Therapeutic Touch Debate


Carl Hendel, M.D.

Emily Rosa, a child researcher, has recently been acclaimed as brilliant for her "study" debunking Therapeutic Touch. I agree that the study is simple, but it is also naive and inconclusive.

Even the most hardened of linear-thinking scientists would have to accept a few basic scientific realities, such as temperature gradients, radiant energy, and the inverse square law. The human being is warm, and filled with fluids. It has rhythmic movement, and definite electro-chemical properties. Although our physical body (a warm, pulsing, mass) seems to stop at our skin, the radiant energy obviously doesn't. Any person who has spent a bit of time sensitizing the hands can actually feel heat (and more) when the hand is brought to within a few inches of the body. Try this yourself. It is warmer over the liver than it is over the lung, since the lung has more air (cooler than blood) and the liver has more blood. With practice, one can learn to fine-tune these perceptions (beyond the scope of this response.)

So, assuming that there is a perceptible energy field around warm-bodied life forms, why did the little girl's study come out the way it did? Several factors may contribute to the confusion. We know that we have the power, within our minds, to affect our own circulation. Biofeedback utilizes this fact to teach people how to increase blood flow to the hand at will, etc. Under hypnosis, even wounds may not bleed, and feet can walk on hot coals without harm. The mind has amazing power in this way. If this child had an unconscious agenda (as she may well have had given her mother's history), she could have unwittingly influenced her own energy field, making it fluctuate unpredictably.

Also, the nature of healing work is a very personal connection between people. Context matters, and mind intent is critical. Sticking a hand through a hole in a sheet and being tested is a disturbing distraction and a stressor which can affect the blood flow to the hands of the healer and disturb the very subtle perceptive sensitivity required for this work. The laboratory environment leads to loss of focus, impeding healing mind intent. Examples like these demostrate why some areas of knowledge (such as healing) are so difficult to study with science.

I agree that there may be a lot of fraud and abuse out there, in all aspects of life, and that we need to maintain vigilance. However, healing traditions throughout history have understood the role of the human energy field and have used this knowledge to relieve much suffering. Qi Gong from China and Pranic Healing from India are the essence of this relative newcomer called Therapeutic Touch. Some practices can be taught to anyone, including useful approaches for self-care and simple pain management. Some practices require years of cultivation of skill.

"Consumer Beware" is an appropriate message. Using crude and linear thinking, however, leads to the all-too-common problem of science being forced to change its position regularly, as newer studies come forth. Remember when margarine was good for us?

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