Touch by therapists is not ‘Therapeutic Touch’

Honda N, Ohgi S, Wada N, Loo KK, Higashimoto Y, Fukuda K: Effect of therapeutic touch on brain activation of preterm infants in response to sensory punctate stimulus: A near-infrared spectroscopy-based study. Archives of Disease in Childhood – Fetal and Neonatal Edition 2013, 98(3):F244-F248. This is an interesting trial showing changes in brain activation (if that is the correct term) when the infants were tucked, restrained and held during a mildly disturbing stimulus, compared to when that was not done. The big problem with this study is the title. This is not ‘Therapeutic Touch’. Therapeutic Touch is a non-science based quackery which is based on manipulating non-existent energy fields, and does not require the patient to actually be touched. The intervention in this trial was much more like a number of other interventions which have previously been studied and shown effective for pain, such as kangaroo care and facilitated tucking. Skin to skin contact and restraint of the baby reduce signs of pain.

This is how therapeutic touch is described by the TT network of Ontario ‘Therapeutic Touch™ is an energy-field modality that is a contemporary interpretation of several ancient healing practices. Webster’s Dictionary defines “modality” in the medical sense as “the application of a therapeutic agent.” In Therapeutic Touch, the ‘agent’ is the conscious intent of the practitioner to balance and modulate the energy flow through and around the body of the client.  This is done by using the hands of the practitioner as a focus to facilitate the natural healing process.’

They continue with the following drivel

  • In a state of health, life energy flows freely in, through and out of each person’s energy field in an orderly manner.
  • When disease or injury occurs, the flow of energy is affected and may be described as obstructed, disordered or depleted.
  • Therapeutic Touch practitioners influence the energy flow to restore the integrity of the field and to move it toward wholeness and health.

That certainly isn’t what Honda and colleagues were doing. They were evaluating a real physiologic intervention that has nothing to do with restoring the integrity of the life energy field!

About Keith Barrington

I am a neonatologist and clinical researcher at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montréal
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