Therapeutic Touch

Dora Kunz and Delores Krieger developed therapeutic touch in the 1970s. It is a healing method based on the idea that the hands of the practitioner can manipulate life energy. To date, more than 40,000 people have been trained in therapeutic touch and practice in over 70 countries.

The idea of life energy is similar to concepts in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (see Ayurveda page). Practitioners of therapeutic touch claim their hands can evaluate and therapeutically change an individual’s energy field.

Treatment Approach

Despite the name, the therapeutic touch practitioner does not actually make contact with the individual undergoing treatment. Typically, they keep their hands a few inches from the person’s body. In a normal session, the practitioner finds an appropriate state of mind using a “centering” procedure. This ritual is followed by an evaluation of energy flow, a sweeping away of undesirable energy, and a transfer of beneficial energy from the practitioner.

Evaluation in MS and Other Conditions

Although there are anecdotal reports of the benefits of therapeutic touch, the clinical research studies are limited. There have been no large clinical studies of therapeutic touch as a treatment for MS. A case report of a person with MS who had a single session of therapeutic touch found improvements in both stress and coping. Small studies involving patients with other conditions suggest therapeutic touch may improve anxiety, tension headaches, arthritis, post-operative pain, and pain associated with burns. One study also suggests it decreases the time it takes for wounds to heal.

The National League for Nursing endorses therapeutic touch as a comfort-promoting technique. It is possible that the benefits seen in association with therapeutic touch could be a result of the caring and attention of the practitioner. Further research needs to be conducted to determine this therapy’s effectiveness.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association called into question the validity of this therapy. Emily Rosa, a nine-year-old girl, along with her parents and several other investigators, found that blindfolded therapeutic touch practitioners were unable to detect when their hand were near someone else’s hands. Another study reported people untrained in this therapy could detect an unseen hand up to four inches away, but not six. Also when a glass shield was placed between the hands, it prevented detection. This study concluded that practitioners likely used body heat, not “energy field,” to locate hands. These studies have called into question the conceptual basis of therapeutic touch.

Adverse Effects

Therapeutic touch is not associated with any significant adverse effects. Some practitioners contend that a session that is too long could transfer excessive energy.

Summary

Therapeutic touch is a low-to-moderate cost, low risk therapy. Formal clinical testing in people with MS has not been conducted, but it has been suggested that it may help reduce anxiety and pain. Further research must be conducted to determine the effectiveness of therapeutic touch. Therapeutic touch has not been proven to be effective, and should not be used instead of conventional medical treatment.

References and Additional Reading

Books

Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007, pp. 204-206.

Ernst E, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. Edinburgh: Mosby, 2001.

Leskowitz E. Therapeutic touch in neurology. In: Weintraub MI, Micozzi MS, eds. Alternative and Complementary Treatments In Neurologic Illness. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2001, pp. 234–240.

Spencer JW, Jacobs JJ. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. St. Louis: Mosby, 2003.

Journal Articles

Krieger D. Healing with therapeutic touch. Alt Ther 1998;4:87–92.

Long R, Bernhardt P, Evans W. Perception of conventional sensory cues as an alternative to the postulated ‘human energy field’ of therapeutic touch. Sci Rev Alt Med 1999;3:53–61.

Payne MB. The use of therapeutic touch with rehabilitation clients. Rehabil Nursing 1989;14:69–72.

Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, et al. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA 1998;279:1005–1010.

 

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