How Faith Healing Works

Faith healing is an age-old and worldwide practice. Jacob Maentz/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Let's say you're sick. Could be anything: heart attack, broken leg, serious infection. Chances are, you want your doctor to prescribe a medical solution to your problem, like a prescription for antibiotics or a lifesaving surgery. But instead of or in addition to medicine, some people may employ the healing properties of religion through a practice called faith healing.

A person with heart disease may have a relative or friend that prays she recovers, or family members that ask people on Facebook to pray for her. Or instead of resorting to general prayer to help with her heart disease, she might visit a faith healer, a religious leader who claims to have powers granted by a deity that allow him to miraculously heal sick people. It's possible she's visited a faith healer because the medical procedures didn't work, or she can't afford them. When the healer places a hand on her head, she swoons and feels like she's being lifted and the sickness is draining from her body. Even if her illness is terminal, she doesn't have to worry — the faith healer claims to have brought people back from the dead.

Faith healing has deep cultural roots all over the world. The basic idea behind it is that the supernatural power of a divine being can cure health problems as well as or better than medical science. Faith healing is thousands of years old, comes in many forms and has even been studied by scientists.