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Healing through the hands

MagazineApril 2009 (Vol. 20 Issue 1)Healing through the hands

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a form of energy medicine that uses the hands as a focus to facilitate healing

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a form of energy medicine that uses the hands as a focus to facilitate healing. From small beginnings in a New York hospital, there are now over 40,000 TT-trained nurses working in more than one hundred hospitals across the US.

Despite its name, TT is, in fact, a non-contact modality: the therapist never touches the patient but, instead, works on the envelope of subtle energy that surrounds the body.

The technique is based on the Eastern notion that the body, like all living things, has a life-energy field that extends beyond or outside of itself.

It's thought that a free-flowing energy field indicates health, while a blocked, depleted or unbalanced energy field means disease. TT practitioners claim to be able to 'feel' and manipulate this energy field with their hands to restore health and wellbeing to the patient.

Where's the evidence?

Despite the considerable amount of research evidence to support the use of TT in mainstream medicine, sceptics continue to cite the widely publicized 1998 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as proof that the claims of TT are groundless. In this trial, 21 TT practi-tioners were tested by a nine-year-old girl on their ability to detect a person's energy field. The practitioners extend-ed both their hands through a screen, on the other side of which the child held her hand above one of the practitioner's hands. The practitioner was then asked which hand the girl's hand was hovering above.

The practitioner's guesses proved to be no more accurate than chance would allow, leading the authors-including Stephen Barrett of Quack-watch Inc.-to conclude that "further professional use [of TT] is unjustified" (JAMA, 1998; 279: 1005-10).

But proponents of TT have heavily criticized this research, highlighting the poor design and methodology. Indeed, a re-analysis of the study by a US nurse-statistician from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing stated that the study used an "inappropriate design and analysis as well as incorrect statistical assump-tions and conclusions" (Altern Ther Health Med, 2003; 9: 58-64).

Another challenge to the JAMA article's conclusions is the growing body of evidence showing that TT is beneficial to a wide variety of patients, reducing pain, stress and anxiety as well as enhancing immunity (J Holist Nurs, 2008; 26: 17-24).

In addition, the positive results appear to be more than just a placebo effect. A number of studies show that, when tested against sham TT-what looks like TT, but with alterations to either the technique itself or the mental intention of the therapist-real TT wins out fairly consistently.

In one trial, 60 people suffering from tension headaches were given either real or sham TT, and then had their pain levels assessed over the following four hours. Those who received the genuine TT reported that their pain was reduced, on average,

by 70 per cent, while the sham group managed only around half that (Nurs Res, 1986; 35: 101-6).

TT has also been shown to help reduce the excruciating pain and anxiety suffered by burns victims, again in a trial comparing it against a sham TT treatment. This was a study conducted by the University of Alabama and paid for by the US Department of Defense, an indication of the growing official acceptance ofTT (J Adv Nurs, 1998; 28: 10-20).

In people with arthritis, two other comparative studies have confirmed the value of TT in not only reducing the pain of the condition, but also in making the joints more supple (Nurs Sci Q, 1998; 11: 123-32; J Fam Pract, 1998;

47: 271-7). There's also evidence that the technique may help to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia syndrome, too (Holist Nurs Pract, 2004; 18: 142-51).

TT appears to be particularly good against anxiety. In 20 HIV-infected children, it reduced their anxiety while sham TT did not (J Assoc Nurses AIDS Care, 1998; 9: 68-77). Likewise, psychiatric patients in a US Veterans Administration hospital were signifi-cantly less anxious after TT than after relaxation therapy or no treatment at all (Arch Psychiatr Nurs, 1994; 8: 184-9). Terminal cancer, Alzheimer's and dementia patients may also benefit from TT's calming effect (J Holist Nurs, 1998; 16: 383-98; West J Nurs Res, 2008; 30: 417-34).

So, even if you don't accept the philosophy behind TT, it appears that concentrated positive attention by a specifically trained individual can be widely beneficial to another.

Joanna Evans and Tony Edwards

For a list of TT practitioners in the Directory of Approved Natural Health Practitioners and Healers, go to www. nchm.net/DANHP or contact the Complementary Medical Association (tel. 0845 129 8434).

How does TT work?

In conventional medical terms, the answer to this question is that TT accesses the autonomic nervous system and so, ultimately, the immune system. Detailed physiological measurements taken while receiving TT have revealed that the therapy reduces levels of arousal, thus calming the emotions and allowing the body's own self-healing processes to take over (Int J Psychosom, 1993; 40: 47-55).

This ties in closely with the Ayurvedic and Chinese theories of medicine, where life energy (prana or ch'i) is believed to seek balance by flowing to areas where it is lacking while leaving areas where it is in excess.

