WHAT IS THERAPEUTIC TOUCH?
By Linda Pearce
The following article was written to provide background information about Therapeutic Touch. It was published in The Therapeutic Touch Network of Ontario (TTNO) newsletter, in touch, in the Autumn, 2010 edition. Linda Pearce is a Recognized Practitioner of the TTNO.
Therapeutic Touch™ is an energy-field modality that is a contemporary interpretation of several ancient healing practices. Webster’s Dictionary defines “modality” in the medical sense as “the application of a therapeutic agent.” In Therapeutic Touch, the ‘agent’ is the conscious intent of the practitioner to balance and modulate the energy flow through and around the body of the client. This is done by using the hands of the practitioner as a focus to facilitate the natural healing process. Therapeutic Touch was developed in the 1970s by Dolores Krieger and Dora Kunz. “Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN, is Professor Emerita of Nursing Science, New York University (NYU). She is a recognized theorist on holistic nursing and an innovative researcher on the dynamics of natural healing. At NYU, her graduate-level course on healing, Frontiers of Nursing has been taught each semester since 1974, and its format has been replicated internationally at other universities. An early proponent of the holistic perspective, Dr. Krieger has been a radical pioneer of fresh, innovative thinking in post-modern professional nursing.”1 Dora Kunz was a clairvoyant and healer, and her ability to sense unseen human energy fields was well-known to her contemporaries. “Since childhood Dora was aware of such forces, and she made a lifetime study of how they work and how they relate to attitudes and emotions; this awareness later evolved into an understanding of the universal healing field from which both healers and patients can draw fresh, potent healing energies.”2 Her work with Dolores Krieger resulted in the standard of Therapeutic Touch that is so widely practiced today.
There are several basic assumptions that underlie the practice. Three of these are:
In a state of health, life energy flows freely in, through and out of each person’s energy field in an orderly manner.
When disease or injury occurs, the flow of energy is affected and may be described as obstructed, disordered or depleted.
Therapeutic Touch practitioners influence the energy flow to restore the integrity of the field and to move it toward wholeness and health.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Research and experience have shown that Therapeutic Touch is effective in eliciting a relaxation response, reducing anxiety, changing the perception of pain, facilitating the body’s natural restorative process, bringing about an improved sense of well-being, and providing comfort during distressing circumstances.
WHAT IS A SESSION LIKE?
Always individualized, a Therapeutic Touch session usually does not exceed 20 minutes. The client remains fully clothed. Depending on the preference of the client, Therapeutic Touch can be done with no physical touching, or with light touch on the shoulders, arms and legs. The session can be administered while the client is sitting or lying down. First, the practitioner consciously places herself in a calm, alert state of being–achieving inner quiet and being in the present moment. Then, as she moves her hands from the head to the feet, two to four inches from the body, the practitioner notes any differences in the quality of the energy flow. Following this, she moves her hands in a gentle, rhythmic motion with the intent to redistribute and rebalance the receiver’s energy field. Following the Therapeutic Touch session, a rest period of 20 minutes is encouraged, during which time the body’s natural healing mechanisms respond to the client’s altered and rebalanced energy flow, and the client’s own healing momentum continues.
WHAT DOES THE CLIENT FEEL DURING A SESSION?
As responses to a Therapeutic Touch session vary, there is no ‘right’ way to experience it. Many of those receiving Therapeutic Touch fall asleep during the session. Others may sometimes feel energy moving through their bodies or feel slight tingling sensations.
WHO CAN LEARN TO DO THERAPEUTIC TOUCH?
Anyone with the compassionate intention to help or heal has the natural potential to learn this practice. It is a skill that requires sensitivity and needs to be practised initially with supervision and feedback. Since there are ever-deepening levels to Therapeutic Touch, practitioners find that they continue to learn as long as they practise Therapeutic Touch.
HOW RIGOROUS ARE THE TRAINING STANDARDS?
Recognized Teachers of The Therapeutic Touch Network of Ontario (TTNO) provide workshops that are available privately and through health care facilities and community colleges.
The basic training consists of three levels, each a minimum of eight hours, taken over at least a six-month period. Following the basic levels, students are encouraged to study with a variety of teachers, each of whom brings his or her own experience into the teaching. Students and Recognized Practitioners participate in Practice Groups, retreats and conferences as well.
