THERAPEUTIC TOUCH (TT)
TT studies covered in this essay:
A committee of the Health Sciences Center of the University of Colorado.
During the period 1993-DEC to 1994-JUN, they:
||completed a literature search of information on TT;
||reviewed the TT courses given at the University's School of Nursing;
||obtained material from both practitioners and skeptics;
||observed TT sessions. 1
||"There is disagreement about whether TT is effective. To date, there is not a
sufficient body of data, both in quantity and quality, to establish TT as a unique healing
||"Qualitative judgments and evaluation are not sufficient to document and
establish TT as an efficacious therapeutic or healing modality."
||"It is not adequate to state that TT involves mechanisms which exist beyond the
five senses and which therefore cannot be proven by ordinary methods. Such comments are a
disservice to science and the practice of healing and demonstrate a commitment to
metaphysics and the mystical view of life rather than to a scientific or rational view of
||"There is virtually no acceptable scientific evidence concerning the existence
or nature of these energy fields."
||TT should remain on the curriculum, mainly for reasons of academic freedom.
The American Defense Department approved a $355,225 grant to the University
of Alabama at Birmingham Burn Center to "quantify the effect of therapeutic
touch (TT) on pain and infection in burn patients, and to develop a research - based
protocol for practice." 3 The military have a major
interest in any treatment that can be proven to help burn patients.
The researchers evaluated TT by comparing the results obtained by a test group of
trained TT practitioners with a control group of nurses who were unfamiliar with TT but
acted as if they were experienced therapists. Two reporters for the Skeptical Inquirer,
Carla Selby and Bela Scheiber, commented "What's the difference between waving
your hands over a patient's body hoping to heal him or her and pretending to wave your
hands over a patient's body hoping to heal him or her...What if the mimic TT practitioner
feels compassion for the burn victim and accidentally performs actual TT? How would that
affect the results of the study?"
The researchers concluded that:
||Nosocomial infections were more common (3 vs.1) in the patients receiving TT than among
the control group.
||The patients "perception of pain" was decreased among the patients
receiving TT according to "McGill pain rating scale". But when the
"Visual Analogue Scale" was used to measure pain, "no
statistically significant difference was found between groups."
||They found that anxiety was lower among the patients who received TT.
Two skeptical groups, the James Randi Educational Foundation
and , the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking [PhACT]
conducted a test at the Frankford Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. The hospital only
provided space for the study; they were otherwise not involved. The organizers of the
study believe that this is the first double blind test of TT ever performed. "An
award of $742,000 was offered to any TT practitioner (TTP) who could prove that they could
detect a 'human energy field.' Invitations were sent out via mail and e-mail to over 60
individuals and organizations that promote TT. These included the National League for
Nursing (NLN), American Nurses Association (ANA), Dr. Mehmet Oz's Office for Alternative
Healthcare at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and TT co-founder Dolores Krieger, RN,
Only one practitioner was willing to have her powers tested - Nancy Woods from
California. Unfortunately, she was not a typical TT practitioner. She sincerely
believes that she is only able to detect the field from an injured or painful limb. A
healthy part of the body feels like no body at all.
The test was customized to her needs. Two individuals, a woman with chronic wrist pain
and a man without any pain were used as subjects. Each would put their arms into a
sleeve that could be arranged so that the practitioner would be unable to see which test
subject was present. Ms. Woods believed that she would be able to differentiate between
the two. She did express a concern that the TT would tend to heal the injury; this might
make the field very difficult to detect. "...when you continually go over an
area, each time you do it relaxes a bit more. As a result of the continuing relaxation of
the area, the sensation in the affected area will have changed with the second and each
In the first of two tests, she was able to see which person was present; her score was
10 out of 10. In the second test, the subject was shielded from her sight. She got 11 out
of 20 (55%) correct. This is statistically no better than pure guesswork. If she had achieved a
score of 20 out of 20, she would have won an award of $742,000. The money is still being
offered to anyone who can achieve a perfect score. It has since grown to over 1 million.
This test is of limited usefulness, because the practitioner who was tested did not
have normal TT abilities. She was unable to detect a normal, healthy limb. Unfortunately,
no practitioner with standard TT expertise has been willing to come forward to try for the
prize. We cannot understand their reluctance. Almost all TTPs appear to be sincere healers
who truly believe in the power of TT and their ability to detect energy fields
from human bodies.
Ms. Emily Rosa, a 9 year old girl, watched a video tape with her mother. It showed
nurses demonstrating therapeutic touch. Emily wondered whether the nurses "were
telling the truth about their ability to feel the 'human energy field.' "
Since she had to come up with a project for her science fair at school, she decided to
determine whether human energy fields can be detected by a trained practitioner. She
received some help from her mother Linda Rosa, who is an anti-TT activist, and from her
stepfather Larry Sarner, who is head of the National Therapeutic Touch Study Group,
an anti-TT organization.
