Touched By An Angel

Crystal Hawk Writes: Today, a major article about Therapeutic Touch appeared in The Globe And Mail, a national Canadian newspaper which is available in all major cities. It even contains an exercise to help you find the energy field! The author of the article, Patricia Young writes: It's the most terrifying diagnosis a person can receive. After months of blinding headaches, Diane Seymour sat stunned as her doctor explained that a brain tumour was the cause of her suffering. That was a year and a half ago.

Touched by an angel?


First Published In: The Globe and Mail (Canadian Daily Paper), Tuesday, November 12, 2002 – Print Edition, Page R6

It's the most terrifying diagnosis a person can receive. After months of blinding headaches, Diane Seymour sat stunned as her doctor explained that a brain tumour was the cause of her suffering. That was a year and a half ago.

What followed was surgery and a dizzying round of chemotherapy, radiation and drugs so new they are still under clinical trial. But the 56-year-old Scarborough, Ont., woman says she found solace once a week in a dimmed room at Toronto East General Hospital.

Ms. Seymour is one of the thousands of cancer patients across the country who are turning to therapeutic touch for pain relief and comfort. Therapeutic touch is sort of the tofu of the massage world -- seemingly bland, but believers claim that in the right hands it triggers powerful healing.

According to therapeutic-touch practitioners, they can calm and soothe our energies by simply stroking the air and, they say, the energy fields that surround our bodies. The therapists claim they can feel blocks and congestion in the energy flow and by correcting the imbalances they can help promote healing.

"I had never heard of it when I started. But therapeutic touch is helping me. There is no question about that," Ms. Seymour said. "When I go in, they can feel where my energy levels are low.

"Everything else that I do, the MRIs, the CAT scans, the chemo and radiation all deplete me of energy. But when I walk out of therapeutic touch, I can feel my energy levels boosted. I would recommend it for anyone."

Therapeutic touch is similar to the ancient religious practice of laying on hands, but practitioners say it is not necessary to actually touch the body. The technique was developed about 30 years ago by Dolores Krieger and her colleague Dora Kunz.

Since then, Dr. Krieger, who is a registered nurse with a PhD and a faculty member at New York University's Division of Nursing, has taught therapeutic touch to 48,000 people, many of them nurses.

And these caregivers began quietly using it on their patients. Today an estimated 80 North American hospitals use the technique and it is taught in more than 100 colleges and universities.

The Therapeutic Touch Network in Canada has 1,200 registered members, but claims a conservative 30,000 to 40,000 people who are quietly practising the art on their own. Since many nurses practise it without official approval, it is difficult to determine the exact number of hospitals that have it available.

Lovers tell of rippling surges of energy and sparks igniting before they even touch. New Agers maintain that they can see and even photograph the multihued auras that mist around our bodies. But do we each have an energy field that surrounds us?

Crystal Hawk, one of the founders of the Canadian therapeutic-touch movement, says yes.

"Everything -- tables, chairs, us -- has an energy field around it. Speak to a physicist and they will tell you this," the 73-year-old Ms. Hawk says. "We know there are energy fields, but we can't explain exactly why or how it works.

"Often we are so concerned with mastery that we forget about the mystery."

Janet Fallaize had been practising therapeutic touch for 10 years at the clinic in Toronto East General. She experienced the healing power of her craft first-hand when she had abdominal surgery.

"I had [therapeutic touch] done a week before the surgery and after I came out," Ms. Fallaize said. "The nurses were amazed because I used only a quarter of the amount of painkiller that most patients use. I healed so quickly and I credit that to therapeutic touch."

The scientific community is still undecided over the validity of the therapy. Studies have been done, but with conflicting results.

Therapeutic touch took a thumping in 1996 when the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association published a study by a nine-year-old girl. Emily Rosa, a Grade 4 student, had the experts try to detect her hand, which was hidden from their sight. The therapists were correct 44 per cent of the time, the same rate as if they had guessed.

Two years later, the editor, George Lundberg, was ousted for publishing a poll on the oral-sex habits of college students -- the article coincided with the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky debacle. Therapeutic-touch advocates wave this as proof that JAMA was more interested in sensation than science.

But John Astin, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Complementary Medicine Program, came up with more positive results.

He conducted research into the power of long-distance (or hands-off) healing and his results were published in The Annals of Internal Medicine.

