Ask Amy: A Strange Offer of Prayer

By Amy Dickinson | March 3rd, 2021

Is even the most well-meaning offer crossing a line?

Prayer between healthcare worker and patient

Dear Amy: My husband had knee replacement surgery at a Catholic hospital last week.

The first few weeks of his physical therapy are done at our home.

The first session was today.

Everything went well and when it was time for her to leave, the therapist asked if my husband wanted to pray with her. She said this was totally up to him.

He said yes, she said a short prayer and left.

I was stunned. Is this something new?

I have been seen by a lot of health care professionals and NO ONE has ever asked me to pray with them.

We live in the Bible Belt, so I thought this might have something to do with it.

Your thoughts?

– I’ll Pray by Myself

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Dear I’ll Pray: My research into this has led me to read a number of studies regarding the practice of praying between health care workers and patients. Although most seem to reflect attitudes regarding patients asking health care workers to pray with them, one study reflected a situation similar to your husband’s. Quoting a 2018 study published by the National Institutes of Health: “Most Americans pray; many pray about their health. When they are hospitalized, however, do patients want an offer of prayer from a health-care provider? This project allowed for the measurement of hospitalized patient’s responses to massage therapists’ offers of a colloquial prayer after a massage.

“After the intervention, 78 patients completed questionnaires that elicited quantitative data … In this sample, 88 percent accepted the offer of prayer, 85 percent found it helpful, and 51 percent wanted prayer daily. Patients may welcome prayer, as long as the clinician shows ‘genuine kindness and respect.’”

Even though it might be unusual, I don’t think it is necessarily unethical for a health-care provider to offer to pray with a patient, even in the patient’s own home. Doing so might help to build a connection between the therapist and patient. Prayer might help to relax the patient and “center” his intentions toward his own health and recovery.

The offer might also feel like coercion.

How did your husband feel about this practice? He should prepare himself to respond before his next appointment.

A reminder that this is his treatment, and HE gets to decide how to handle it, regardless of how you feel about it.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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