Why is There So Little Science on Healing?

We have always known, instinctively, that something powerful shines through the love, hope and compassion that are the essence of CaringBridge.

But about the only science available to back-up what we have observed, across hundreds of thousands of websites with billions of visits, has been a 2002 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

That study, quite notable at the time, found that social support is enormously important in the healing process. But that was 15 years ago—the equivalent of many dog years— in the digital world. For context: Facebook, texting and YouTube didn’t exist in 2002; Google was just starting to get a foothold.

So to put some 21st century science behind something we hear all the time at CaringBridge—“I did not start a website with the intention of healing. But that is what happened”—we have been partnering with leading academic researchers to begin measuring the magic of healing.

The goal for actionable research is to help people make a choice to heal. We want to show future generations of CaringBridge users that healing is possible, and valuable, even when cure is not an outcome.

With all due respect to those who have endured health crises ranging from harrowing to heartbreaking, capturing stories of what healing looks like is straightforward.

Settling on a universal definition of healing, and whether researchers need to wait for conceptual precision before getting down to business, is trickier.

Academic scientist Jeff Levin, PhD, says to wait for an agreed-upon definition of healing before setting a research agenda.

In the April 2017 issue of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing he writes that the concept of healing is currently used inconsistently and in multiple contexts. He warns: “Without sufficient conceptual precision, empirical research on healing … is doomed.”

Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, RN, and director of the Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota, is less bothered.

She said that as a scientist, she appreciates the desire to “pin down” healing. But as a nurse, she defines healing as wholeness, an integration of body, mind and spirit. And within this broader definition, there are many things that can be measured.

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