(originally appeared in Rocky Mountain Skeptic, July/Aug 1993)
Shortly after the therapeutic touch subcommittee of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics agreed to confront the Board of Nursing at its next session, I decided to enroll in a therapeutic touch class. I wanted to gain an understanding of what nurses were being taught under the guise of "therapeutic touch."
Colorado Free University (CFU) offered a class entitled Therapeutic Touch: Healing at Your Fingertips. The class was advertised in the CFU Winter 1992-1993 catalog as an "easily learned healing technique . . . to alleviate pain in yourself and others." The catalog claimed that therapeutic touch "is currently being used successfully to help with PMS, migraine, chronic back pain, and depression." Tuition for the course was $59, with a $5 administrative fee tacked on by CFU. For an additional $5, I could have requested and received certification for 12 Continuing Education Units (CEU) toward the 20 CEU biannual requirement needed to maintain registration as an RN or LPN.
The class consisted of four sessions, each lasting about three hours. A registered nurse in private practice instructed us. There were five students in the class, I was the only male, and none of us were nurses. Material furnished by the instructor consisted of an eight-page handout. Pages one and two featured line drawings of the human body, on which locations of the major "chakras" were diagrammed. Notes that associated specific organs, colors, and musical notes with each chakra added detail to the drawings. For instance, the second chakra is located in the lower abdomen. We were told that this chakra is identified with water and the color orange, and that it resonated (or rotated - I was never clear on that point) with the note "D" on the musical scale.
The third page of the handout tabulated the five-step Therapeutic Touch Sequence for a Full Treatment. Aside from the beginning meditation to "center" the individual performing the ceremony, the five steps included "scanning," "opening the chakras," "interventions," "connecting" the chakras, and "closing" the session.
We were taught the Seven Minute Magic Process. The performer "treats" a subject using the Magic Process without having to go through a "full treatment" as described above. The Seven Minute Magic Process is a blend of the TT "unruffling" technique, which involved no physical contact between the performer and the subject, and the "sacrocranial pump" technique, in which the subject is touched by the performer. The "sacrocranial pump" consists of placing two fingertips of one hand at the base of the subject's skull, then placing two fingertips of the other hand at base of their spine. By rhythmically alternating light pressure to these two points of contact, the performer "pumped" energy up and down the spinal column, thus invigorating the subject. (While we were learning the "sacrocranial pump," the instructor informed us that the handicap stall of the nearest restroom was an ideal place to administer the "treatment" if no privacy could be found in the immediate area.)
Subsequent material listed eight "interventions" that we could apply to a subject, including "cotton," "unruffling," "ultrasound," "pain drain," "double energy boost," "tummy-rock," "sinus technique," and "back sweep." With the "cotton intervention", an 8-inch square piece of cotton batting is energized between the hands, a process that was described by the instructor as needing five to ten minutes to complete. The batting was then placed over an area of affliction on the subject, at which point "healing" would be induced. It was this "intervention" that was demonstrated for the Board of Nursing at its January meeting.
"Unruffling" consisted of "smoothing" the irregularities in a subject's "energy field" by manipulating the "energy field" with the performer's hands. This is the most basic TT technique, and involves no contact between the performer and the subject. The instructor informed us that, when interaction between the "energy fields" of the performer and the subject was at its peak, the performer would feel as if she (or he) was "pulling taffy." "Ultrasound" consisted of extending the fingers of one hand and bringing them together to form a "cone" shape. Then, by rotating the hand at the wrist from a position above an afflicted area, "deep heat" could be induced, thus causing "healing" to occur.
"Pain drain" was initiated by placing one hand of the performer in contact with the afflicted area of a subject, then allowing the performer's other hand to drop to the side. This arrangement "siphons" pain from the subject in much the same way that gasoline is siphoned from the tank of a car. The "double energy boost," "tummy rock," and "sinus technique" interventions all involved physical contact between the performer and the subject. Each, in its way, is believed to pump, transfer, or otherwise alter the "energy field" of the subject so as to induce healing. Nineteen variations of "connecting work" were tabulated in the handout. Number 9, for instance, prescribes "Right hand Solar plexus - Left hand Heart." If these "connecting works" were taught during the forth and last class, I missed them. That class was scheduled for the day on which the Skeptics presented their arguments to the Board.
The last pages of the handout consisted of a "Therapeutic Touch Bibliography" which listed popular works on the subject by authors such as Delores Krieger, Rosalyn Bruyere, Deepak Chopra, Choa KokSui and the like, as well as a listing of audio tapes, most of which were of the "new age" genre. This "new age" music provided a constant background to the lectures, demonstrations, and practice sessions that made up the class.
Different students reacted differently to the material. At least one, like myself, failed to "feel" the "energy field" of another person during our practice sessions. Another student, who admitted to being anxious about an upcoming family confrontation, described "beams of colored light" that radiated from her midsection when she was lying on the massage table during a demonstration by the instructor. All of the students seemed to accept the material uncritically. None expressed doubt in either the underlying philosophy or the efficacy of the "interventions."
Support for therapeutic touch waxes as critical thought wanes. Acceptance of therapeutic touch by the Board of Nursing and promotion of therapeutic touch by otherwise respectable hospitals are examples of how scientific illiteracy can impact both public policy and private business practices. All too often, we assume that people in positions of responsibility act in a responsible manner. With therapeutic touch, we have evidence that they do not.
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