Design of the Study: 21 TT practitioners with from 1 to 21 years of
experience participated. The test was simple: the therapist stuck both hands through holes
in a vertical cardboard screen, with their palms up. On the other side of the screen,
Emily placed her hand with the palm downwards, three or four inches above one of the
practitioner's hands. The test subject then indicated which hand was under Emily's palm;
they were given unlimited time to make their decision. The screen was arranged so that the
therapist was unable to see Emily's hand. A photograph which was taken during this
study appears in Reference 14. After the initial study, some of the practitioners said
that they did not do well because they had had no opportunity to get "acquainted"
with Emily's hand. A second study was then conducted in which the therapists first felt
the girl's hands and chose which one would be used. They achieved an even worse result,
being correct only 41% of the time. 7
Results of the Study: The practitioners selected the correct hand in
123 out of 280 trials (44%). Statistically, this result is no better than chance; the
practitioner could have flipped a coin and achieved similar results. Emily's data was
further analyzed by her father. He found that there was no significant correlation between
a practitioner's score and the number of years of TT experience. The report stated that
"To our knowledge, no other objective, quantitative study involving more than a
few therapeutic touch practitioners has been published, and no well-designed study
demonstrates any health benefit from therapeutic touch." They concluded that
"failure to substantiate TT's most fundamental claim [the presence of an energy
field] is unrefuted evidence that the claims of TT are groundless and that further
professional use is unjustified." An article describing the test was published
in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
Emily commented on a PBS television program 6 that the
therapists "were probably sincere about being able to feel something...When I was
doing my test, I got the feeling that they were having a hard time feeling anything; when
they couldn't see my hand and were just guessing...I do not believe that these people are
feeling something. After you pretend for a while, you starting believing there is
something there." She asked the founder of TT, Dolores Krieger, for ten minutes
of her time to take the test. Emily commented that she "sent me a message that
she didn't have time."
Reactions from the TT and skeptical communities:
||Dolores Krieger, co-founder of TT criticized the study. "It's poor in terms of
design and methodology." She said that someone other than the designer should
have conducted the test, and that the 21 test subjects were too few and unrepresentative.
She said that the validity of TT has been established in many doctoral dissertations and
"innumerable" clinical studies. Referring to the study, she said "It's
a cute idea, but it's not valid. The way her subjects sat is foreign to TT, and our hands
are moving, not stationary. You don't just walk into a room and perform--it's a whole
||Cynthia Hutchison of Healing Touch International said that the test was flawed.
Practitioners are able to help people even though they cannot feel the patient's energy
field. Also, there has to be a healing intent on the part of the practitioner in order for
the technique to work. There was no healing involved in the test. Presumably with
reference to the JAMA article, she criticized medical journals for not publishing material
on alternative, low cost therapies.|
||Brenda Astor, director of the Center for the Healing Arts at Imperial Point Medical
Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL, said: "It seems kind of ludicrous to try to
debunk something that people say helps them, is nontoxic, noninvasive and nonharmful."
||Maureen Gamble, a TT therapist from Kansas believes that a person's energy field extends
for three feet in all directions from the body. Thus both of the
practitioner's hands were within the investigator's energy field. The test evaluated only
whether a practitioner "could tell some difference based on physical proximity."
She speculates that because of the investigator's bias towards the practitioners failing
the test, she might have focused "her mental and emotional energy on the opposite
hand from the one selected." 10She referred to a
prominent teacher of TT who was initially unable to feel patient's energy fields, yet was
successful in healing people.|
||Carla Selby, who is a skeptic of TT, had many criticisms of this study:
||Emily Rosa's parents are anti-TT activists. This could be a source of unconscious bias
||The JAMA report used many biasing religious terms
||25 TT practitioners were located in north-eastern Colorado of which 21 agreed to
participate in the study. But we know little about the test subjects, and their degree of
||The study was not double-blind
||Many of the tests were done in the home or office of the test subject. No information is
given about the details of the environment of these tests.
"Skeptics Challenge Pseudoscience in Nursing," Rocky Mountain
Skeptics at: http://bcn.boulder.co.us/community/rms/rms-tt1.html
"Therapeutic Touch Document List," Parascope, at: http://site034145.primehost.com/articles/1196/touch2.htm
This list contains documents related to the Alabama and Colorado 1994 studies.
Jon Elliston. "The Pentagon's 'Healing Hands'," at: http://site034145.primehost.com/articles/1196/touch1.htm
The James Randi Educational Foundation has a home page at: http://www.randi.org
Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT) has a home page at: http://www.voicenet.com/~eric/phact/
"Healing Touch -- Emily Rosa," Scientific American Frontiers, at: http://www.pbs.org/saf/3_ask/archive/qna/3282_erosa.html
"Study Refutes 'Therapeutic Touch'," Reuters, 1998-MAR-31, at: http://188.8.131.52/headlines/980331/health/stories/
Emily Rosa, et al., "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch." The Journal
of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Vol 279, #13, 1998-APR-1. A
summary of the article is available at:
http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/v279n13/abs/joc71352.html And for a mere
$9.00 US, the AMA will allow you to have a peek at the full article.
Reactions to her article are available at:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/htbin-post/ According to the AMA, article
reprints are available from: Larry Sarner, National Therapeutic Touch Study
Group, 711 W Ninth St, Loveland, CO 80537 (e-mail:
[email protected] ).
Nancy McVicar, "9-year-old's therapy study lands in
medical journal," Sun-Sentinel, South Florida, 1998-APR-1,
Maureen Gamble. "Response regarding the program aired by 'All Things
Considered' on National Public Radio." at: http://www.healingtouch.net/hthtml/mgamble.htm
Carla Selby, "The Jama TT Article Critiqued," at: http://bcn.boulder.co.us/community/rms/rms-jamacrit.html
Copyright © 1998 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on
Essay originally written: 1998-MAR-4
Latest update; 2003-JAN-24
Author: Bruce A Robinson