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  » Alternative Medicine  »  Therapeutic Touch

What is therapeutic touch?

Therapeutic touch is based on the theory that the body, mind, and emotions form a complex energy field. According to therapeutic touch, health is an indication of a balanced energy field and illness represents imbalance. Therapists seek to correct the body's imbalances by moving their hands just over the body in a practice they call "the laying on of hands." According to Nurse Healers-Professional Associates International (NH-PAI), the therapy's official organization, therapeutic touch can heal wounds, reduce pain, promote relaxation, and "restore the integrity of the mind, body, and spirit."

Dolores Krieger, a professor at New York University School of Nursing, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer, developed therapeutic touch in 1972. Krieger and Kunz originally taught the techniques to Krieger's graduate school nursing students. Today, therapeutic touch is taught in 150 universities and colleges worldwide and is most commonly practiced by nurses.

What should I expect on my first visit?

Before the session begins, you will be asked to sit or lie down. No undressing is necessary. Despite its name, therapeutic touch rarely involves physical contact between the therapist and the person being treated. Most sessions take between 10 to 20 minutes. Sessions can be broken down into four steps:

(1) Centering—the therapist "tunes in" to your needs. He or she becomes "centered" by using breathing, imagery, and meditation to achieve a focused state of consciousness.

(2) Assessment—the therapist holds his or her hands 2 to 6 inches away from your body while moving from your head to your feet. This is done to assess the energy field surrounding your body. Therapists often describe feelings of warmth, coolness, static, and tingling over the areas of energy "congestion" or "blockage."

(3) Intervention—once a congested or blocked area is located, the therapist will move his or her hands in a rhythmic motion starting at the top of the blocked area and moving down and away from your body. This action is repeated until the therapist no longer senses congestion or until you begin to sense relief.

(4) Evaluation/Closure—once you've had a few minutes to relax, the therapist will ask you how you feel. He or she may recheck your energy field to be sure that no blockages were overlooked.

How many treatments will I need?

The number of treatments depends upon the illness being treated. For example, a healthy person experiencing tension headaches may require only one session while multiple sessions may be required to reduce a chronically ill person's pain. Treatments continue as long as your symptoms persist.

What is therapeutic touch good for?

Most studies indicate that therapeutic touch can relieve tension headaches, promote relaxation, and reduce pain, anxiety, and stress. According to the NH-PAI, therapeutic touch is also helpful in dealing with the pain of childbirth and in treating drug and alcohol addictions. There is still controversy, however, as to whether or not the healing power of therapeutic touch has anything to do with the "laying on of hands." Critics suggest that the healing observed after therapeutic touch may be the result of the relaxing nature of the therapy itself and not the energy transfer that is believed to occur between the therapists hands and the individual's body.

Is there anything I should watch out for?

There are no medical conditions that have been reported to worsen after therapeutic touch. However, very little human research has been done to test the safety of therapeutic touch. It is important to talk to your doctor before visiting a therapeutic touch practitioner.

How can I find a qualified practitioner?

There is no formal certification program in the United States for therapeutic touch. Because it developed in the nursing community, therapeutic touch is primarily practiced by those in the nursing profession (although some chiropractors and acupuncturists practice therapeutic touch as well). NH-PAI recommends that people look for therapists who practice regularly (at least an average of 2 times per week), have at least 5 years of experience, and have completed at least 12 hours of therapeutic touch workshops. To locate a qualified practitioner near you, contact the NH-PAI at 703-234-4149 or visit their Web site at

How much will a treatment cost?

Treatments tend to cost about the same as visits to your family doctor. Nurse healers will likely charge between $200 and $300 for the first visit and $125 to $150 for follow-up visits.

Will my medical insurance cover therapeutic touch?

Therapeutic touch is practiced by an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 professionals around the world, and is offered in at least 200 U.S. hospitals, including Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It is taught in more than 80 universities. Some insurance providers are beginning to cover (at least partially) therapeutic touch. Check with your insurance company to see what your policy offers.

Supporting Research

Abbot NC. Healing as a therapy for human disease: a systematic review. J Altern Complement Med. 2000;6(2):159-169.

Astin JA, Harkness E, Ernst E. The efficacy of "distant healing": a systematic review of randomized trials. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:903-910.

Ledwith S. Therapeutic Touch. In: Novey DW, ed. Clinician's Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2000:462-471.

O'Mathúna, DP. Therapeutic Touch and Wound Healing. In: Micozzi MS, Bacchus AN, eds. The Physician's Guide to Alternative Medicine. Atlanta, Ga: American Health Consultants; 1999:273-276.

Redwood D. Therapeutic Touch. In: Micozzi MS, Bacchus AN, eds. The Physician's Guide to Alternative Medicine. Atlanta, Ga: American Health Consultants; 1999:261-264¨

Slater VE. Healing Touch. In: Micozzi MS, ed. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone Inc.; 1996:121-136.

Tanne JH. Therapeutic touch fails text. BMJ. 1998;316:1037.

Winstead-Fry P, Kijek J. An integrative review and meta-analysis of therapeutic touch research. Alternative Therapies. 1999;5(6):58-67.