Healing touch & SCI: is this therapy's approach at odds with conventional medicine's focus on fixing the pieces?
Years ago I had a friend who was a gifted hands-on healer. Concerned that her daughter's practices may be reflecting the Devil's influence, the fundamentalist mother asked the local minister to counsel the daughter. After talking to my friend, the minister asked if she could alleviate his arthritic knee pain. She did, and after doing so, he told the mother: "Whatever she's doing, I pray she doesn't stop; it's God's gift."
Periodically in PN's Healing Options series, I've discussed such healing. For example, in an April 2008 article, I noted we all possess the healing touch to some degree, "when we lovingly comfort a sick child or a cherished pet in pain. Whether called spiritual, energy, hands-on, or therapeutic-touch healing, it typically incorporates an altruistic, compassionate, loving, or prayful consciousness that transcends our usual view of separation from our fellow man. Through this consciousness, we not only connect with the one who needs healing but a greater source of energy that goes beyond giver and receiver."
This connection is at the core of healing touch. In her book (see resources), Therapeutic Touch founder Delores Krieger describes it as follows: "The healer sensitively draws upon the universal energies that are the backdrop to all living events and within which both healer and healee [sic] are figures sharing a unitary nature."
Basically, when we resonate with these universal energies--or, as some say, our divine nature--we are healthy. When we get out of sync, we are prone to sickness. The purpose of healing touch is to help us achieve a better resonance, allowing us to heal ourselves.
The idea of a healing resonance is not just metaphysical speculation. Although most people emit a variable electromagnetic frequency from their hands, scientists have shown that healers emit a steady frequency that is identical to the Earth's resonant frequency. In other words, living in synchrony with Mother Earth's pulse seems to be health promoting.
Contemporary Healing Touch
Although some people seem born with the gift, healing-touch skills can in fact be cultivated in most of us. Reflecting the hands-on, compassion ate nature of their profession, nurses have been the driving force behind the development of contemporary healing-touch programs.
The original program was Therapeutic Touch, developed by Krieger, a nursing professor; and Dora Kunz, an intuitive healer. Other pioneers include Barbara Brennan, a former NASA physicist, who created Hands-of-Light School of Healing; and Janet Mentgen, a nurse who studied, taught, and practiced energy healing before establishing the formal Healing Touch program about 20 years ago. Mentgen's program was initially adopted by the American Holistic Nurses Association before stewardship was passed to Healing Touch International, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization that trains and certifies healers and fosters healing-touch research and healthcare integration.
Healing-touch programs have been greatly influenced by Eastern-healing philosophy, especially the concepts of life-force energy (e.g., qi, prana, etc.), and energy fields and chakras. Essentially, energy-based therapies believe our physiology is subordinate to our energetic nature. If we can tune up our higher, energy-based self, physical healing is more apt to fall into place. In contrast, if we focus on just fixing physical symptoms, ignoring underlying energetic determinants, we will still be directed toward dysfunction. It's like trying to push a car one way when the steering wheel is cranked in a different direction.
In her seminal book Hands of Light, Brennan summarizes how the human energy field consists of consecutive layers of increasing vibrational energy. Intersecting the body and its energy field are seven tornado-like energy vortexes called chakras, which download higher vibrational energy into a form the body can assimilate. When open and flowing, the chakras are about six-inches wide and have a clockwise spin.
The various chakras support numerous physical functions and organs and are linked to different states of consciousness. Cursorily described, the (1) root chakra brings into the body life-force energy (also affects spinal column), (2) sacral chakra influences reproductive function, (3) solar-plexus chakra affects digestion, (4) heart chakra promotes cardiac and circulatory function, (5) throat chakra helps lung function, (6) brow chakra affects the brain and nervous system, and (7) crown chakra is associated with the upper brain and our connection to the divine.
Because of the importance of chakras, healers often focus their efforts in sensing or modulating chakra energy flow.
