A randomized trial of the effect of prayer on depression and anxiety

Int J Psychiatry Med. 2009;39(4):377-92. doi: 10.2190/PM.39.4.c.


Objective: To investigate the effect of direct contact person-to-person prayer on depression, anxiety, positive emotions, and salivary cortisol levels.

Design, setting, and participants: Cross-over clinical trial with depression or anxiety conducted in an office setting. Following randomization to the prayer intervention or control groups, subjects (95% women) completed Hamilton Rating Scales for Depression and Anxiety, Life Orientation Test, Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale, and underwent measurement of cortisol levels. Individuals in the direct person-to-person prayer contact intervention group received six weekly 1-hour prayer sessions while those in the control group received none. Rating scales and cortisol levels were repeated for both groups after completion of the prayer sessions, and a month later. ANOVAs were used to compare pre- and post-prayer measures for each group.

Results: At the completion of the trial, participants receiving the prayer intervention showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism compared to controls (p < 0.01 in all cases). Subjects in the prayer group maintained these significant improvements (p < 0.01 in all cases) for a duration of at least 1 month after the final prayer session. Participants in the control group did not show significant changes during the study. Cortisol levels did not differ significantly between intervention and control groups, or between pre- and post-prayer conditions.

Conclusions: Direct contact person-to-person prayer may be useful as an adjunct to standard medical care for patients with depression and anxiety. Further research in this area is indicated.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Christianity*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Religion*