Neural correlates of healing prayers, depression and traumatic memories: A preliminary study

Complement Ther Med. 2016 Aug:27:123-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.07.002. Epub 2016 Jul 6.


Depression is a global health concern and when rooted in childhood adversity is particularly difficult to treat. In a previous study, we found that healing prayer was effective in reducing depressive symptoms. Subjects suffering with depression according to HAM-D scores underwent task-based brain functional MRI (fMRI) prior to and after a 6-week prayer intervention, and depression symptoms were assessed at both time points and at a 12-month follow-up. Average HAM-D scores decreased from 21.6±3.0 prior to the intervention to 4.0±2.7 immediately afterwards (14 subjects) and remained low (3.7±3.4) at 12-month follow-up (11 subjects). fMRI demonstrated increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex during focus on the traumatic memory after the prayer intervention. Changes in activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus correlated with improvement in depressive symptoms. Activity in the precuneus region decreased after the prayer intervention when subjects focused on the negative feelings associated with the trauma. We conclude that increased activity in the prefrontal cortex after healing prayer may be associated with increased cognitive control over emotions. Healing prayer may help to dissociate the memory of the trauma from feelings associated with it, as evidenced by changes in the precuneus region.

Keywords: Childhood trauma; Forgiveness; Major depressive disorder; Prayer; Precuneus; Prefrontal cortex.

MeSH terms

  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Faith Healing / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Religion
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*