(Investigator 92, 2003 September)

Therapeutic Touch is simply a revival of the ancient practice of "laying on of hands", the earliest known recording of which dates back to the Ebers Papyrus, which describes an Egyptian medical treatment in 1552 BC.

In the beginning of the Christian era the technique was central to religious practice and when abandoned, was adopted by several kings of France, and became known as "the royal touch."

Anton Mesmer, in the late eighteenth century, claimed that a "magnetic fluid" emanating from the human body was the mechanism of healing in the practice of the laying on of hands. However, a commission appointed to investigate Mesmer's contention decided that Mesmer was wrong, and that any beneficial effects of the technique were due to "sensitive excitement, imagination and imitation." A view still held by sceptics today.

In the late 1960s, Dolores Krieger, a professor of Nursing at New York University, ascribed to Mesmer's theory, believing that there is inherent in all human beings an energy which facilitates healing in others.

Briefly the technique, which could more aptly be termed "rite", consists of meditating to "draw energy from the ground" and then "scanning" the subject to locate differences in the so-called energy field or aura surrounding the body. "Pain ridges" detected by this method can then be swept away. "Tuning and balancing" the "vibrations" of the aura is accomplished through opening of "chakras", the vortices that allegedly penetrate the body's aura through which various energies are received, transformed and distributed.

The Division of Nursing, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave a grant of $200,000 recently to the D'Youville Nursing Center in Buffalo to train nurses in the use of Therapeutic Touch, the first official government recognition of the "validity" of such treatment.

Studies carried out by researchers Sandroff (1980a), and Clark and Clark (1984) however, suggest that results favouring the use of therapeutic touch as a healing therapy were poorly conceived and methodologically invalid, used inappropriate statistical data, and had resulted in erroneous conclusions.

The authors conclude that, "Without (scientific) evidence, the nurse practitioners of Therapeutic Touch will be relegated to the practice of placebo mumbo jumbo." (Nursing Research, 33(l):37) At best, therapeutic touch is nothing more than a placebo effect brought about by the presence of a loving and caring person.

While there is much to commend the integration of "tender love and care" into medical and therapeutic practice, there is no evidence to suggest that a mysterious healing force exists in the human body or the ether, and it remains the province of lay preachers and alternative therapy practitioners.


Clark, P.E. and Clark, M. J. 1984. "Therapeutic Touch: Is there a scientific basis for the practice?" Nursing Research, 33(l) 37-41.
Edwards, Harry 1994. Therapeutic Touch. the Skeptic 14(2):42-44. Australian Skeptics Inc.
Grossman, R. 1986. The Other Medicines. Pan Books.
Kiev, A. 1964. Magic, Faith and Healing. Macmillan. New York.
Krieger, D. 1979. Therapeutic Touch. Prentice-Hall.
Rocky Mountains Skeptic, Healing in Colorado. RMS Newsletters May/June, July/August, September/ October, November/December 1993.
Rosa, Linda A. 1995. Therapeutic Touch. Skeptic. 3(l):40-49.
Skeptic's Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001. USA.
Sandroff, R. 1980a. "A skeptic's guide to Therapeutic touch." RN, 43(l): 25-30, 82-83.
___________ 1980b "The potent placebo." RN, 43 (4):35-37, 88-96.
Stalker, D. and Glymour, C. 1985. Examining Holistic Medicine. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. New York.

Edwards, H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]

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