Aim. This critical review seeks to identify if there is evidence that private (personal) prayer is capable of improving wellbeing for adult patients in hospital.
Background. The review was conducted in the belief that the spiritual needs of hospitalised patients may be enhanced by encouragement and support to engage in prayer.
Design. Systematic review.
Method. A systematic approach was used to gather evidence from published studies. In the absence of experimental research involving this type of population, evidence from qualitative and correlational studies was critically reviewed.
Results. The findings indicate that private prayer, when measured by frequency, is usually associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Most of the studies that show positive associations between prayer and wellbeing were located in areas that have strong Christian traditions and samples reported a relatively high level of religiosity, church attendance and use of prayer. Church attenders, older people, women, those who are poor, less well educated and have chronic health problems appear to make more frequent use of prayer. Prayer appears to be a coping action that mediates between religious faith and wellbeing and can take different forms. Devotional prayers involving an intimate dialogue with a supportive God appear to be associated with improved optimism, wellbeing and function. In contrast, prayers that involve pleas for help may, in the absence of a pre-existing faith, be associated with increased distress and possibly poorer function.
Conclusion. Future research needs to differentiate the effects of different types of prayer.
Relevance to clinical practice. Encouragement to engage in prayer should be offered only following assessment of the patient’s faith and likely content and form of prayer to be used. Hospitalised patients who lack faith and whose prayers involve desperate pleas for help are likely to need additional support from competent nursing and chaplaincy staff.