What is Healing Touch?
Founded by registered nurse Janet Mentgen in 1989, Healing Touch (HT) is an energy therapy in which practitioners consciously use their hands and intent to promote health and healing. HT utilizes uses only very light or near-body touch to influence the energy field that penetrates and surrounds the body. Many types of energy medicine employ techniques to influence these fields by applying light or near-body touch on the body or by placing the hands in or through the field. Qigong, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and Reiki are other examples of this type of therapeutic approach.
What conditions is Healing Touch used for?
Because HT therapy requires only a receptive participant and a practitioner, it can be used for nearly any indication or ailment. Many hospitals are incorporating HT to calm and prepare patients for surgery, chemotherapy, and other anxiety-provoking procedures. Studies have suggested that HT may decrease wound healing time and shorten the length of hospital stays. Other common indications for HT include chronic pain, headaches including migraines, generalized anxiety, and sleep disturbances. HT therapy is said to facilitate a spiritual connection and often helps clients with emotional distress. It is especially useful for patients who are in pain but unable to tolerate traditional massage or touch, such as fibromyalgia and burn patients.
However, “energetic” therapies such as HT have also been characterized by several researchers as having no therapeutic value. The National Institutes of Health considers HT and other types of energy medicine to be “among the most controversial of complementary and alternative medicine practices because neither the external energy fields nor their therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly by any biophysical means.”
What should one expect on a visit to a practitioner of Healing Touch?
HT is frequently practiced in a setting somewhat similar to the sort used for massage therapy, often with a table and relaxing music. However, HT can be performed practically anywhere and with the client in any position – sitting, standing or lying. This therapy does not require the removal of clothing, only that the client is as comfortable as possible. A short discussion of medical history may take place during the first visit. The practitioner should always ask for permission to touch the client. Practitioners will often perform some kind of meditative centering prior to beginning therapy. An assessment of the energy field is completed by observation and movements of the hands over the body. Sometimes a pendulum, consisting of a piece of crystal or other mineral that dangles on a chain, is placed over the chakras (a Sanskrit term for vortices of energy that are believed to connect the physical and energetic body) and places of discomfort.
Typically, practitioners will use an HT technique that is said to balance and clear the energy field. This can be done with hands placed just above the body or with actual light touch involved. The balancing technique usually concentrates on the seven main chakras and the joints of the extremities. Then, the practitioner will often focus on areas where the energy field is believed to be stagnant or not flowing properly. By being able to sense what the flow of energy feels like, practitioners are believed to locate aberrant energy and, using intention, to direct it to a desired location or pattern. The ultimate goal is removing all energetic obstacles and facilitating an ideal condition for healing to occur.
Oftentimes, this treatment produces a state of deep calmness and relaxation. Patients may even fall asleep or be in a dreamy state of consciousness. Moreover, they can experience warmth, tingling, pulsations, or an emotional release. Their bodies may even exhibit involuntary muscle spasm and jerking. Some individuals report seeing colors or visions. Others experience feeling elevated or being outside their body. Whether these effects are due to the HT therapy or are simply a manifestation of expectations that the client brings to the session is undetermined.
When the session is finishing, the practitioner often will “ground” the client by placing his or her hands on the client’s feet or shoulders. Care should be taken when getting up off the table to avoid falling due to disorientation or lightheadedness. Clients are told to drink plenty of water afterward and over the next few days, as well as to pay attention to any changes in body sensations.
Are there any side effects or indications where Healing Touch should be avoided?
Because HT is so non-invasive, there is no medical reason to avoid therapy. When using HT on children, especially newborns and those with special needs, it is important for practitioners to be sensitive to nonverbal cues and appropriately gauge how to long to work with them, which is typically for only a brief session initially.
Care must also be taken when dealing with emotional trauma or responses that come up during a session. Practitioners are trained to address this in a respectful way, and should always stop if asked; but they are not licensed clinical therapists and should not offer counseling or therapy beyond their training.
More than anything, the deep relaxation that HT produces can bring about mild sedation, lightheadedness, or disorientation in susceptible people. Individuals with a history of low blood pressure, dehydration, anemia, vertigo or syncope should take extra precautions with body position during treatment (such as standing after prolonged sitting), and be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids before and after a session.
Is there a governing body that oversees or credentials practitioners in healing touch?
The Healing Touch Program (HTP) is an international, multi-level educational program in energy medicine therapy based on the curriculum created by Janet Mentgen. Students learn to use a variety of hands-on techniques that facilitate energy balancing for wholeness within the individual, supporting physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Continuing-Education contact hours are granted by HTP through the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation and the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork
How does one get in touch with a practitioner of Healing Touch?
The official list of worldwide Healing Touch Certified Practitioners (HTCP) can be found through the Healing Touch Professional Association website. For more information about becoming a HTCP, see the Healing Touch Program website or call 210-497-5529.
Are there other alternative therapies that might work well in conjunction with Healing Touch?
Mind-body medicine techniques (guided imagery and hypnosis) and other forms of bodywork such as osteopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture can work well with HT. Movement therapies like yoga, tai chi and qigong can also augment the benefits achieved by HT.
How does Dr. Weil feel about Healing Touch?
Because there is such a profound connection between mind and body, anything that can put a person in a state of relaxation can be a great benefit. Studies have shown that when a person is deeply relaxed, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, blood flow to the bowels and bladder increases and breathing becomes rhythmic and slow. This creates an optimal environment for the body’s natural immune resources to take over and promote healing.
Research on HT seems to indicate its value in medical settings in promoting wound healing, decreasing pain and improving quality of life measures. But energy therapies such as HT remain highly controversial. While there is abundant, relatively uncontroversial evidence that massage can have therapeutic effects, non-contact modalities are seen as far more problematic.
At the University of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine Clinic, Dr. Weil often recommends energy therapies to patients with chronic pain as well as for treatment to promote relaxation or ease anxiety. Dr. Weil believes that the therapeutic value of massage and other forms of touch-based therapy has been established beyond refutation. As for the non-contact-based modalities such as HT and similar therapies, Dr. Weil believes that a therapeutic effect may be engendered through manipulation of a biofield, or its benefits may simply be due to the placebo effect. In either case, since the technique is very safe, often effective, and low in cost, Dr. Weil believes that such methods should routinely be employed where indicated while researchers continue to study the mechanisms by which they may work.