Traditional Chinese Medicine's acupuncture points and meridians are further down our energetic pipeline, the meridians being the equivalent of the pipe and the points being valves affecting flow through the pipe. Visualize this acupunctural network as an equivalent to our circulatory system, except distributing life-force energy.
Scientists are increasingly developing the technology needed to observe our energetic nature. They have shown we all glow with visible-spectrum light; it's just too dim for most of us to observe. For example, a recent scientific article started with, "The human body literally glimmers. The intensity of the light emitted is 1,000 times lower than the sensitivity of our naked eyes." (Kobayashi et al., 2009). Even our defining DNA emits light (called biophotons), a process that has profound implications on how we function in the world.
Healing touch has been defined as an energy therapy in which practitioners consciously use their hands in a heart-centered and intentional way to support and facilitate physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. It's often used with other therapies to accelerate healing.
Because the focus is the energy field surrounding the patient, actual physical touching is often not needed. The typical session has several phases, including centering, diagnostic, and energy modulation.
Initially, the healer tries to become meditatively centered and go within. With such centering, the healer connects to his or her greater intuitive self, which speaks to us in whispers that rarely can be heard over life's background cacophony. This centering allows the healer to become more consciously sensitive to the patient's subtle energetic cues and to harmonize with the universal healing resonance discussed above.
After centering, the healer assesses the patient's chakras and energy field with hand scanning over the body or using assistive devices in a way somewhat comparable to a dowser or divining rod [a rod or stick reportedly useful in finding water, metal, etc.]. The healer
Magnetic: Hands are passed down over the body from head to toe in a raking motion to clear energy congestion, toxicity, and other disturbances.
Ultrasound: Thumb and forefinger are rapidly moved back and forth above an area to break up energy congestion or disturbances.
Hopi Technique: Hand placements on back that include a circular motion at the vertebral spaces to break up congestion on back and relieve muscular pain.
Full-Body Connection: Starting at feet proceeding to the head, hands are placed over joints, chakras, and organs to balance overall energy. searches out energetic imbalances, evaluating energy flow, sensing how the energies feel--hot, cold, tingling, congested, etc.
Finally, to help the patient regain energetic homeostasis, the healer rebalances, clears, or modulates the patient's energy field using a variety of hand placements or movements (see box, "Sample HealingTouch Movements").
Research suggests healers trained in the formal Healing Touch International Program may be able to provide benefits for a number of disorders, including:
* Accelerates recovery from surgery and wound healing (a possibility for SCI-related pressure ulcers?)
* Reduces pain from many causes
* Decreases dementia-related behaviors
* Improves behavior in Alzheimer's disease
* Decreases depression
* Reduces stress in various populations, including recovering alcoholics, abused women, children with disabilities, neonates, students, etc.
* Eases hospice-patient suffering
* Reduces hospital stays after heart surgery
* Decreases depression, anxiety, anger, and fatigue levels associated with cancer radiation
Spinal-cord Injury (SCI)
SCI Energy Concepts: According to theory, in front of the spinal cord is a power column that receives energy from the chakras and transmits it vertically through the body. Injury decreases this transmission because of the cord's nearness to the power column and the reduction in energy received from the lower chakras.
The injury's effects are stored in the energy field closest to the body, which contains the energetic template for every body cell and organ, including the spinal cord. If this template is distorted, its physical product--the body--will also be affected in some sense.
Mending the dysfunctional energy vectors created by the injury should facilitate physical healing. Because the injury tends to energetically get locked in over time, the sooner this mending occurs, the better.
Furthermore, because negative, injury-associated emotional memories are stored within the energy fields, the body should heal more quickly when this negative energy is removed. Pain and spasticity are considered especially amenable to energy therapy.
Pain: Funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Dr. Diane Wardell and colleagues at the University of Texas, Baylor College of Medicine, and Houston VA Medical Center carried out a pilot study evaluating the use of Healing Touch to treat SCI-associated neuropathic pain.
