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Therapeutic Touch - A Brief Overview

by Dreamsherd of Athena's Owl

More and more, the old folklore healing ways of witches and tribal medicine people are being examined and vindicated by modern medicine. Therapeutic Touch is a new name for healing by energy field manipulation or "laying on of hands." This method of providing comfort and support is being taught in Nursing and Medical school curricula throughout the U.S. as an adjunct to traditional Western medicine.

Therapeutic Touch works with the interaction between the energy fields (auras) of healer and patient. Physical contact is not necessary because at the level of physical proximity and focused intent used, the energy fields of healer and patient are continuous. This is an active healing process; the healer must have an active intent for healing to occur, and the patient must desire (even unconsciously) a return to health. Therapeutic Touch can be practiced on babies, pets and plants as well as adults. Research indicates that it does produce statistically significant levels of effective healing. Patients generally report an increased sense of well-being and respite from pain after Therapeutic Touch sessions.

The key to practicing Therapeutic Touch is balancing the patient's energy. Pain or injury within the body or mind is reflected by changes in the energy field that surrounds and penetrates the physical body. With the healer's own energy field properly shielded and stabilized through meditation and centering, the patient's energy field can be rebalanced, which will in turn allow the patient's own energy to effect the necessary healing. After the available energy is redistributed, the healer will often channel universal background energy into the patient's aura as an extra reserve for the patient to use at will. This safe, noninvasive practice satisfies most ethical concerns about free will and doing no harm.

Each healer and each patient will interact differently; a healer must rely on his or her own intuition to decide how best to respond to whatever form a patient's energy takes. Imagery directs the healing; untangling knots of energy, warming cool areas, smoothing throbbing or rough spots or allowing a stream of energizing color to flow through a patient's aura. Some healers will talk during the session, explaining continuously what they are doing or feeling. Some play meditative music and burn candles or incense. Many combine Therapeutic Touch with similar therapies such as hypnosis, massage, or acupressure. I have found that it works very well in a coven setting, where all participating coveners direct energy to the patient after the primary healer has unruffled the patient's energy field. The only caveat is to be gentle; too much energy can make the patient jittery or headachy.

I personally use a model for healing that likens a living being's energy field to a cell membrane. It has pores or receptor sites through which the organism absorbs energy from its environment. I would consider it unethical to either block these sites or to force energy into or through them without the willing participation or permission of the being. Sometimes, though, permission or conscious cooperation is impossible to obtain–coma, seizures, babies, pets, then is healing to be effected? Basic survival instincts common to all living things generally act to maintain life, even when the organism is unconscious. I believe that it is perfectly ethical to send life energy to a being in need if it can be done in a way that does not compromise their free will. You can transfer life-giving energy through a smile, a friendly touch, an encouraging word or a focused thought. I use Therapeutic Touch in these situations to deliver positive or even neutral energy to the outer edges of the energy field, where the patient can accept and use the energy as it wills. Or not. Sometimes an organism may not want to heal–perhaps it enjoys the attention it gets for being sick, or its spirit is just no longer up to dealing with a ruined body or an antagonistic world. That is a decision each being must make for itself. Healers (even well-intentioned ones) have no right to force the process, at least according to my Wiccan training.

A Therapeutic Touch Session

Therapeutic Touch is no miracle cure. Specific healing processes such as long bone repair and wound healing do appear to be accelerated by inclusion of Therapeutic Touch as a regular part of treatment. It is an adjunct or complementary therapy, however, meaning that it works with traditional Western medicine, not in place of it. The main functions of Therapeutic Touch are relaxation and pain reduction, which allow the patient to take a more active part in their own healing. For example, here is a description of a session typical of my own experience:

