Therapeutic touch, or TT, is a noninvasive method of healing derived from an ancient laying-on of hands technique. In TT, the practitioner alters the patient's energy field through a transfer of energy from the hands of the practitioner to the patient.
Therapeutic touch was developed in 1972 by Dora Kunz, a psychic healer, and Dolores Krieger, PH.D., R.N, a nurse and professor of nursing at New York University. In 1971, when Krieger had been working as a registered nurse in a hospital, she became very frustrated when one of her patients, a 30-year-old female, lay dying from a gallbladder condition. In desperation, she tried what she was learning from Kunz. After one treatment, the patient's condition began to mend; and she lived, surprising the other hospital staff. Krieger and Kunz met during the study of Oskar Estebany, a world renowned healer. They had invited Estebany to form a study group for three years, observing his work with patients. In this study, Estebany practiced healing on various patients using the laying-on of hands. Using her psychic and intuitive abilities, Kunz would observe and assist in the healing, while Krieger recorded the activities of the healing session and compiled profiles of the patients.
As the study progressed, Kunz began teaching Krieger how to heal, based on her perceptions of Estebany's healing techniques. During her research of ancient healing methods, Krieger concluded that the energy transfer between the healer and the recipient that takes place in a TT session is prana, an Eastern Indian word that means energy, vitality, and vigor. Krieger then combined her research with Kunz's techniques to develop TT.
TT was initially developed for use by persons in the health professions, but is currently taught worldwide to anyone who is interested in learning the technique. As of 1998, an estimated 100,000 people around the world have been trained in TT; 43,000 of those persons are healthcare professionals, many of whom use TT in conjunction with traditional medicine, as well as osteopathic, chiropractic, naturopathic, and homeopathic therapies. TT is taught in over 100 colleges, universities, and medical schools.
The major effects of TT are relaxation, pain reduction, accelerated healing, and alleviation of psychosomatic symptoms. Studies have shown that TT has a beneficial effect on the blood, as it has the ability to raise hemoglobin values. It also affects brain waves to induce a relaxed state. TT can induce the relaxation response often within five minutes.
Krieger has said that it is not individual illnesses that validate the effectiveness of TT, but rather the body systems that are most sensitive to TT. She and others have found that the most sensitive body system is the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which, for example,
controls urination. Next in order of sensitivity are the lymphatic and circulatory systems, and then finally the musculoskeletal system. In addition, the female endocrine system is more sensitive to TT than the corresponding male system. Thus, TT helps with dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, problems with conception, and the course of pregnancy.
TT is reported to have a positive effect on the immune system and thus accelerates the healing of wounds. Nurses use therapeutic touch in operating rooms to calm patients before surgery and in recovery rooms on postoperative patients to help speed the healing process. TT is used in the treatment of such terminally ill patients as those with cancer and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), to relieve anxiety and stress, create peace of mind, and reduce pain.
Many nurses use TT in the nursery. The conditions of many premature babies who received TT have reportedly improved rapidly. TT has been used to calm colicky infants, assist women in childbirth, and increase milk let-down in breast-feeding mothers.
Other claims made for TT include relief of acute pain, nausea, diarrhea, tension and migraine headaches, fever, and joint and tissue swelling. TT has been used to treat thyroid imbalances, ulcers, psychosomatic illnesses, premenstrual syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, stroke and coma, multiple sclerosis, measles, infections, asthma, and bone and muscle injuries.
Therapeutic touch is performed in many different locations, including healing centers, delivery rooms, hospitals, hospice settings, accident scenes, homes, and schools.
Therapeutic touch treats the whole person: relaxes the mind, heals the body, and soothes the spirit. The principle behind it is that it does not stop at the skin. The human body has an energy field or aura that extends several inches to several feet from the body. When illness occurs, it creates a disturbance or blockage in the vital energy field. The TT practitioner uses her/his hands to sense the blockage or disturbance. In a series of gentle strokes, the healer removes the disturbance and rebalances the energy to restore health.
The TT session generally lasts about 20–30 minutes. Although the technique is called "therapeutic touch," there is generally no touching of the client's physical body, only his or her energetic body or field. TT is usually performed on fully clothed patients who are either lying down on a flat surface or sitting up in a chair.
Each session consists of five steps. Before the session begins, the practitioner enters a state of quiet meditation where he/she becomes centered and grounded in order to establish intent for the healing session and to gain access to the compassion necessary to heal.
The second step involves an assessment of the person's vital energy field. During this step, the practitioner places the palms of his/her hands 2–3 in (5–8 cm) from the patient's body and sweeps them over the energy field in slow, gentle strokes beginning at the head and moving toward the feet. The practitioner might feel heat, coolness, heaviness, pressure, or a prickly or tingling sensation. These cues, as they are called, signal blockages or disturbances in the field.
To remove these blockages and restore balance to the body, the practitioner then performs a series of downward sweeping movements to clear away any energy congestion and smooth the energy field. This is known as the unruffling process and is generally performed from the head toward the feet. To prevent any energy
During the next phase, the practitioner acts as a conduit to transfer energy to the patient. The energy used is not solely the energy of the practitioner. The practitioner relies on a universal source of energy so as not to deplete his/her own supply. In short, the healer acts as an energy support system until the patient's immune system is able to take over.
The practitioner then smoothes the field to balance the energy and create a symmetrical flow. When the session is over, it is recommended that the patient relax for 10–15 minutes in order for the energies to stabilize.
