Principle Proposed Uses
- There are no uses of Therapeutic Touch with any meaningful scientific support.
What Is Therapeutic Touch?
Therapeutic Touch was developed in the early 1970s by two people: Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN, and a self-professed healer named Dora Van Gelder Kunz. At first, TT involved setting the hands lightly on the body of the patient, but the method rapidly evolved into a non-contact, “energy healing” method. Today certified practitioners can be found in virtually all parts of the U.S. and in much of the world. TT is available in mainstream health care facilities including hospices, hospital-based alternative health programs, and even ICUs.
Therapeutic Touch is sometimes described as a scientific version of “laying on of hands,” a technique practiced by faith healers. However, there is more spirituality than science to this method; it makes use of beliefs and principles common in spiritual healing traditions but alien to current science culture.
According to TT, the body has an “energy field,” and, without physical contact, the energy field of one person can substantially affect the energy field of another. The practitioner is said to heal, balance, replenish, and improve the flow of the patient’s energy field, thereby leading to enhanced overall wellness. However, there is no meaningful scientific evidence for any of these beliefs.
What Is the Scientific Evidence Regarding Therapeutic Touch?
To be fair, proper study of TT presents researchers with some serious obstacles. The only truly meaningful way to determine whether a medical therapy works is to perform a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. (For the reasons why this is true, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? ) For hands-on therapies such as TT, however, a truly double-blind study is not possible—the TT practitioner will inevitably know whether he or she is administering real TT or fake TT!
The best type of study that can be performed on TT is a single-blind study with blinded observers. In such studies, participants do not know whether they received real or fake TT, and an observer who is also kept in the dark evaluates their medical outcome. However, such a study still has potential bias in it; practitioners could very well communicate a kind of cynicism when they fake TT, and this problem appears to be insurmountable.
Further problems are involved in the choice of fake treatment. In most of the studies described below, sham TT involved practitioners counting backward in their heads by subtracting seven serially from 100. The intent of this method was to avoid any possibility of projecting a healing concentration. It has been pointed out that this somewhat stressful effort would cause the practitioner to communicate tension rather than relaxation to study participants, and this too could bias results. However, it is difficult to suggest what should have been used instead for placebo.
Some studies compared TT to no treatment. However, it has been well established that any therapy whatsoever will seem to produce benefit compared to no treatment for various non-specific reasons; because of this, such studies say little to nothing about the specific benefits of TT. Finally, numerous trials have simply involved enrolling people with a medical problem, applying TT, and seeing whether they improve. Trials of this type prove absolutely nothing at all; for at least a dozen reasons, it would be rather surprising if benefit were not seen. (The reasons why are discussed in Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? )
Given these caveats, here is a summary of the research available thus far.
At the time of the 1999 review noted above, many published studies of TT were of unacceptably low quality and, in any case, the results were quite inconsistent.
Taking all these studies together, it appears that real TT may be more effective than sham TT (using the serial subtraction technique described above). However, whether these apparent benefits are due to the energy-healing effects claimed by practitioners or, more simply, through emotional communication, remains unclear.
Nonetheless, the studies already performed do indicate that, at the very least, concentrated, positive attention provided by one human being to another is consoling and calming. This is a wonderful fact, even if there is no special “energy field” involved.
What to Expect During a Therapeutic Touch Session
Therapeutic Touch is generally administered in a session that lasts about 20 minutes. You will be asked to lie still, relax, and remain quiet. The practitioner will place his or her hands a few inches above your body and move them slowly and rhythmically.
Some people experience a variety of subjective sensations while receiving TT, such as heat and moving energy. Most people find TT generally relaxing, but some undergo cathartic emotional experiences.
How to Find a Qualified Therapeutic Touch Practitioner
The original and most well-established Therapeutic Touch organization is Nurse Healers–Professional Associates International, Inc. (NH-PAI). This organization certifies training programs in TT. For more information, call them at (801) 273-3399, contact them by e-mail at email@example.com, or visit their Web site at http://www.therapeutic-touch.org .
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 07/2012 -
- Update Date: 07/25/2012 -