Therapeutic Touch

Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a technique in which the hands are used to direct human energy for healing purposes. There is usually no actual physical contact.  Therapeutic Touch is a holistic, evidence-based therapy that incorporates the intentional and compassionate use of universal energy to promote balance and well-being. In addition to stimulating the body’s own healing ability, TT promotes relaxation, reduces pain and decreases anxiety. TT can be effective when used alone or as an adjunct to traditional treatments and medications.

Evidence shows that TT can be helpful for reducing stress, anxiety and pain among patients with cancer.  It can also be used for patients with other disease processes to promote relaxation.  The practice of Therapeutic Touch is based on the belief that problems in the patient's energy field that cause illness and pain can be identified and rebalanced by a healer.

Most of the research for TT reveals evidence from small groups that TT is helpful among patients with cancer.  Additionally, there are not any proven negative side effects from TT. 

Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN and Dora Kunz developed therapeutic Touch in the 1970s. Krieger was a Professor of Nursing at New York University’s Division of Nursing.  The practice of TT revolves around the concept of a human energy field. In an interview Krieger is quoted as saying, “your human energies are constantly and dynamically interacting with the vital energy fields of others in a manner not thought of in Biology 101.” 

In addition to stimulating the body’s own healing ability, TT promotes relaxation, reduces pain and decreases anxiety. It has been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system, and accelerates the healing of wounds. Nurses often use it pre- and post-operatively as a means of identifying and reducing the anxiety, stress and pain associated with the surgical process. It has also been used with premature babies, in childbirth, as well as with the dying to calm and reduce pain. TT can be effective when used alone or as an adjunct to traditional treatments and medications.

Initially Therapeutic Touch did involve actual touch but additional studies convinced Krieger that touching was not necessary to heal, and since that time, it has not usually been a part of the treatment.

Why should I use Therapeutic Touch?

There is emerging evidence that reveals Therapeutic Touch can be helpful for cancer patients and survivors. Therapeutic touch can help in the following ways:

  • Feelings of calmness
  • Relaxation
  • Sense of awareness
  • Increased sensation of well-being
  • Decreased stress
  • Decreased depression
  • Decreased pain and discomfort
  • Increase wound healing
  • Reduce fever/swelling
  • Improve headaches

How does Therapeutic Touch work?

The practice of Therapeutic Touch is based on the belief that problems in the patient's energy field that cause illness and pain can be identified and rebalanced by a healer. Harmful energy is believed to cause blockages and other problems in the patient's normal energy flow, and proponents of TT claim the treatment removes those blockages.

Is Therapeutic Touch right for me?

The clothed patient is normally lying down, but may also be sitting or standing. There are four steps involved in a TT session, which takes between 10 and 30 minutes to complete. The first step is called centering. During centering, the therapist makes an effort to clear his or her mind in order to communicate with the patient's energy field and locate areas of energy blockage that are believed to cause pain or illness. 

The second part of TT involves an assessment in which the therapist's hands are held about 2 to 6 inches above the patient's body. The therapist then passes both hands, palms facing downward, head to toe along the patient's body. This process is supposed to help locate irregularities or blockages in the patient's energy field that signal a health problem. 

In the third step, the therapist conducts several passes over the body with his or her hands. At the end of each pass, the therapist releases harmful energy by flicking his or her hands into the air past the toes of the patient. Finally, the therapist transfers his or her own excess healthy energy to the patient. 

The number of sessions a patient needs depends on if the effects were beneficial either through decreasing anxiety or pain, enhancing the ability to cope, improving the feeling of well- being, or progress and improvement in a particular health condition.

How do I choose a Therapeutic provider/class?

There is no required certification for therapeutic touch practitioners. More than a hundred colleges and universities in the US and Canada teach TT. It is promoted by many professional nursing organizations and practiced by mostly nurses. According to an American Hospital survey conducted in 2005, about 30% of 1400 hospitals in the study offered therapeutic touch. Many nonprofessionals have also learned these techniques for personal use at home. 

Selecting a provider will require some research and careful decision-making on your part. Because each individual is different, you need to find what works for you, and what does not. Find a program that uses techniques that helps you; for example, some people like to have the therapy standing up, lying down, or sitting on a chair.

How do I talk to my healthcare provider about using Therapeutic Touch?

You should inform your healthcare provider about your use of therapeutic touch and your reasons for its use. It might be helpful to keep a journal that documents your reactions to therapeutic touch, before and after treatment and then share those findings during your health care visits. That way your provider can ask about responses you might be having and monitor you for needed changes in medications and treatments, once you begin to experience positive results. Keep your health care providers informed, so they may monitor you for needed changes in medications and treatments as you receive positive results. For example, if therapeutic touch is helping you to reduce pain and anxiety, dose of anti-anxiety or pain medication could possibly be lowered. However, do not stop medications you might be on without consulting with your healthcare provider, with the expectation that therapeutic touch will replace the effects of the medication and heal the illness. If you are seeing a psychiatrist for chronic mental health issues, seek advice from your physician before initiating therapeutic touch.

Have others with cancer used Therapeutic Touch?

Most information about the effects of TT is based on individual reports and small studies. One scientific review of available published studies from 1997 showed that TT might help reduce anxiety and some types of pain. Another review of studies concluded a potential benefit of wound healing. In addition, there has been research in patients who have undergone surgery for breast cancer who received 10 minutes of TT and 20 minutes of talking lowered anxiety before surgery. This was compared to 10 minutes of quiet time and 20 minutes of talking.

What is Therapeutic Touch like?

If you are interested in Therapeutic Touch and would like to see a demonstration before you try it yourself, we invite you to watch a video featuring Jacqueline Kern, PhD, RN

Contributors: 
Megan Maley , BSN Student , University of Arizona
Winnie Bunch , BSN Student , University of Arizona
Expert Reviewers: 
Jacqueline Kern, PhD, RN