Luna is a Wiccan High Priestess who has been stricken with breast cancer. She is undergoing the regular course of radiation and chemotherapy in preparation for a mastectomy, but wishes to expand her healing options. She meditates daily to surround herself with healing energy and maintain the positive outlook so crucial to recovery. In addition to regular healing sessions with her coven, I do two or three Therapeutic Touch sessions with her every week. Each session takes an hour or so, beginning with a shared cup of tea and listening to her updates on her physical and mental condition. If we can somehow find something to laugh about, better still, for honest loving laughter moves life-energy better than anything else. I seat her in a chair about which I can move freely. Several cats decide this looks like fun, and pile into her lap or wrap themselves around her ankles. I take a few moments to center myself, silently asking the Goddess to work through me and visualizing myself connected to Universal energy so that I will not drain myself during the healing process. Using broad, synchronized sweeps of my open hands across her and about 8 inches away from her skin, I begin the assessment; from head to toe, front and back, I "feel" for areas in her energy field that are somehow different from the rest. I use both hands to give me a comparison between the two sides of the body/energy field. In a healthy person the two sides will be very similar in feel; illness results in asymmetries in the field. These will indicate either disease process or emotional imbalance. The area above her head feels radiant; she's been doing her meditations and knows that the Goddess is with her. Her heart chakra throbs slightly; when I mention this to her, she says that her husband is having a hard time dealing with her illness. The area around her left breast feels cold and "sucks" energy in relation to the feeling I'm getting from her right breast–her disease is unfortunately advanced. Her ankle area feels slightly constricted; we'll have to work on opening up this area so that she can ground properly, since the body needs a way to disperse any energy that it doesn't need. This last is very important, since ungrounded energy in the system may actually inhibit healing.

Now that I have some idea where to concentrate my efforts, I begin to unruffle her own energy. I run my fingers through her energy field, wiggling them and combing her energy through them like finger-combing wet hair. I may scrape clots of stagnant energy away from the site where they occur in the energy field, dispersing them at the outer edges of the field by vigorously shaking my hands away from her body. I may also wash my hands off with running water after this process, to remove any stagnant energy sticking to my hands before I attempt to channel energy through them into her field. The unruffling technique breaks up dense concentrations of energy, freeing it up for use by the rest of the body. Illness throws the body's energy usage patterns out of balance by concentrating more energy into the area of illness; my goal with Therapeutic Touch is to rebalance the body's energy AND provide the extra energy thatit requires to deal with the illness. Healing can occur more effectively if other body functions aren't being slighted. Sometimes unruffling all by itself can effect healing, as in minor emotional problems, headaches and children's colds and flu.

Now I am ready to channel Universal energy into Luna's energy field to help rebalance it. I reassure myself that I am still centered and gauge my own energy levels by holding my open palms about six inches apart so that I can feel the slight sponginess of my own energy field. If I was under stress, had a cold or was otherwise feeling depleted, I would postpone this phase of the Therapeutic Touch session for another day. I am using my own energy field as the conductor for the energy I will transfer into Luna's energy field; if I am not balanced and confident of my ability to do this cleanly, I will be less effective for her.

I open up my connection with Universal energy to its fullest, letting it fill my energy field. I visualize it sparkling and flowing smoothly through me. I have decided that Luna would benefit from blue energy, soothing her stress level and "cleansing" her field. As I place my hands over her adrenal area (just below the shoulderblades in back) I allow the vision of a clear mountain stream to flow through me and into her energy field. Afterwards, she tells me it felt like mint-blue Listerine! The adrenal area is used as the entry point for general energy transfer during rebalancing because it physically connects with several major body systems and allows the patient's own body to direct the delivery of energy to the affected physical areas. It also corresponds with the solar plexus chakra, the major energy distribution site for the human energy field. I move to her front and begin spreading the energy throughout her field to make sure that all areas have the energy they require. I visualize it almost as a sculpting of her energy; smoothing out areas where the energy is too concentrated and helping her field reestablish its normal pattern by feeding it energy where it is needed.

