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TT studies covered in this essay:

bullet 1994 Colorado
bullet 1994 Alabama
bullet 1996 Pennsylvania
bullet 1996 Colorado

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1994 Colorado Study:

A committee of the Health Sciences Center of the University of Colorado. During the period 1993-DEC to 1994-JUN, they:

bullet completed a literature search of information on TT;
bullet reviewed the TT courses given at the University's School of Nursing;
bullet obtained material from both practitioners and skeptics;
bullet observed TT sessions. 1

They concluded:

bullet "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 modality."
bullet "Qualitative judgments and evaluation are not sufficient to document and establish TT as an efficacious therapeutic or healing modality."
bullet "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 life."
bullet "There is virtually no acceptable scientific evidence concerning the existence or nature of these energy fields."
bullet TT should remain on the curriculum, mainly for reasons of academic freedom. 2

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1994 Alabama Study:

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:

bullet Nosocomial infections were more common (3 vs.1) in the patients receiving TT than among the control group.
bullet 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."
bullet They found that anxiety was lower among the patients who received TT. 2

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1996 Pennsylvania Study:

Two skeptical groups, the James Randi Educational Foundation 4 and , the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking [PhACT] 5 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, Ph.D. "

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 successive assessment."

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. 

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1996 Colorado Study

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.' " 6 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) 8

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:

bullet 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 process."
bullet 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.
bullet 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." 9
bullet 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.
bullet Carla Selby, who is a skeptic of TT, had many criticisms of this study: 11
bullet Emily Rosa's parents are anti-TT activists. This could be a source of unconscious bias
bullet The JAMA report used many biasing religious terms
bullet 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 expertise.
bullet The study was not double-blind
bullet 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.

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  1. "Skeptics Challenge Pseudoscience in Nursing," Rocky Mountain Skeptics at:
  2. "Therapeutic Touch Document List," Parascope, at: This list contains documents related to the Alabama and Colorado 1994 studies.
  3. Jon Elliston. "The Pentagon's 'Healing Hands'," at:
  4. The James Randi Educational Foundation has a home page at: 
  5. Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT) has a home page at:
  6. "Healing Touch -- Emily Rosa," Scientific American Frontiers, at:
  7. "Study Refutes 'Therapeutic Touch'," Reuters, 1998-MAR-31, at:
  8. 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: 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: 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: ).
  9. Nancy McVicar, "9-year-old's therapy study lands in medical journal," Sun-Sentinel, South Florida, 1998-APR-1, at:
  10. Maureen Gamble. "Response regarding the program aired by 'All Things Considered' on National Public Radio." at:
  11. Carla Selby, "The Jama TT Article Critiqued," at:

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics and conflicts > TT > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Essay originally written: 1998-MAR-4
Latest update; 2003-JAN-24
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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