initial “shock” (awareness) followed by a connection to spiritual forces and experiencing a process of change.

  1. 3)

    Changes in complaints and symptoms

“Yes, I’ve actually been fine since then. I slept for the first time without the usual (…) medication.” (C_H1_H2_K5; client)

Most of the clients described an increase in general well-being as an important result of the healing treatments. Improvements in medical symptoms and conditions (eg, symptoms of chronic headache or back pain, lymphedema, eye disease, liver disease, and improvements in laboratory parameters) have also been reported. However, clients and healers did not consider medical outcomes to be the most important outcome of healing treatments.

Most healers believed that improvements in well-being and vitality are the first signs of successful healing treatments. In this case, of course, an improvement in the medical symptoms should follow.

B. Explanations for the Perceived Effects of Spiritual Healing

Most healers and many clients have had explanations and hypotheses as to how the healing treatments might work. The explanations described can be summarized under the following categories:

  1. 1)

    Connecting to transcendent sources,

  2. 2)

    Enabling clients to do so Change,

  3. 3)

    Use of the client-healer relationship,

  4. 4)

    Construction of meaning.

  5. 1)

    Connection with transcendent sources

“You must understand that you feel touched by the light at the moment you are doing everything right and everything is fine. (…) Love is the divine. And (…) if the divine is not there to heal, then I cannot heal. (…) I let the energy flow and I know that the energy goes where (…) it is needed” (C_H1_H2; healer).

“Which means “higher spiritual power”? This is the power that breathes into every cell of your body. (…) This is the force that moves the universe. It is the intelligence that makes the entire galaxy dance so that they don’t collide (…), the intelligence works as above, but also works in you. Trade anytime, anywhere. (…) I have to go there and I have to find it, something that has always been there. (…) Yes, it’s like (…) an act of love (…), on an energetic level. You connect and merge with something, everything flows together.” (A_H3; healer)

Connecting clients and healers to transcendent sources to enhance healing has been the primary explanation for how spiritual healing could work. Clients and healers named as transcendent sources, for example, “God”, “spirits”, “beings of light”, “light”, “energy”, “holy silence”, “love”, “divine love”, “inner voice” or “the divine”. in himself”. The connection to transcendent sources in our study can be understood as communication about an experience of transcendence (beyond oneself), as a reference to something that is not in the everyday consciousness of the here and now or is not experienced as a genuine part of the self [16 ]. The experience of connection has been described as a process of “letting go”, “letting go” and also “merging” with the transcendent Source. Healers and clients explained that connecting to transcendent sources and “letting go” are essential to begin the healing process. The “self” of the client and the healer should be guided and guided by the transcendent source to be transformed. Some healers referred to this as an “act of love.” Some healers also told clients to transmit love “as divine power” or “energy” in their healing, which can initiate a transformational and healing process.In other cases, love was immediately present when a connection was made to the transcendent sources. According to healers and clients, connecting to transcendent sources often led to the perception of an “energy flow,” and that flow should be “dynamic,” not “blocked.” “Getting energy to flow” was often referred to as a central aspect of healing treatments and illness was understood as a blockage of energies. The healers described that a healer’s most important function is to act as a “channel for healing, divine love and transformation.” Clients’ “cognitive thinking” was often cited as an obstacle in the healing process, while intuition was seen as supporting and promoting healing.

  1. 2)

    Enabling clients to change

“My healing consists essentially in (…) making the patient aware that the responsibility lies with him, (…) my work consists in getting the client to know what he needs. And then he has to do it.” (A_H3; healer)

“It is of course a great advantage that we have a selection of [clients] here who (…) want to take a different path and all they need is support. They’re already on the path, that’s their energy, and we just have to support them.” (C_H4; Healer)

……I’ve always visualized . (..) to be healthy (..) to be happy again (…) and I always imagined exactly what it would be like. And (…) that’s exactly what happened. (C_H1_H2_K6; Client)

Many healers reported that an important healing mechanism is to empower and support clients to take on more responsibility and make changes in their lives. Healers reported supporting clients to change unhealthy behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles. To achieve this, healers reported using pre-existing expectations and assisting clients in activating personal resources. They guide clients to find solutions to problematic aspects of their lives and to overcome psychological “blocks”. Clients’ perception of positive emotions such as “happiness” or “love” as a result of healing was found to be very helpful in promoting and sustaining a process of change.

  1. 3)

    Using the Client-Healer Relationship

“(I) talked to the healer about it and [the psychic symptom] was gone afterwards.” (C_H1_H2_K1; client)

“And then I met [the healer] and found out that this woman is actually the first and only person I’ve ever met who actually does what she says (…) and follows a very high ethical standard (…).” (A_H2_K1; client)

Healers and clients believed that their relationship with each other supports the healing process. Clients described the empathy of the healer, his personality, his life and healing history as a model for their individual healing path. Trust in the healer was seen as an essential part of treatment. From the healer’s point of view, being empathetic and making the client feel accepted and understood was fundamental to the healing process. Taking enough time to discuss all relevant aspects of the healing and to answer all of the client’s questions was considered extremely important. Healers have often been characterized by clients as role models: following the spiritual path that the healer has taken himself can help to transform himself. Healers inspired clients through their personal history, personality, appearance, and beliefs. In most cases, healers have themselves gone through difficult times, a mental crisis or an illness in the past. This seemed to inspire clients to use similar problem-solving strategies (for more details see [15]).

  1. 4)

    Construction of meaning

“We all have a heart. We can access our heart, our emotions. Healing is gaining knowledge of the symptoms we seem to be suffering from and what they mean.” (A_H2; Healer)

“You learn a lot about yourself that way. And in the broadest sense, it has a lot to do with realizing how big this universe is and how small we humans are and how much intelligence is around us. And that leads to a great deal that one finds more in oneself!” (D_H3_K1; client)

Clients and healers reported that healing treatments helped the clients to gain a new perspective on their ailments and subsequently building a new meaning in their lives.

The healing sessions were mostly as a phase of sensitization of the clients and healers, connecting with transcendent sources and “letting go” and intuitively trying to understand the meaning of Understand symptoms and problems (e.g. “listen to your heart”) in a structured way. Formal healing treatment was often followed by lengthy conversations between client and healer to interpret the experiences.

In the process of problem identification and interpretation, religious, spiritual, and psychological attributions of meaning were used to construct meaning.The healer emphasized that clients “listen to their inner voice” and try to understand problems intuitively. By connecting to spiritual sources, clients may be able to look at their problems from a different (e.g., “higher”) perspective, learn more about themselves, and understand their problems in a broader context. This leads to the construction of new meanings and, as a result, to problem-solving strategies. This should empower clients to overcome “blocks” to make significant changes that may lead to relief and healing. In this sense, complaints and problems were interpreted by healers and clients as symbolic carriers of meaning. Very often they have been understood as a warning system demanding change.


Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

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