Prof. Astin examined the results of 23 clinical studies which used therapeutic touch, prayer, and other forms of hands-off healing practices. He concluded that, "57 per cent of trials showed a positive treatment effect, [and] the evidence thus far merits further study."

With therapeutic touch, the study found that of the 11 trials, seven showed a positive effect, three had no effect and in once case the control group healed significantly faster.

In a press release from the University of Maryland, Prof. Astin, who describes himself as "an open-minded skeptic" said the results were "far more than one would expect to see by chance alone."

Ms. Hawk says she has seen remarkable results, but tries to steer people away from thinking of it as a miracle cure. She tells of one patient with paralytic ileus, a postoperative condition where the bowel paralyzes. Ms. Hawk says she healed a woman with the condition who was in a coma.

"People die of this in hospital. Why didn't the nurse know how to do this?" Ms. Hawk asks.

But Alan Ryley, a gastro-intestinal surgeon at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of surgery at McMaster University in Hamilton, says that most cases of paralytic ileum will solve itself in a matter of days.

"It is very rare to have a patient die. For patients who can, walking and getting up and moving about will start normal bowel function.

"It's hard to evaluate if it [therapeutic touch] works or not. Sometimes patients claim that it makes them feel better, but I don't think it's a necessary intervention in routine surgical practice."

Despite the dearth of hard science on the therapy, there is a ground swell of support for it and other complementary medical treatments. A survey done by the Canadian Cancer Society found that 44 per cent of cancer patients were using some form of complementary or non-traditional medical treatment.

"Therapeutic touch is not the be all and end all," says Ms. Hawk. "We are never embarrassed to be conservative about what we achieve and personally I don't care how many people believe in it."

Barry Bullen, a 57-year-old Toronto businessman, was felled by chronic-fatigue syndrome five years ago. He is philosophical about his condition and the role therapeutic touch plays.

"It has been keeping me going," he says. "I know that I am going to feel sluggish and have pain in my body, no matter what I do. I don't feel like running the 100 yard dash [after a treatment], but I do feel like I can deal with things."

On the first weekend in November, 400 therapeutic-touch practitioners gathered in Markham, a suburb north of Toronto, to listen to the latest research, exchange ideas and perfect their techniques. Claire Stark, a nurse at Toronto Hospital, was there.

"There is so much anxiety [for the patient] in hospitals," Ms. Stark says. "This gives them a sort of calm and a feeling that they are being proactive in their recovery. At the very least, we give them that."

See me, touch me, heal me

What is therapeutic touch?

According to Crystal Hawk, one of the founders of therapeutic touch in Canada, the practice is "a simple mode of healing -- an updated version of the age-old form of healing assistance, the laying on of hands." It was developed 30 years ago by Dolores Krieger, a nurse and professor at New York University, and colleague Dora Kunz.

Practitioners claim they can use their hands to rebalance the energy fields surrounding our bodies.

What does it feel like?

It is very hard to describe. Those who love it say they feel everything from a drop in heart rate to elevated energy surges and an overall sense of well-being. But skeptics say they don't feel a thing that couldn't be achieved by sitting quietly for 20 minutes. The therapist does not touch the patient, so don't expect the kind of response you have to massage.

Jennifer Mason, a Toronto-based artist, was experiencing extreme nausea after complicated surgery on her hand. "I was throwing up every 10 minutes, but Crystal [Hawk] came and treated me. I don't know what she did but the nausea stopped. And I think there was an appreciable difference in how I healed."

Where can you find it?

An estimated 40,000 people across Canada are trained in the use of therapeutic touch. It is often practised by nurses in hospitals, with or without official approval. Since therapeutic touch embodies the medical maxim, "Do no harm," most hospitals turn a blind eye. Some, like Toronto East General, have clinics which offer the service.

May the force be with you

Can you feel an energy field?

Try this.

Place the palms of your hands in front of you, prayer fashion. Have them very close together, but don't let them touch. Now move them apart several inches and then move them back to the original position.

Repeat, increasing the distance you move your hands apart. Return them to the original position each time. Keep doing this until your hands are about eight inches apart.

Do you feel any resistance or sponginess when you bring your hands back to the original position?

That feeling, claim therapeutic-touch practitioners, is the energy field.

Touched by an angel? By PATRICIA YOUNG Special to The Globe and Mail (Canadian Daily Paper) Tuesday, November 12, 2002 – Print Edition, Page R6

For more information about Therapeutic Touch, please visit

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