Therapeutic touch

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Therapeutic touch
MeSH D019124
Energy medicine - edit
NCCIH classifications
  1. Alternative Medical Systems
  2. Mind-Body Intervention
  3. Biologically Based Therapy
  4. Energy Therapy
See also

Therapeutic touch (commonly shortened to "TT"), known by some as "non-contact therapeutic touch" (NCTT),[1] is a pseudoscientific[2] energy therapy which practitioners claim promotes healing and reduces pain and anxiety. "Therapeutic Touch" is a registered trademark in Canada for the "[s]tructured and standardized healing practice performed by practitioners trained to be sensitive to the receiver's energy field that surrounds the body; touching is required."[3]

Practitioners of therapeutic touch state that by placing their hands on, or near, a patient, they are able to detect and manipulate the patient's energy field.[4] One highly cited study, designed by the then-nine-year-old Emily Rosa and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, found that practitioners of therapeutic touch could not detect the presence or absence of a hand placed a few inches above theirs when their vision was obstructed.[5][6][7][8] Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst concluded in their 2008 book Trick or Treatment that "the energy field was probably nothing more than a figment in the imaginations of the healers".[9] The American Cancer Society has noted, "Available scientific evidence does not support any claims that TT can cure cancer or other diseases."[10] A 2014 Cochrane review found no good evidence that it helped with wound healing.[11]

Origin and foundations[edit]

Dora Kunz, a theosophy promoter and one-time president (1975–1987) of the Theosophical Society in America, and Dolores Krieger, now Professor Emerita of Nursing Science, New York University,[12] developed therapeutic touch in the 1970s.[4][13][14][15] According to Krieger, therapeutic touch has roots in ancient healing practices,[16] such as the laying on of hands, although it has no connection with religion or with faith healing. Krieger states that, "in the final analysis, it is the healee (client) who heals himself. The healer or therapist, in this view, acts as a human energy support system until the healee's own immunological system is robust enough to take over".[17]

Justification for TT has been sought in two fields: Martha E. Rogers' contemporal "Science of Unitary Human Beings", and quantum mechanics, in particular Fritjof Capra's mystical interpretation of the latter. A 2002 review found that neither justification was tenable: Rogers' theories were found to be inconsistent with the tenets of TT, while the overlap in terminology between the two could be ascribed to a lack of precision in Rogers' works, making them multi-interpretable. The quantum physics justification holds that the possibility to heal at a distance is possible due to a "global interconnectivity" of the universe, which is connected by TT adherents to an interpretation of Bell's theorem and the possibility of quantum nonlocality; this interpretation is not supported by experimental evidence. The 2002 study concluded that "the theory TT possesses is deprived of explanatory power" and "evidence that supports the current picture of physical energy should be regarded as evidence against the theory of TT".[18]

The healing in TT takes place via a supposed physical process called "electron transfer resonance", which physicist Alan Sokal describes as "nonsense".[2]

Scientific investigations[edit]

Over the decades, many studies have been performed to establish TT's efficacy, as well as various meta-analyses and at least one systematic review, yielding varying results and conclusions. O'Mathúna et al., in discussing these studies, note several problems, such as failure to exclude methodologically flawed studies and a susceptibility to the publication bias of complementary medicine journals, which carry a "preponderance of studies with positive results"; they argue that

in light of background scientific knowledge, the antecedent plausibility of TT is sufficiently low that any methodological flaw in a study will always provide a more plausible explanation for any positive findings.

— O'Mathúna et al.[18]

Emily Rosa, at 9 years of age, conceived and executed a study on therapeutic touch. With the help of Stephen Barrett from Quackwatch, and with the assistance of her mother, Linda Rosa, RN, Emily became the youngest research team member to have a paper accepted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) for her part in a study of therapeutic touch, which debunked the claims of therapeutic touch practitioners. Twenty-one practitioners of therapeutic touch participated in her study, and they attempted to detect her aura. The practitioners stood on one side of a cardboard screen, while Emily stood on the other. The practitioners then placed their hands through holes in the screen. Emily flipped a coin to determine which of the practitioner's hands she would place hers near (without, of course, touching the hand). The practitioners then were to indicate if they could sense her biofield, and where her hand was. Although all of the participants had asserted that they would be able to do this, the actual results did not support their assertions. After repeated trials the practitioners had succeeded in locating her hand at a rate not significantly different from chance.[6][7][13][19] JAMA editor George D. Lundberg, M.D, recommended that patients and insurance companies alike refuse to pay for therapeutic touch or at least question whether or not payment is appropriate "until or unless additional honest experimentation demonstrates an actual effect."[13]