The TTNO has developed both standards for practice and curriculum guidelines for Recognized status. For example, to achieve Recognized Practitioner status, practitioners must complete a workbook with 84 case studies, detailing sessions they have given and received. Those students who meet the established criteria are granted the status of Recognized Practitioner and with further study, Recognized Teacher. In both cases, status is renewed annually on evidence of continuing education.
Competency as a practitioner is gained through practice and continued study, as well as participation in Practice Groups, retreats, workshops and conferences.
HAS ANY OF THIS BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN?
On this website (About Research), you can find a good deal of information about scientific research on Therapeutic Touch, including information on how to order the Annotated Bibliography of Published Therapeutic Touch™ Research 1975 to July 2004. You also may download the article, Research: Outcomes of Therapeutic Touch, describing the results that have been published for several research studies. Both research and experience have shown the effectiveness of Therapeutic Touch in eliciting a relaxation response, decreasing anxiety, changing the perception of pain, facilitating the body’s natural restorative process, bringing about an improved sense of well-being, and providing comfort during distressing circumstances.
One research paper makes an interesting point: “The issue of mechanism can be sidestepped by adopting a pragmatic view and instead focussing on utility. We argued that TT (Therapeutic Touch) was offered as an adjunctive clinical treatment because of positive evidence to the question “Does TT work?” and not “Can we explain why TT works?” In our view, practitioners and patients should be allowed to hold their own beliefs and interpretation of how TT works. Research should continue exploring theories of mechanism, but it does not serve integrative practice to wait for definitive answers or to maintain contentious debates that cannot be resolved by science at this time. … Support of the [TT] program and subsequent patient referral through multidisciplinary teams of oncologists, nurses and counselors have been an essential component in providing the best care possible to patients within our cancer centers.”3 In other words, Therapeutic Touch Works! While it is important to continue offering Therapeutic Touch because it proves its worth to the individual who is tired, ill, in pain or anxious, the ongoing research findings continue to help us understand outcomes of Therapeutic Touch and the modality’s underlying processes. Reproducibility is essential in research. Fortunately, standards of practice make Therapeutic Touch™ a modality that agrees with this principle of science. Recent research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine entitled “Therapeutic Touch Stimulates the Proliferation of Human Cells in Culture” 14:3 (2008): 233-239 states, “TT was chosen for our studies, because it is a highly disciplined method, and requires extensive training to become an advanced practitioner.” Wanting to control for the mind/body connection in healing, Dr. Glowowicz and her colleagues used human cells in culture. “Fibroblasts, tendon cells, (tenocytes) and bone cells (osteoblasts) were treated with TT, sham (TT) or untreated for 2 weeks and then assessed for [3H]-thymidine incorporation in the DNA and immunocytochemcial staining for proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA).” They found that, " A specific pattern of TT treatment produced a significant increase in proliferation of fibroblasts, osteoblasts and tenocytes in culture. Therefore, TT may affect normal cells by stimulating cell proliferation.”It is relevant to add here that Dolores Krieger, one of the two founders of the modality, has a PhD and early recognized the importance of conducting research on outcomes of Therapeutic Touch as she taught Therapeutic Touch within the NYU Nursing Program. Many Therapeutic Touch practitioners are nurses. In Ontario, under the College of Nurses Standards of Nursing Practice, Therapeutic Touch can be administered under Clause 7.1 that states: “promotes comfort using touch, massage and stress-reduction techniques.” The College goes on to say, however, that “the decision as to whether Therapeutic Touch is an acceptable treatment modality is the responsibility of the agency/institution. Once the decision has been reached, Therapeutic Touch can become part of the recognized plan of care.” Of benefit to both practitioner and client, this modality is proving to be a significant antidote for burnout in health care professionals.
WHERE IS THERAPEUTIC TOUCH PRACTICED?
Therapeutic Touch is taught and practised throughout the world, including at numerous universities and colleges in Canada and the United States. It is accepted in the policies and procedures of an increasing number of health care institutions worldwide and as an intervention in a number of Ontario hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and clinics.
Therapeutic Touch is a registered trademark in Canada.