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The Healing Power of Faith

by Vivienne Silver-Leigh(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 100 - June 2004

Our Beliefs Influence Our Health

I have been held captive by a book by Herbert Benson MD entitled Timeless Healing, The Power and Biology of Belief, for some weeks now. The author has researched the evidence about our ability to achieve 'Remembered Wellness' or healing. Dr Benson says: "we should not ignore compelling brain research that demonstrates that beliefs manifest themselves throughout our bodies".

We know that placebo treatments often get good results. Researchers have found that treatments which patients believe in may be more effective than ones they do not trust. In other words, if you have positive expectations of a good outcome, this can bring about improvement, because the belief factor "mobilises the patients' internal resources" (Benson, Page 32).

Benson had a scientific medical training, but he was always dissatisfied and critical with the way medicine dealt with patients. He could see that something important was missing, that patients died who were told they were very ill, or lived if they thought they had some hope. So he was drawn into mind/body research, and his earlier famous book, The Relaxation Response, prescribed Relaxation for the fight or flight reaction to stress. His new emphasis on self-healing seemed revolutionary when it was first published many years ago.

Our beliefs can be useful not only for our spiritual state, but also to our physical health. If you want to do some self-healing, you should consider the research results which show that if we can invoke our belief systems, then the powerful Faith Factor will enter the picture, and help in healing our illness.

Nocebo and Placebo Effects

If you belong to a certain African tribe, and someone makes a wax model and sticks pins into it, you may die. It happens. But why? The Nocebo effect, their belief that something negative will inevitably happen. On the other hand, there are many strange, highly unscientific, alternative therapies currently practised in the West that seem to produce healing, and clients keep going back for more, and get better. Why? The answer may lie in the Placebo effect. On the other hand, a negative belief creates Nocebo, negative results.

Harnessing the Placebo Effect for Self-Healing

Dr Benson is not advocating throwing away medical treatment, but he believes that you can add to it by harnessing the placebo effect. First stop is our early value system, whatever it may have been. This does not mean you have to return to your original Church, but by selecting and repeating words or phrases that once meant something to you, old patterns in your brain will respond. You can create a healing state, and the will to live, strengthening any medical treatment you are having.

What you feel is good for you, makes you better, was the conclusion that Dr Benson reached, after many years of working as a doctor. If you think of yourself as sick, you may get better more slowly than your friend who has the same diagnosis but who believes in the power of healing or remembered wellness.

The Faith Factor – Creating The Placebo Effect


Breathe consciously and slowly, repeating mentally to yourself any calming word or phrase that has connection to your childhood belief system, while sitting in a relaxed physical state, eyes closed, spine straight. You will create a healing state in your body and mind, because of the Faith factor. Forget reason, rationality, because if you are sick or just stressed out, you need this extra dimension, and the words from your childhood prayers are deeply charged within you, which is why they can be effective when you repeat them.

If as a child you recited the Lord's prayer, Hail Mary, the Shema, or Allah Akbar, then deep in your unconscious will be a belief in a supernatural, powerful state. Use your chosen childhood words, repetitively, in your relaxed meditation, and you create a healing tool. "All of our life events and emotions have neurosignatures, shorthand reactions the brain stores and recalls" says Dr Benson (page 80). Words that could also work for you may be associated with your adult experiences, such as 'calm', 'peace'.

Trust in the Wisdom of the Body
Can you go through your days,
Holding fast to the Tao?
As your focus on your breathing,
Can you relax like a child?
Can you clear your vision
And open yourself to life?

(Quoted from Lao Tzu, Tao 10, in the Tao of the Inner Way)

When things look bleak in the world outside, we need trust that we have some strength inside ourselves.

If you are alive, then you are able to breathe, and so you can bring the wisdom of the breath to your body. If you are feeling negative or confused, or your life seems to be going nowhere, it helps to practice a physical and mental discipline which transforms this negativity. Breathwork of any discipline will help.

Breathing in Chi, the Chinese word for energy, or Prana, the Yoga word, helps to renew the body and bring about a more positive frame of mind. Many Eastern breathing practices help you develop physical strength, spiritual growth and inner peace. My practice has included Yoga, Rebirthing, Meditation, Dan Hak (Brain respiration) and walking in nature, and they have been allies in my search for inner balance and health. Other people turn to Tai Chi, Chi Gung, or Karate, which also restore inner confidence and faith in yourself.

Recently, walking along the beach, on a cold, sunny day in January, I breathed in the clean sea air, knowing that the dark days of winter were ending soon.

I breathed deeply and later went on to do a warm water Rebirthing-breathwork workshop washed away the cloudy mental state that had been with me for some time. Clarity and hope returned.

The Tao teaches that all life is process, we are continually evolving. "We can restore our oneness with nature and each other" – (The Tao of Inner Peace).


Benson, Herbert, M.D. with Stark Marg. Timeless Healing – The Power and Biology of Belief. Simon & Schuster. 1996.

Dreher Diane. The Tao of Inner Peace – a modern guide to the ancient way of peace and harmony. Thorsons. 1990.


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About Vivienne Silver-Leigh

Vivienne Silver-Leigh had a career first as a speech therapist, and then became a lecturer in English and counselling. She trained counsellors for five years, and now has a private practice, working as a psychotherapist, from a humanistic/integrative perspective. Following a strong interest in spirituality, she learned yoga and various forms of breathwork and meditation. She can be contacted on e-mail:


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