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This study was designed to examine the effects of a healer seeing chronically ill patients in a large semirural practice. The 57 patients were allocated alternately either to receive ten weekly healing sessions or to become waiting-list controls. Two weeks after completion of 'healing' 22 (81%) of the 27 study patients thought their symptoms had improved and 15 of these thought they had improved substantially. Study patients scored better than controls on both measures of symptoms (P < 0.05, P < 0.01), on anxiety and depression ratings (P < 0.01, P < 0.05) and on general function measured by the Nottingham Health Profile (P < 0.01). Treatment differences were still evident three months later for one of the measures of symptom change (P < 0.05) and for both anxiety and depression ratings (P < 0.01, P < 0.05). The percentages of natural killer cells (CD16, CD56) did not change greatly in either group. These results suggest that healing may be an effective adjunct for the treatment of chronically ill patients presenting in general practice. They do not distinguish between any specific effects of spiritual healing and non-specific effects such as relaxation; for further investigation, randomized controlled trials will be needed.