A systematic review on the effectiveness of various distance healing techniques concluded that "The methodologic limitations of several studies make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the efficacy of distant healing. However ... the evidence thus far merits further study."[1]

A Cochrane systematic review found "[t]here is no robust evidence that TT promotes healing of acute wounds."[11]

The American Cancer Society has noted, "Available scientific evidence does not support any claims that TT can cure cancer or other diseases."[10]

Therapeutic touch and nursing education[edit]

Sokal, in 2006, reported estimates of over 80 colleges and universities spread over 70 countries where therapeutic touch is taught, as well as some 80 hospitals in North America where it is practiced. He added that "[s]upporters and critics of TT are in general agreement as to these basic facts; [...] [n]evertheless, these figures should be taken with a grain of salt, inasmuch as both advocates and detractors [...] have an interest in exaggerating its incidence".[2]

Owen Hammer and James Underdown from the Independent Investigations Group examined nursing standards in California, where the California Board of Registered Nursing (CBRN) can award registered nurses taking classes in therapeutic touch with continuing education units (CEUs) required for licensure renewal. In 2006 Hammer and Underdown presented the Board with the scientific evidence refuting the validity of therapeutic touch as a legitimate treatment, but the Board did not change its policy.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Astin, JA; Harkness, E; Ernst, E (2000). "The efficacy of "distant healing": A systematic review of randomized trials" (PDF). Annals of internal medicine 132 (11): 903–10. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-132-11-200006060-00009. PMID 10836918. 
  2. ^ a b c Sokal, Alan (2006). "Pseudoscience and postmodernism: Antagonists or fellow-travelers?" (PDF). In Fagan, Garrett G. Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. Routledge. pp. 286–361. 
  3. ^ Canadian Trade-marks database, Registration No. TMA580182.
  4. ^ a b Bruno, Leonard C. (1999). "Therapeutic touch". Encyclopedia of Medicine. Gale Research. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  5. ^ Larry Sarner. "Therapeutic Touch Study Data". QuackWatch. 
  6. ^ a b Glazer, Sarah (2000). "Postmodern Nursing". The Public Interest. Archived from the original on 2007-02-25. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  7. ^ a b Rosa, Linda; Rosa, E; Sarner, L; Barrett, S (1998-04-01). "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch". JAMA 279 (13): 1005–10. doi:10.1001/jama.279.13.1005. PMID 9533499. 
  8. ^ Stenger, Victor (1999). "The Physics of 'Alternative Medicine' Bioenergetic Fields" (PDF). The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Trick or Treatment. Corgi. 2008. pp. 267–268. 
  10. ^ a b Ades TB, ed. (2009). "Therapeutic Touch". American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd ed.). American Cancer Society. pp. 248–251. ISBN 9780944235713. 
  11. ^ a b O'Mathúna DP, Ashford RL (2012). "Therapeutic touch for healing acute wounds". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (Systematic review) 6: CD002766. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002766.pub2. PMID 22696330. 
  12. ^ Krieger, Dolores (1999). "Letters to the editor". Journal of Professional Nursing 15 (3): 200–1. doi:10.1016/S8755-7223(99)80043-X. PMID 10377630. 
  13. ^ a b c Why Therapeutic Touch Should Be Considered Quackery by Stephen Barrett, M.D.
  14. ^ Theos-Talk Archives (April 2005 Message tt00332)
  15. ^ Denison, Barbara L. (March 2001). "Consumer access to complementary therapies such as Therapeutic Touch (TT)". Kansas Nurse. 
  16. ^ Krieger, D (1975). "Therapeutic touch: The imprimatur of nursing". The American journal of nursing 75 (5): 784–7. doi:10.2307/3423456. JSTOR 3423456. PMID 1039264. 
  17. ^ Krieger, Dolores (April 1, 1993). Accepting Your Power to Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch. Bear & Company. p. 7. ISBN 1-879181-04-5. 
  18. ^ a b O'Mathúna, Dónal P.; Pryjmachuk, Steven; Spencer, Wayne; Stanwick, Michael; Matthiesen, Stephen (2002). "A critical evaluation of the theory and practice of therapeutic touch" (PDF). Nursing Philosophy 3: 163–176. 
  19. ^ Therapeutic touch, on season 8 , episode 2 of Scientific American Frontiers.
  20. ^ Hammer, Owen; James Underdown (November–December 2009). "State-Sponsored Quackery: Feng Shui and Snake Oil for California Nurses". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 33 (6): 53–56. 

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