MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a form of paranormal or energy healing developed by Dora Kunz (1904-1999), a psychic and alternative practitioner, in collaboration with Dolores Krieger, a professor of nursing. According to Kunz, TT has its origins in ancient Yogic texts. TT is popular and practiced predominantly by US nurses; it is currently being taught in more than 80 colleges and universities in the U.S., and in more than seventy countries. According to one TT-organisation, TT is a holistic, evidence-based therapy that incorporates the intentional and compassionate use of universal energy to promote balance and well-being. It is a consciously directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses the hands as a focus to facilitate the process.

The assumptions that form the basis for TT are not biologically plausible. But that does not necessarily mean it is ineffective.

This study was conducted to assess the effect of therapeutic touch on stress, daytime sleepiness, sleep quality, and fatigue among students of nursing and midwifery.

A total of 96 students were randomized into three groups: the therapeutic touch (TT) group, the sham therapeutic touch (STT) group, and the control group. The TT group was subjected to therapeutic touch twice a week for 4 weeks with each session lasting 20 min.

When the TT group was compared to the STT and control groups following the intervention, the decrease in the levels of stress, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness, as well as the increase in the sleep quality were found to be significant.

The authors concluded that TT, which is one form of complementary therapy, was relatively effective in decreasing the levels of stress, fatigue and daytime sleepiness, and in increasing the sleep quality of university students of nursing and midwifery.

Several previous trials and reviews of TT are available. However, many of them were conducted ardent proponents of TT, seriously flawed, and thus less than reliable. One rigorous pre-clinical study, co-designed by a 9-year-old girl, found that experienced TT practitioners were unable to detect the investigator’s “energy field.” Their failure to substantiate TT’s most fundamental claim is unrefuted evidence that the claims of TT are groundless and that further professional use is unjustified.

In my recent book, I concluded that there are no reasons to assume that TT causes any meaningful effects beyond placebo. One could, however, argue that, like all forms of paranormal healing, it undermines rational thinking.

Does the new study change my judgment?

I am afraid not!

5 Responses to Effect of therapeutic touch on daytime sleepiness, stress and fatigue

  • An interesting definition which can be interpreted in more than one way:
    “TT is a holistic, evidence-based therapy that incorporates the intentional and compassionate use of universal energy …”

    Well, yes, if you accept , as we surely do, that the brain, our thoughts, and the enire universe relies on energy in one form or another, and when humans communicate they use, well, energy.

    “… to promote balance and well-being.”
    This of course is guff and salesmanship – what they really mean is: “…to make those who suffer (patients) feel better.”
    Nowt wong with that.

    “It is a consciously directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses the hands as a focus to facilitate the process.”
    Well, yes, if the practitioner accepted that the hand waving is like a magical gesture or hypnotist of old swinging a watch on a chain – it provokes response expectances. That’s all folks.

    The problem arises because the TT folk lack integrity, are not honest about their practice and maintan they can manipulate energy itself, not in the cerebrum via the usual senses of sight and sound, but in the space between therapist’s hands and client.
    That of course is tripe, piffle poppycock, baldertash, tosh and guff squared.

    If only TT therapists would have more integrity and say: “We use the techniques of hypnosis (making suggestions and inviting responses) to facilitate beneficial response expectances.”

    Quite why the TT folk cannot be more honest escapes me and is a shame, because they might have much to offer, as this paper suggests.

    In other words: It ain’t the touch, it’s the imagining of the touch.
    One of the most powerful effects in mentalism (the magic of the mind) is in fact called ‘Touches’!
    But, and here’s the secret – it’s an illusion!
    Honest.
    Trust me, I’m a magician.

    Professor Riccardo MMC
    Consultant Charlatan and Specialist in the care of the Gullible

    • @Richard Rawlins
      That is a nice analysis already, but it lacks a certain … shall we say sharpness?

      So please allow me to formalize it according to evidence-based standards, with all the questions that anyone should ask who encounters claims like this:

      TT is a holistic, evidence-based therapy …

      Well, OK, it is evidence-based – as in: there is good evidence that it does not work at all.

      … that incorporates the intentional and compassionate use of universal energy …”

      Please provide a) a detailed definition of and b) credible evidence for the existence of this ‘universal energy’. What is this ‘energy’? How can it be characterized? How can it be objectively detected? How can it be quantified?

      … to promote balance and well-being.

      Please provide more information. What is it that is balanced? How should this be balanced? How can you tell it is not balanced?

      It is a consciously directed process …

      Would anyone like their therapists to NOT be consciously aware of what they are doing?

      … of energy exchange …

      Once again: first provide a) a detailed definition of and b) credible evidence for the existence of this ‘energy’.

      … during which the practitioner uses the hands as a focus to facilitate the process.

      Please provide more information. Exactly how are the hands used to facilitate the process? What does the practitioner (have to) do to make this happen? How are the hands the ‘focus’?
      For a comparison with our science-based world: if I want to hammer in a nail, I use a hand to grip the hammer, and then transfer and concentrate energy (= ability to do work) from my muscles via my hand to give the hammerhead kinetic energy, which on impact is transferred to the nail, in order to overcome the friction and other forces involved in driving the nail into the wood.
      Please provide a similarly detailed description of what happens during this ‘TT energy transfer’, using science-based definitions of all phenomena invoked.

      So basically, it is all a matter of asking questions. SCAMmers rely on the vast majority of people simply accepting their nonsense without ever asking questions, especially about the very foundations of what is claimed.
      As soon as any denizen of the Alternative Universe mentions ‘energy’, immediately ask them to define it, and provide scientific evidence for its existence. Same with ‘balance’, or ‘harmony’, or ‘resonance’ etc..

      • Richard,

        For an answer to your questions I suggest that you watch any of the Star Wars films. They are also hugely entertaining.

        • Yes, that’s a good one. Just like SCAM, SciFi is packed with all sorts of amazing phenomena such as ‘tractor beams’ and ‘force fields’ and ‘teleporters’ – things that have achieved the same status in SF as ‘energy’ in the Alternative Universe: everyone knows what is meant, and usually accepts it without further questions, because otherwise, the narrative would fall apart.

          Now if we could only educate people to perceive SCAM as merely a form of entertainment …

  • There are many advertisements in the UK by practitioners of TT making all kinds of claims to “heal” many conditions.
    They claim that it is an accepted modality and that it is “scientifically proven to work.”

    In truth it is a load of cobblers – rank pseudoscience and it ought to be classed as outright fraud. Why people are not better protected from such SCAMs I do not understand.

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