As I move my hands down her legs to her ankles, I feel again that blockage in the ankle area. I hold my hands to either side of her ankles and concentrate on "seeing" that constriction dilate, opening up to allow the energy flow through her field to drain out any extra energy through her feet. Then I check the foot chakras and gently press her feet with my hands to stimulate grounding. I don't actively pull energy down through her foot chakras; if everything is open and balanced properly there will be a smooth flow of energy through Luna's energy field and back into the Earth.

When I am satisfied that I have distributed the energy available to me, I go back over Luna's energy field with my hands again, feeling for places I missed or areas that have congealed or that are still out of synch. I may go back and channel energy specifically into that area, patterned or colored to affect just that situation. I will always check the foot chakras for grounding after every transfer of energy into a patient's field. All the time I have been doing this, Luna has put her mind in neutral and focused on opening up to allow the energy I transfer to her to work to heal her. Afterwards, we sit together in silence to give the energy some concentrated time to work before resuming the round of daily activity. She reports feeling calmer and more energetic; she looks forward to my next visit. My work has had a positive effect and I am glad.

I think of Therapeutic Touch as serving many of the same functions in healing as a Navajo sing: helping the patient return to balance so that they can make best use of their own abilities to heal themselves. Even if complete physical recovery is not possible, the increased calm and reduction of pain help the patient meet the challenge of their illness or injury with confidence that they are not fighting alone. They are connected; to the healer, to their environment, to the greater energy of the Universe. Therapeutic Touch is presented in a context of Western medicine and thus has no specific spiritual orientation. But the spirituality behind the concepts used is undeniable. I have seen Buddhists, Native Americans, Theosophists, Aquarian New Agers, Wiccans, Christians all successfully apply their own spiritual "spin" to their practice of Therapeutic Touch.

Finding Out More

The auric manipulation and healing techniques that gave rise to Therapeutic Touch were derived from teachings found in Theosophy. Some study of chakras and Eastern energy systems will make the philosophy behind Therapeutic Touch more comprehensible, although it is not necessary to the practice. Like Western magical practitioners, Therapeutic Touch operates out of the experience that, ultimately all things in the Universe are connected. All exist as part of the Universal energy, which is why healers and patients alike can draw upon that Universal energy to supplement their own energy fields for healing. A healer does not need to believe in this philosophy to be able to heal using Therapeutic Touch; s/he needs only the desire to help the patient. Nor does the patient need to believe; only to be willing to accept help. I would recommend reading Dolores Krieger's Accepting Your Power to Heal (Bear & Co. 1993) for further information. Dr. Krieger developed the techniques used in Therapeutic Touch over a period of 20 years, and explains them clearly and succinctly. She also includes exercises to help you experience and understand your own energy, along with a considerable weight of testimonial and hard research. I took a series of classes on Therapeutic Touch given by the Continuing Education department at a local Community College's Nursing program. In addition, there are refresher courses, advanced techniques, classes in integrating Therapeutic Touch with other adjunct therapies and a support group for regular practitioners. I do recommend taking classes if you're interested in Therapeutic Touch as a healing technique because there are nuances of practice that just can't be transmitted any other way. I'm sure I've left out some critical information on my own practice, not to purposely mystify but because I don't have words to describe all that I do. And, of course, my opinions and interpretations of the Therapeutic Touch process are my own and may not work for anyone but me. All human beings possess the healing ability that Therapeutic Touch trains; even children have been effectively taught to use it. RNs and MDs may have the advantage of knowing more specifics about the functioning of the physical systems of the body, but they also have the disadvantage of having to suspend disbelief in nonphysical systems (such as energy fields) and their participation in disease. Lay people may not have the training in the psychology of the healer/patient relationship that RNs and MDs must have, but support groups offer both ongoing training and shared experience and insight. Anyone with the desire and courage to heal can use Therapeutic Touch to make a real difference in many lives.

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This work is copyright The Witches Trine and the author, 1995. All rights reserved.

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