(Investigator 196, 2021 January


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, and describes an Egyptian medical treatment in 1552 B.C.

In the beginning of the Christian era the technique was central to religious practice but was later abandoned. It 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.

The "human energy field" postulated by TT theorists resembles the "magnetic force" postulated by Mesmer and his followers in the eighteenth century. Some aspects of mesmerism were revived in the nineteenth century by Theosophy, an occult religion that incorporated Eastern metaphysical concepts and underlies many current "New Age" ideas.

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. This belief was reinforced as a result of her association with Dona Kunz, a self-styled "sensitive" and president of the Theosophical Society of America from 1975 to 1987. Their joint studies were principally of Oskar Estabany who claimed to be able to heal people by holding his hands in close proximity to their bodies.

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


Briefly the technique, which could more aptly be termed "a 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 the above method can supposedly 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.


Studies carried out by researchers Sandroff (1980), 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. The studies used inappropriate statistical data, and had resulted in erroneous conclusions. The authors concluded,

"Without (scientific) evidence, the nurse practitioners of Therapeutic Touch will be relegated to the practice of 'placebo mumbo jumbo'." (Nursing Research, 33(1):37).

In 1996, Linda Rosa, R.N., published a critique of all 131 studies related to TT she could locate in nursing journals and elsewhere. Her conclusion?

"The more rigorous the research design, the more detailed the statistical analysis, the less evidence that there is any observed — or observable — phenomenon".

In one experiment, Linda Rosa's nine-year-old daughter demonstrated that fifteen Therapeutic Touch practitioners could not detect the presence of her hand near theirs. The child held her right hand, palm down, 8 to 10 centimetres above one of the subject's palms. A cardboard screen and a towel prevented the practitioners from seeing which hand was selected. Each subject was asked ten times to state which of her own hands the child's hand was near. The results were no better than chance.

Even the offer of $1 million, pledged jointly by the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking for anyone to demonstrate the ability to detect the presence of an "energy field" around a human being has failed to attract participants.

At best, Therapeutic Touch is nothing more than a placebo effect brought about by the presence of a seemingly 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 in the human body exists, 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(1):37-41, January-February.

Edwards, Harry 1994. Therapeutic Touch. the Skeptic, 14(2):42-44. Australian Skeptics Inc. NSW.

Grossman, R. 1986. The Other Medicines. Pan Books.

Kiev, A. 1964. Magic, Faith and Healing. Macmillan. N.Y.

Randi, James. 1987. The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books.

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(1):40-49. Skeptics' Society, Altadena, CA 91001. USA.

Sandroff, R. 1980 a. "A Skeptic's Guide to Therapeutic Touch." RN, 43(1):25-30, 82-83.

___________1980 b. "The Potent Placebo." RN, 43 (4): 35-37, 88-96

Stalker, D. and Glymour, C. 1985. Examining Holistic Medicine. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.