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"Therapeutic Touch": a critique.

In recent years a large number of so-called 'alternative healing' techniques have been made available to the Canadian public. One of these is called Therapeutic Touch (TT). Other techniques include Reiki (use of 'universal life force'), Turaya Touch, Rolfing, Shamanism, Shiatsu, Yoga, and Polarity Therapy. Many are based on the theory of an energy force, which is said to suffuse and surround the body. [1] This force has also been called 'prana', also, 'vitalforce', and 'human energy field' (HEF).

Therapeutic Touch was introduced to North America by Delores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., a faculty member of New York University, Division of Nursing, in 1972. Its use has become widespread, often without the knowledge or permission of attending physicians. [2] It has been endorsed, in one way or another, by the Order of Nurses of Quebec, the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association, the American Nurses Association, and the Colleges of Nurses of Ontario, eighty colleges and universities, and the National Institute of Health (NIH), U.S.A.

One hundred thousand nurses have been trained in the technique in North America. Canadian hospitals in which TT has been made available include the Hamilton General and Henderson hospitals, St. Joseph's Hospital, Hamilton McMaster and Chedoke hospitals, and the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. [3]

Not everyone who is ill consults a physician. Many, in fact, consult non-physicians, who provide some alternative form of health care. Just how many patients do this was revealed in a survey conducted by the Fraser Institute in 1999. Seventy-three per cent of Canadians had used an alternative therapy (if one included chiropractic) at some point in their life. It was estimated that Canadians spend $3.8 billion on alternative care every year, and that, by way of comparison, the total annual capital expenditure in Canada's hospitals stood at $2.1 billion in 1995.

The active agent in TT, according to its practitioners, is 'prana', a traditional Indian concept of 'life force'. Health is seen as an harmonious interactive flow of 'energies' in the person and the environment. The healer can 'control' this 'energy' flow. TT was derived from Theosophy, an occult religion that incorporated Eastern metaphysical concepts. The healer is said to focus the intent to heal. The patient is said to do the rest.

Martha Rogers was also responsible for the introduction of TT. She was a famous nursing theorist, whose conceptual model of nursing, which included 'energy fields', has helped launch a whole generation of students who have studied clairvoyance, precognition, Eastern mysticism, and out-of-body experiences, as well as TT. [4]

Barbara Blattner teaches a course at San Francisco State University. She recommends that the 'occult sciences" be used by nurses. Specifically, she writes of astrology, numerology, palm reading, and graphology. She states that TT is a form of 'psychic energy' ,which she defines as 'superconscious energy' that is the source and intelligent centre of all life. She holds that TT conducts and channels this energy, and that this energy "is intelligent and has personality." [5]

Stewart Farrar speaks of Witchcraft/Wiccan healing, which is closely associated with TT. [6] Here, too, treatment involves 'energy', which is neutralized by 'electromagnetic passes' of the hands over the body. It is claimed that this 'human energy field' (HEF) can be readily detected and modified by the practitioner.

Science not impressed

Linda Rosa, of the National Council Against Health Fraud U.S.A., has made a convincing scientific study that demonstrated that there is no evidence that TT does anything for patients beyond the 'placebo effect'. [7] This effect is the subjective relief of symptoms or a feeling of well-being, which is not the result of the substance or the procedure used. It may result, instead, from a feeling that arises in the patient when someone has paid attention to him or her. Rosa has examined TT by scientific method. One of the purposes of the scientific method is to eliminate the influence of bias, and of the beliefs of the experimenter, on the judgements to be made by the person who is testing the validity of the technique to be examined, in this case, TT. The fact is, as shown by this study, that TT has no scientific basis.