Seven male veterans with SCI, at least six months postinjury, were treated with Healing Touch and compared with five who received a nonhealing-touch intervention. All subjects had more than one month of neuropathic pain at a level greater than 5 on a scale ranging from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst possible).
Certified Healing Touch practitioners administered once-a-week sessions to each subject for six weeks. To avoid practitioner variability,, each subject was treated by the same healer throughout the study. Based on the practitioner's assessment of the subject's energy fields, the sessions were individualized; i.e., different techniques were used on different individuals. At the end of the study, the primary caregiver (e.g., wife) for each subject was given the option to be trained in Healing Touch so treatment could be continued.
In addition to a variety of before-and-after quantitative measurements of pain and other factors, qualitative opinions were solicited from the subjects. Although the study was inherently limited due to the small number of subjects and sessions, the results suggested Healing Touch "may be beneficial in the areas of coping, pain management, decreasing fatigue, decreasing confusion, increasing life satisfaction, and decreasing depression." The investigators believed the results warranted further, more definitive studies.
Qualitative reactions from participants included the following:
Carl believed his pain medication "really kicked in" but did not attribute it to healing touch.
Nick experienced "almost no pain--it's amazing. I feel like a whole new person."
Sam could not discern any effect other than "feeling heat on one of my hands," which is where he experienced most of his pain.
Mike had an initial response of "decreased spasms" and "moved my mind to a state of silence."
Charles noted the pain "was practically gone. It is unbelievable."
Mark said the treatment was relaxing but did not notice any other effects. His caregiver noticed improvement.
Bruce had a "little bit" of response.
Healing Touch: A Guidebook for Practitioners indicates the energy network of individuals with MS tends to be closed down. Although treatment with the Full Body Connection technique (see box) will open up the system, effects are transitory.
According to this resource, it takes at least six months of "weekly balancing by the therapist and daily work by a family member to help the energy field to maintain a full and open flow." Under such a regimen, it was noted that MS symptoms tend to resolve in the reverse order that they were expressed, and that "there is usually steady but subtle improvement."
Although used throughout history, healing touch's higher level, holistic approach is seemingly at odds with conventional medicine's focus on fixing the pieces. But in actuality, the two different healing philosophies synergistically complement each other like yin and yang. So to speak, the healing-touch philosophy focuses on the contextual canvas of healing, while conventional medicine provides the individual brush strokes. Both are needed for the big picture.
Brennan, B. Hands of Light. New York, NY: Bantam Books; 1988.
Hover-Kramer, D. Healing Touch: A Guidebook for Practitioners (2nd Edition). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning; 2002.
Krieger, D. Accepting Your Power to Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company Publishing; 1993.
Healing Touch International, www.healingtouchinternational.org.
"Healing Touch Level 1 Techniques" (DVD). Arvada, CO: Healing Touch Program: 2008.
Johnston, L Alternative Medicine and Spinal Cord Injury; Beyond the Banks of the Mainstream. New York, NY: Demos Medical Publishing, 2006.
Kobayashi, M.; Kikuchi, D.; Okamura, H. "Imaging of Ultraweak Spontaneous Photon Emission from Human Body Displaying Diurnal Rhythm." PLoS One 2009; 4(7): e6256.
Wardell, D.W., et al. "A Pilot Study of Healing Touch and Progressive Relaxation for Chronic Neuropathic Pain in Persons with Spinal Cord Injury." J Holist Nurs 2006; 24(4): 231-240.
Wardell, D.W.; Rintala, D.; Tan, G. "Study Descriptions of Healing Touch with Veterans Experiencing Chronic Neuropathic Pain from Spinal Cord Injury." Explore (NY) 2008 4(3): 187-195.
Note to practitioners: A listing of certified Healing Touch practitioners is at www.healingtouchinternational.org, The author wishes to acknowledge the advice of Dr. Diane Wardell; her input is greatly appreciated.