The entire system is designed to be self-regulating, and only requires therapies such as acupuncture-and now TT-to give it a gentle 'nudge' to free up stubborn and persistent energy blockages.

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a form of energy medicine that uses the hands as a focus to facilitate healing. From small beginnings in a New York hospital, there are now over 40,000 TT-trained nurses working in more than one hundred hospitals across the US.

Despite its name, TT is, in fact, a non-contact modality: the therapist never touches the patient but, instead, works on the envelope of subtle energy that surrounds the body.

The technique is based on the Eastern notion that the body, like all living things, has a life-energy field that extends beyond or outside of itself.

It's thought that a free-flowing energy field indicates health, while a blocked, depleted or unbalanced energy field means disease. TT practitioners claim to be able to 'feel' and manipulate this energy field with their hands to restore health and wellbeing to the patient.

Where's the evidence?

Despite the considerable amount of research evidence to support the use of TT in mainstream medicine, sceptics continue to cite the widely publicized 1998 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as proof that the claims of TT are groundless. In this trial, 21 TT practi-tioners were tested by a nine-year-old girl on their ability to detect a person's energy field. The practitioners extend-ed both their hands through a screen, on the other side of which the child held her hand above one of the practitioner's hands. The practitioner was then asked which hand the girl's hand was hovering above.

The practitioner's guesses proved to be no more accurate than chance would allow, leading the authors-including Stephen Barrett of Quack-watch Inc.-to conclude that "further professional use [of TT] is unjustified" (JAMA, 1998; 279: 1005-10).

But proponents of TT have heavily criticized this research, highlighting the poor design and methodology. Indeed, a re-analysis of the study by a US nurse-statistician from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing stated that the study used an "inappropriate design and analysis as well as incorrect statistical assump-tions and conclusions" (Altern Ther Health Med, 2003; 9: 58-64).

Another challenge to the JAMA article's conclusions is the growing body of evidence showing that TT is beneficial to a wide variety of patients, reducing pain, stress and anxiety as well as enhancing immunity (J Holist Nurs, 2008; 26: 17-24).

In addition, the positive results appear to be more than just a placebo effect. A number of studies show that, when tested against sham TT-what looks like TT, but with alterations to either the technique itself or the mental intention of the therapist-real TT wins out fairly consistently.

In one trial, 60 people suffering from tension headaches were given either real or sham TT, and then had their pain levels assessed over the following four hours. Those who received the genuine TT reported that their pain was reduced, on average,

by 70 per cent, while the sham group managed only around half that (Nurs Res, 1986; 35: 101-6).

TT has also been shown to help reduce the excruciating pain and anxiety suffered by burns victims, again in a trial comparing it against a sham TT treatment. This was a study conducted by the University of Alabama and paid for by the US Department of Defense, an indication of the growing official acceptance ofTT (J Adv Nurs, 1998; 28: 10-20).

In people with arthritis, two other comparative studies have confirmed the value of TT in not only reducing the pain of the condition, but also in making the joints more supple (Nurs Sci Q, 1998; 11: 123-32; J Fam Pract, 1998;

47: 271-7). There's also evidence that the technique may help to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia syndrome, too (Holist Nurs Pract, 2004; 18: 142-51).

TT appears to be particularly good against anxiety. In 20 HIV-infected children, it reduced their anxiety while sham TT did not (J Assoc Nurses AIDS Care, 1998; 9: 68-77). Likewise, psychiatric patients in a US Veterans Administration hospital were signifi-cantly less anxious after TT than after relaxation therapy or no treatment at all (Arch Psychiatr Nurs, 1994; 8: 184-9). Terminal cancer, Alzheimer's and dementia patients may also benefit from TT's calming effect (J Holist Nurs, 1998; 16: 383-98; West J Nurs Res, 2008; 30: 417-34).

So, even if you don't accept the philosophy behind TT, it appears that concentrated positive attention by a specifically trained individual can be widely beneficial to another.

Joanna Evans and Tony Edwards

For a list of TT practitioners in the Directory of Approved Natural Health Practitioners and Healers, go to www. nchm.net/DANHP or contact the Complementary Medical Association (tel. 0845 129 8434).

How does TT work?

In conventional medical terms, the answer to this question is that TT accesses the autonomic nervous system and so, ultimately, the immune system. Detailed physiological measurements taken while receiving TT have revealed that the therapy reduces levels of arousal, thus calming the emotions and allowing the body's own self-healing processes to take over (Int J Psychosom, 1993; 40: 47-55).

This ties in closely with the Ayurvedic and Chinese theories of medicine, where life energy (prana or ch'i) is believed to seek balance by flowing to areas where it is lacking while leaving areas where it is in excess.

The entire system is designed to be self-regulating, and only requires therapies such as acupuncture-and now TT-to give it a gentle 'nudge' to free up stubborn and persistent energy blockages.


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