The medical profession knows this. The Hamilton, ON, haematologist, Dr. Brian Leber, says that its use in publicly funded hospitals cannot be justified. Dr. Gordon Guyatt, an expert on evidence-based medicine, and professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics in the family health sciences at McMaster University, says that scarce health dollars should not be spent on unproven treatments. For Dr. Leber, TT is not a science at all. It is, scientifically, "complete and utter balderdash." Nonetheless, Betty Petersen of Calgary, past president of the Canadian Holistic Nurses Association says, "I don't care whether there is any scientific proof, or there isn't, the end results speak for themselves." [8]

Alternative medicine

One reporter has stated that at Sunnybook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, there were 75 employees, including 50 nurses, trained in TT. This move into the hospital sector has been regarded as a sign of the growing popularity of "alternative therapy" or, as it is also called "complementary medicine." [9] Some hospitals claim that their policies are a middle ground between 'patient autonomy' and 'quality care'. They tell us that they demand that the practitioners be 'properly' trained, and that their aim is to protect the patients from charlatans.

One wonders how a practitioner can be properly trained in a therapy which has no proper scientific basis in the first place. The hospitals claim that they cannot impose their 'beliefs' on patients. In truth, if the hospitals accommodate patients' demands about unproven therapies, they simply allow the patient's false beliefs to be imposed on the hospital. This is unacceptable.

Medical profession coming into disrepute

We should not be surprised at such trends. As everyone is aware, the medical profession has declared, contrary to the known facts, that a human embryo becomes an embryo only at its implantation in the lining of the uterus. A new word, 'pre-embryo', was concocted, which was then used to describe what everybody knew was, in fact, already an embryo at conception. Sad to say, this was dishonest, and it was done so that the profession could the more easily characterize early abortion as contraception.

The medical profession used the same fiction when it became opportune to try to overcome moral objection to in-vitro fertilization and research on the embryo.

Again, physicians have totally failed to teach the simple truth that a chaste life is the only real prevention against the spread of sexually transmitted disease. And at the present moment, they are failing to put up adequate defence against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Catholic education

Those who practice alternative medicine are no doubt sincere in their belief that these therapies are effective and without hazard. Nonetheless, Christians should be aware that therapies which involve 'vital energies' that are channelled or distributed at the will of therapists are dangerous. One may be dealing with the occult, which would be seriously sinful. Gabriele Amorth, a professional exorcist, quoting the book of his friend, Fr. Lagura, La Preghiera Di Guarigione, says:

"If healing occurs through energy that the healer transfers to the sick person, either through psychic charge or through a different store of energy, it has nothing to do with charismatic healing. Additionally, there may be a danger of evil infiltration. That is why we need extreme prudence." [10]

It goes without saying that no therapy should be carried out on a patient without the patient's informed consent. The physician, who carries the responsibility for the patient's overall care, should explain to the patient any therapy which is proposed. This principle applies in particular where the treatment is being used for research, or when there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness. Finally, patients should instruct, in writing, their physicians or para-medical caregivers, or anyone else, not to give any scientifically unproven 'energy based' therapies to them.

We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2117: "All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others--even if this were for the sake of restoring health--are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion."

And No. 2138 states: "Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic."

John Shea, M.D., keeps abreast of the latest moral developments in medicine.


(1.) "Energy Medicine Gains Popularity." Pat Young, Vitality Medicine, Feb 1999. pp. 42-45.

(2.) L.L. Cabico, A Phenomenological Study of the Experience of Nurses Practising Therapeutic Touch (Master's Thesis), Buffalo, N.Y., D'Youville College. 1992.

(3.) The Hamilton Spectator, Jan. 25, 1997.

(4.) Martha Rogers, An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing, Philadelphia, F.A. Davies, 1970.

(5.) Barbara Blattner, Holistic Nursing, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice Hall, 1981.

(6.) Stewart Farrar, What Witches Do, Custer, W.A., Phoenix Publishing, 1983, pp. 129-137.

(7.) Linda Rosa, B.S.N., R.N., Emily Rosa, Larry Sarner, Stephen Barret, M.D., "A closer look at Therapeutic Touch." Journal of the American Medical Association, Apr 1, 1998, vol. 299, no. 13.

(8.) The Hamilton Spectator, Jan. 25, 1997.

(9.) Anita Elash, "Move into hospital sector, another sign of complementary medicine's growing popularity." Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dec 1, 1997, pp. 1589 - 1592.

(10.) Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story. Ignatius Press, 1999 p, 160.
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Author:Shea, John B.
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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