The side effects reported occur when an excess of energy enters the body for an extended period of time creating restlessness, irritability, and hostility, or increasing anxiety and pain. Burns are sensitive to therapeutic touch, and it is recommended that TT be performed on burned tissue for short periods, generally two to three minutes at a time.
Research & general acceptance
Therapeutic touch is not generally accepted by Western medical professionals, although it has been studied by researchers at the Office of Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. Anecdotal research has been performed on TT since its development in 1972, but little quantitative research has been carried out. In April 1998 therapeutic touch became national news, however, when an elementary-school student carried out research for a science project that questioned the claims made for TT. Twenty-one TT practitioners with experience ranging from one to 27 years were blindfolded and asked to identify whether the investigator's hand was closer to their right hand or their left. Placement of the investigator's hand was determined by flipping a coin. The TT practitioners were able to identify the correct hand in only 123 (44%) of 280 trials, a figure that could result from random chance alone.
On the other side of the debate, one frequently cited study was designed to determine the effect TT would have on wounds that resulted from a biopsy of the upper arm. Forty-four patients placed their injured arms through a hole in a door. Twenty-two of them received TT on their arms. The other half received no treatment. The wounds treated with TT healed more quickly than the wounds that received no treatment.
In 1998, a study was performed on 27 patients with osteoarthritis in at least one knee. For six weeks, the patients were treated with therapeutic touch, mock therapeutic touch, or standard care. According to The Journal of Family Practice, the results showed that the patients who had received TT had "significantly decreased pain and improved function as compared with both the placebo and control groups."
DOLORES KRIEGER 1935–
Dolores Krieger, a prominent professor of nursing at the New York University Division of Nursing, conceived of therapeutic touch as a healing technique in the early 1970s and introduced the therapy in 1972. Therapeutic touch rarely consists of physical contact with the patient. The practitioner focuses positive energy through their hands, which are held or waved two to three inches away from the patient, and directs it towards the patient's energy field. Krieger developed the technique along with a colleague, Dora Van Gelder Kunz, who is believed to be clairvoyant. They initially taught the system to graduate students at the nursing school, and it evolved from that basis. Since the introduction of therapeutic touch, Krieger traveled the world in teaching the technique before she retired as professor emerita at the university. An estimated 70,000 nurses were trained by Krieger and Kunz.
In 1981 Dr. Krieger published Foundations for Holistic Health Nursing Practices. She later published a manual, The Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help or to Heal, in 1992.
Krieger became embroiled in controversy over the potential benefits of therapeutic touch technique between 1996-98, when nine-year-old schoolgirl Emily Rosa challenged the validity of the therapy with a simple experiment. She gathered 21 practitioners and through a covered box held her hand over one of the practitioner's own to test whether they could sense her energy field. Only 44% of the time were the practitioners able to determine which of their hands that Rosa's was hovering over. Although Rosa contacted Krieger in 1997, Krieger refused to meet with her, refused to participate in Rosa's experiment, and disputed the relevancy of an elementary school student's observations. Krieger holds both an R.N. and a Ph.D. degree and dismissed the validity of the experiment due to the student's and practitioners' lack of experience.
Krieger continues to promote her technique. Her latest book, Therapeutic Touch As Transpersonal Healing, was published in 2002.
Therapeutic touch can be combined with a number of different therapies, including acupressure, massage, mental imagery, physical therapy, and yoga. When combined
TT is practiced in over 70 countries worldwide: by Egyptians and Israelis during fighting in the Gaza Strip; in South Africa to reduce racial strife; and in Poland, Thailand, and the former Soviet Union.
Training & certification
Therapeutic touch is taught at over 100 universities and nursing and medical schools around the United States and Canada. Although the technique was developed primarily for nurses, anyone can learn TT.
State laws vary regarding the practice of TT. In general, laypersons are allowed to practice TT within their families. Therapeutic touch is considered an extension of health care skills, so most health care professionals are covered under state medical practice acts.
Many hospitals have established policies allowing nurses and staff to perform TT on patients at no extra charge. The American Nurse's Association often holds workshops on TT at national conventions. Therapeutic touch classes are often held for the general public through community education, healing clinics, and holistic schools.
Krieger, Dolores, Ph.D., R.N. Accepting Your Power to Heal. The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 1993.
Krieger, Dolores, Ph.D., R.N. The Therapeutic Touch. How to Use Your Hands to Help or to Heal. Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Press, 1979.
Macrae, Janet, Ph.D., R.N. Therapeutic Touch: A Practical Guide. New York: Knopf, 1998.
Baird, Carol L. "First-line Treatment for Osteoarthritis: Part 2: Nonpharmacologic Interventions and Evaluation." Orthopaedic Nursing 20 (November-December 2001): 13–20.
Gordon, A., J. H. Merenstein, et al. "The Effects of Therapeutic Touch on Clients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee." Journal of Family Practice 47 (1998): 271–277.
Rosa, Linda, MSN, Emily Rosa, Larry Sarner, and Stephen Barrett, MD. "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch." Journal of the American Medical Association 279 (April 1, 1998): 1005–11.
The Nurse Healers Professional Associates International (NH PAI), the Official Organization of Therapeutic Touch. 3760 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84106. (801) 273-3399. firstname.lastname@example.org. <http://www.therapeutic-touch.org>.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD