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Therapeutic touch

What is therapeutic touch?

Therapeutic touch uses a practice called "laying on of hands" to correct or balance energy fields. Despite the use of the word "touch," the hands usually hover over the body and do not physically touch it.

Therapeutic touch is based on the theory that the body, mind, and emotions form a complex energy field. According to therapeutic touch, good health is an indication of a balanced energy field, while illness represents imbalance. Studies suggest that therapeutic touch may help heal wounds, reduce pain, and lessen anxiety.

What is the energy field?

Although scientists differ on the nature and relevance of the human energy field, the concept of an energy field is also a part of other types of healing. In the ancient medical systems of India and China, the energy field is described as life energy. It exists throughout the body, and is responsible for maintaining normal physiological, psychological, and spiritual functions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this energy is called qi (pronounced "chee"). In India's ayurvedic medicine, it is called prana.

What is the history of therapeutic touch?

Dolores Krieger, a professor at New York University School of Nursing, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer, developed therapeutic touch in the early 1970s. At first, Krieger and Kunz only taught the techniques to Krieger's graduate school nursing students. Then Krieger's professional research and writing increased its popularity, particularly among nurses. The practice grew mostly through a grassroots effort of nurses throughout the United States. Today, therapeutic touch is taught at hospitals and health centers worldwide, and is most commonly practiced by nurses.

How does therapeutic touch work?

Scientists are not certain how therapeutic touch works, however, they have two theories:

One theory is that the pain associated with a physically or emotionally painful experience, such as infection, injury, or a difficult relationship, remains in the body's cells. The pain stored in the cells is disruptive, and prevents some cells from working properly with other cells in the body. This causes disease. Practitioners believe therapeutic touch promotes health by restoring communication between cells.

The other theory is based on the principles of quantum physics. As blood, which contains iron, circulates in our bodies, it produces an electromagnetic field. According to this theory, at one time we could all easily see this field, called an aura, but now only certain people, such as those who practice therapeutic touch, develop this ability.

More generally, therapeutic touch is based on the idea that good health requires a balanced flow of life energy. Practitioners of therapeutic touch say they sense your energy through their hands and then send healthy energy back to you. When receiving therapeutic touch, people usually feel warmth, relaxation, and pain relief. The practitioner describes your energy as hot or cold, active or passive, blocked, or free.

There are 8 general regions of the body where energy is sensed, the head, throat, heart, stomach, lower abdomen, sacral region, knees, and feet. Ultimately, the person who receives therapeutic touch is the healer. The practitioner simply allows your body's own healing mechanisms to come out. The role of the practitioner is to help this process.

What should I expect on my first visit?

Before the session begins, the therapist will ask you to sit or lie down. You don't need to undress. Sessions can be broken down into four steps:

  1. Centering. The therapist becomes "centered" by using breathing, imagery, and meditation to achieve an altered state of consciousness for herself.
  2. Assessment. The therapist holds her hands 2 to 4 inches away from your body while moving from your head to your feet. She does this to assess the energy field around your body. Therapists often describe feelings of warmth, coolness, static, and tingling over the areas of energy "congestion" or "blockage."
  3. Intervention. Once the therapist locates a congested or blocked area, she will move her hands in a rhythmic motion, starting at the top of the blocked area and moving down and away from your body. This action, known as unruffling, is repeated until the therapist no longer senses congestion or until you begin to feel relief. The therapist will also visualize and transmit life energy to specific areas of your body, also intended to correct imbalances.
  4. Evaluation/Closure. Once you have had a few minutes to relax, the therapist will ask how you feel. The therapist may recheck your energy field to make sure they did not overlook any blockages.

What is therapeutic touch good for?

Most studies indicate that therapeutic touch can relieve tension headaches and reduce pain, such as pain associated with burns, osteoarthritis, or following surgery. It may also speed wound healing and improve function in those with arthritis. In fact, studies show that therapeutic touch stimulates cell growth.

Therapeutic touch also promotes relaxation. Cancer, heart disease, and burn patients have reported that therapeutic touch significantly reduces their anxiety. Generally, the deep relaxation associated with therapeutic touch reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves breathing. Being relaxed may also help lower cholesterol levels and improve immune and bowel functions. Difficult pregnancies may also be made a little easier with the help of therapeutic touch.

Together with medical treatment, therapeutic touch can help with many additional conditions, including:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome, a disorder that causes insomnia
  • Allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Addictions
  • Lupus
  • Alzheimer's disease and, possibly, other forms of dementia
  • Chronic pain

Some people say that they feel emotional and spiritual changes after receiving therapeutic touch. These may include greater self-confidence, self-control, and self-understanding.

There is still controversy, however, as to whether the healing power of therapeutic touch has anything to do with the "laying on of hands." Critics suggest that the healing observed after therapeutic touch may be the result of the relaxing nature of the therapy itself and not the energy transfer between the therapist's hands and the person's body.

Is there anything I should watch out for?

You may feel thirsty, lightheaded, and need to urinate. Lightheadedness generally lasts for 15 minutes after a session, but you may feel thirsty for days. According to some practitioners, if you were flooded with too much energy you might feel increased pain and be irritable, restless, anxious, or even nauseated. Some say that therapeutic touch may also make fevers and active inflammation worse, so it may be best not to have it done when you have either a fever or active inflammation, such as a swollen joint from arthritis. Some practitioners also believe it should not be done on areas of the body where there is cancer.

Some therapeutic touch practitioners recommend that children, the elderly, and very sick people be treated for only a short time. Although there is no actual touching involved, talk with your practitioner about what to expect from a session, particularly if you have been physically or sexually abused in your past.

How can I find a qualified practitioner?

Most therapeutic touch practitioners are nurses, although some massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and others practice therapeutic touch as well. Nurse Healers-Professional Associates International (NH-PAI) recommends that people look for therapists who practice regularly (at least an average of 2 times per week), have at least 5 years of experience, and have completed at least 12 hours of therapeutic touch workshops. To locate a qualified practitioner near you, visit the NH-PAI website --

What is the future of therapeutic touch?

While there seem to be many potential uses for therapeutic touch, particularly for chronically ill people, measuring how effective it is can be very difficult. As a result, much of the research has been criticized. Better studies may lead to wider acceptance.



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Review Date: 2/4/2016  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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