What is Healing Touch?
Founded by registered nurse Janet Mentgen in 1989, Healing Touch (HT) is an “energetic therapy” believed to facilitate health, healing and well-being by restoring balance in the human energy field. Treatment is intended to affect an energetic space – sometimes termed a field or biofield – postulated to surround, inhabit and impact the human body. Many types of energy medicine employ techniques to influence these fields by applying hands-on pressure, manipulating the body or placing the hands in or through the field. Qigong, Reiki and Healing Touch are all examples of this type of therapy.
What indications is healing touch used for?
Because HT therapy requires only a receptive participant and a practitioner, it can be used for nearly any indication or ailment. Many hospitals are incorporating HT to calm and prepare patients for surgery, chemotherapy, and other anxiety-provoking procedures. Studies have suggested that HT may decrease wound healing time and shorten the length of hospital stay. Other common indications for HT include chronic pain, headaches/migraines, generalized anxiety, and sleep disturbances. HT therapy is said to facilitate a spiritual connection and often helps clients with emotional distress. It is especially useful for patients who are in pain but unable to tolerate traditional massage or touch, such as fibromyalgia and burn patients.
However, non-contact “energetic” therapies have also been found by several researchers to have no therapeutic value. The National Institutes of Health considers Healing Touch and other types of energy medicine ” “among the most controversial of complementary and alternative medicine practices because neither the external energy fields nor their therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly by any biophysical means.”
What should one expect on a visit to a practitioner of healing touch?
HT is often done in a setting somewhat similar to massage therapy, often with a table and relaxing music; however, HT can be performed practically anywhere and with the client in any position – sitting, standing or lying. This therapy does not require the removal of clothing, only that the client is as comfortable as possible. A short discussion of medical history may take place during the first visit. The practitioner should always ask for permission to touch the client. Practitioners will often perform some kind of meditative centering prior to beginning therapy. An assessment of the energy field is completed by observation and movements of the hands over the body. Sometimes a pendulum, consisting of a piece of crystal or other mineral that dangles on a chain, is placed over thechakras (a Sanskrit term for vortices of energy that are believed to connect the physical and energetic body) and places of discomfort.
Typically, practitioners will use an HT technique that is said to balance and clear the energy field. This can be done with hands placed just above the body or with actual touch involved. The balancing technique usually concentrates on the seven main chakras and the joints of the extremities. Then, the practitioner will often focus on areas where the energy field is believed to be stagnant or not flowing properly. By being able to sense what the flow of energy feels like, practitioners are believed to locate aberrant energy and, using intention, to direct it to a desired location or pattern. The ultimate goal is removing all energetic obstacles and facilitating an ideal condition for healing to occur. Oftentimes, this treatment produces a state of deep calmness and relaxation. Patients can even fall asleep or be in a dreamy state of consciousness. Moreover, they can experience warmth, tingling, pulsations, or an emotional release. Their body may even exhibit involuntary muscle spasm and jerking. Some individuals report seeing colors or visions. Others experience feeling elevated or being outside their body. Whether these effects are due to the Healing Touch therapy or simply a manifestation of expectations that the client brings to the session is undetermined.
When the session is finishing, the practitioner often will “ground” the client by placing his or her hands on the client’s feet or shoulders. Care should be taken when getting up off the table to avoid falling due to disorientation or lightheadedness. Clients are told to drink plenty of water afterwards and over the next few days, as well as to pay attention to any changes in body sensations.
Are there any side effects or indications where healing touch should be avoided?
Because HT is so non-invasive, there is no medical reason to avoid therapy. When using HT on children, especially newborns and those with special needs, it is important for practitioners to be sensitive to nonverbal cues and appropriately gauge how to long to work with them, which is typically for only a brief session initially.
HT that involves direct contact should not be performed on an area that is burned, bleeding, or draining. Care must also be taken when dealing with emotional trauma or responses that come up during a session. Practitioners are trained to address this in a respectful way, and should always stop if asked; but they are not licensed clinical therapists and should not offer counseling or therapy beyond their training. More than anything, the deep relaxation that HT produces can bring about mild sedation, lightheadedness, or disorientation in susceptible people. Individuals with a history of low blood pressure, dehydration, anemia, vertigo or syncope should take extra precautions with body position during treatment (such as standing after prolonged sitting), and encouraged to drink plenty of fluids before and after a session.
