(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
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
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"
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
"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
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
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
Clark, P.E. and Clark, M.J. 1984. "Therapeutic Touch: Is there a
scientific basis for the practice?" Nursing Research, 33(1):37-41,
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.