Integrative Therapies
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Therapeutic Touch — History & Philosophy

Compassion. We associate it with religious philosophies, with charitable deeds, and with those entering the healing professions. And it is the compassionate intent of the healer that is an essential principle behind Therapeutic Touch. Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a recent addition to the evolutionary lineage of healing involving touch, a tradition documented in places like India, Tibet, China and Egypt. In Medieval Europe, “the royal touch” of kings was considered a cure. And the laying-on of hands is a fundamental aspect of Christianity.

Therapeutic Touch was developed by Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN and Dora Kunz in the 1970s. Krieger was a Professor of Nursing at New York University’s Division of Nursing. Her friend Dora had experienced unusual perceptual abilities since childhood, and had been following the use of laying-on of hands to treat the ill. They both had the opportunity to observe the work of world-renowned healer Oskar Estebani at a place called Pumpkin Hollow Farm. It was the compassionate intent focused through his hands and the “centering” of this healer that captured the attention of both Kunz and Krieger. It would become a fundamental component of the healing modality Krieger termed Therapeutic Touch.

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.” There are numerous studies on such fields biofields. This energy or “vital life force” can be compared to the Indian “prana” or Chinese “Chi“. Martha Rogers, a world leader in nursing theory and research, developed the “theory of the Human Energy Field” that was of great interest to Krieger and Kunz. The Rogerian model theorized that every person is greater that the sum of its parts, with a complex energy field that constantly interacts with the environment. This is an open and dynamic interaction, maintained through patterning and organization. When we are well, the flow within this system is unhindered, but stress, injury and illness affect its order and openness. In such an ordered universe, the conscious intent and compassion to heal of the TT practitioner is believed to have powerful results, enabling the patient to repattern their energy in the direction of health. Therapeutic Touch is seen as a holistic process, treating the individual as a whole.

Krieger also realized the importance a person’s belief system plays in their response to illness and their ability to heal, as in the power of “positive thinking” or the placebo effect. Though many other healers practiced within the framework of a religious belief, Krieger and Kunz believed it was not necessary for TT to be effective. However, it could be done within such a context if a patient so desired. By going beyond the framework of any system of religious belief, TT became accessible to all.

Therapeutic Touch is believed to be an innate ability that can be developed in anyone with dedication, commitment and a sense of compassion. It was initially taught to graduate school nursing students at New York University because they were in a position to spend time with the ill and their work already predisposed them to a compassionate approach. TT is still primarily a modality associated with nurses. And nurses are often TTs’ most vocal advocates, witnessing firsthand how it can help comfort, facilitate healing, disperse anxiety, and alleviate pain. Today, according to the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association (NANDA), “energy field disturbance” is a nursing diagnosis defined as a “disruption of the flow of energy surrounding a person’s being which results in disharmony of the body, mind or spirit.”

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.

Throughout its practice, concerns as to the effectiveness of TT and the possible placebo effect continue to exist. Controversy largely remains because of the theoretical nature of the energy field and mixed conclusions from research. But there is also a wealth of anecdotal and observational evidence to support its claims, as well as scientific evidence, and it is currently endorsed by The American Holistic Nurses Association.


Content last modified on Jul 17, 2012