Is there a governing body that oversees or credentials practioners in healing touch?
In 1996, Healing Touch International (HTI) was developed to administer the Healing Touch Certification Process. HTI is a non-profit organization responsible for setting the International Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics for Healing Touch Practitioners. There are five levels to the certification process in which more than 25 techniques are learned. The first three levels are 15-hour workshops (each), usually held over a weekend. Levels four and five are 30-hour workshops (each) and typically are held at a remote location where students stay overnight. These usually begin on a Thursday and continue until Sunday. Between levels four and five, there is an extensive amount of work to complete including 100 documented HT sessions, 10 book reports related to energy therapy, course study, community service and experiencing different modalities of healing and mentorship. It is not uncommon to have a year’s worth of work between levels four and five. After the completion of level five, the student is ready to apply for certification. If interested in teaching HT, level six involves the training of instructors.
How does one get in touch with a practitioner of Healing Touch?
There are two websites that list practitioners certified in HT. The Healing Touch Professional Association offers a worldwide directory of Healing Touch Practitioners.<a style="color:#005a9c;"
Are there other alternative therapies that might work well in conjunction with Healing Touch?
Mind-body medicine techniques (guided imagery and hypnosis) and other forms of bodywork such as osteopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture can work well with Healing Touch. Movement therapies like yoga, tai chi and qigong can also augment the benefits achieved by Healing Touch.
How does Dr. Weil feel about Healing Touch?
Because there is such a profound connection between mind and body, anything that can put a person in a state of relaxation can be a great benefit. Studies have shown that when a person is deeply relaxed, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, blood flow to the bowels and bladder increases and breathing becomes rhythmic and slow. This creates an optimal environment for the body’s natural immune resources to take over and promote healing.
Research on Healing Touch seems to indicate its value in medical settings in promoting wound healing, decreasing pain and improving quality of life measures. But energy therapies such as HT remain highly controversial. While there is abundant, relatively uncontroversial evidence that massage can have therapeutic effects, non-contact modalities are seen as far more problematic.
For example, in 1998, 11-year-old Emily Rosa became the youngest person to have a paper accepted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Her study was on therapeutic touch, a system with non-contact modalities similar to those used by Healing Touch, and that includes non-contact shaping of a purported bio-field. Rosa’s study consisted of testing 21 practitioners of therapeutic touch to determine their ability to detect an aura, which they claim surrounds all human beings. The practitioners stood on one side of a screen; Rosa stood on the other. Practitioners placed their hands through holes in the screen. Rosa flipped a coin to determine which of the practitioner’s hands she would place hers near, without touching the hand. The practitioners then were to indicate if they could sense her biofield, and to report the approximate location of her hand. Although all of the participants had asserted that they would be able to do this, the results indicated otherwise. After repeated trials, the practitioners succeeded in locating her hand 44 percent of the time, slightly worse than chance. The study led JAMA editor George D. Lundberg, M.D, to recommended that patients and insurance companies alike refuse to pay for therapeutic touch or at least question whether or not payment is appropriate. Lundberg also said more studies are needed to prove or disprove efficacy.
The University of Arizona’s NIH-funded Center for Frontier Medicine in Biofield Science, directed by psychology professor Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., is now working on further studies, with promising results so far.
At the University of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine Clinic, Dr. Weil often recommends energy therapies to patients with chronic pain as well as for a hands-on treatment to promote relaxation or ease anxiety. Dr. Weil believes that the therapeutic value of massage and other forms of touch-based therapy has been established beyond refutation. As for the non-contact aspects of Healing Touch and similar therapies, Dr. Weil believes that a therapeutic effect may be engendered through manipulation of a biofield, or its benefits may simply be due to the placebo effect. In either case, since the technique is very safe, often effective, and low in cost, Dr. Weil believes that such methods should routinely be employed where indicated while researchers continue to study the mechanisms by which they may work.