Robert Todd Carroll
Therapeutic touch (TT) is soon to be offered in a hospital near you, if it is not
already on their menu of "complementary" medicines. My sources tell me that the
practice is the rage among Canadian nurses and it is becoming more popular in the United
States, where alternative medicine is seen as a penumbral right emanating from the rights
to free speech and miracles. わたしは、大人が合意のもとで自分の好きなどんなクスリでも療法でも試すことにまったく依存はない。合理的な大人が、正午に太陽にむかって放屁することで腫瘍を治せると思うなら、やらせておこう。異星からのシャーマンにお金を払ってかわりにおならと叫びをやらせたいなら、どうぞご勝手に。だがわれわれの税金や保険金を使ってその費用をまかなうとなると、それはこっちの問題でもある。
アメリカ政府はバーミンガムのアラバマ大学 (UAB) 火傷センターに、35万ドル以上をわたし、火傷患者に対する手かざしの効果を研究させている。実は国防総省はこのプロジェクトにわれわれの税金を使うにあたり、すばらしい名前の機関を通してやっている：健康科学制服軍務大学 (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences) (USUHS)。そして、実はセラピューティック・タッチのシャーマンたちは火傷の被害者たちに「タッチ」はしない。こうした「代替健康療法家」たちはかれらの上で手をふって、. And, actually the
therapeutic touch shamans aren't going to touch the burn victims;these
"alternative health practitioners" will wave their hands over them and act
"as a human energy support system until the person's own immunological system is
robust enough to take over." Those words are from the grant proposal. If you want to
read about this "scientific" study, pick up a copy of the July/August 1996 issue
of the Skeptical Inquirer or read the on-line documents.
Of course, the skeptic faces a dilemma whenever confronted with a metaphysical and/or
pseudoscientific theory which is to be scientifically tested. If we criticize the methods,
protocols, standards or results of the study, we are accused of having an a priori
bias against anything that doesn't fit with traditional science. Furthermore, in the case
of New Age spiritual healing methods, we are up against a growing segment of the public
who are armed with anecdotes as proof that the healing works. If anyone has an a priori
bias in these matters, it is the advocates of the alternative therapies. They set out to
prove what they already "know" from experience is true. They do not begin with
the null hypothesis, attempting to disprove a causal connection between TT and some
specific healing or cure.
Skeptics do not oppose, a priori, empirical studies, but we are opposed to
spending tax dollars on allegedly "scientific" tests of metaphysical notions. We
do not support spending tax money to test claims which are based upon metaphysical
assumptions that contradict fundamental scientific facts and theories. Finally, we do not
support spending tax dollars on proposals written up by people whose grant proposals
exhibit an egregiously distorted misunderstanding of basic scientific facts, theories and
testing protocols. If a private party wants to spend an entire fortune trying to build a
perpetual motion machine or get a rabbit to give birth to a human, let them. It's their
money and they can spend it as wisely or as foolishly as they wish. But when someone wants
to spend tax dollars on a study, I expect that what is being tested is an empirical matter
and that it is based upon accepted scientific theories, facts and protocols. I do not want
my money being spent on so-called scientific tests of non-empirical matters. It is
logically impossible to do an empirical test of a non-empirical claim. It is possible, for
example, to test whether sticking a needle in a person's ear can be a significant causal
factor in quitting smoking. But it is not possible to test the claim that sticking a
needle in person's tongue can unblock his chi, his spiritual energy
which runs in a parallel universe to the bodily universe, and put his yin and yang in
balance. In short, if a phenomenon cannot be observed except subjectively by
"feeling", then we cannot do a scientific study of the phenomenon.
Furthermore, skeptics do not want our tax dollars spent on tests of ideas which are
based on theories which either contradict current scientific knowledge or are based on an
egregious misunderstanding of such knowledge. I maintain that TT is based on both
non-empirical beliefs and a bizarre
interpretation of quantum physics. On the one hand, I would hope that the Pentagon has
scientists deciding who gets grants to study scientific matters, but if they do,
then they must be madder than Alice's hatter. On the other hand, I hope the Pentagon does
not have scientists who give grants to study things such as TT, for at least then we can
say that the military's USUHS is simply as misguided as some of their missiles.
What do the people who practice and advocate TT have to say about it? Here is what the
UAB grant claims:
TT "is based on the assumption of a human energy field which extends beyond the
skin. The idea behind TT is that the human energy field is abundant and flows in balanced
patterns in health but is depleted and/or unbalanced in illness or injury....
Central to the practice is the assumption of a human energy field and an environment
filled with 'life energy' which is also present in all living organisms...."
Hmm. Are the "human energy field" and the "life energy" the same
thing? Are they measurable by some sort of instruments or they pseudoscientific terms to
replace the admittedly occult notion of auras? What is the nature
of this energy? Is it electromagnetic? Or is it unobservable, something metaphysical and
mysterious like chi? According to the grant writers:
"Support for this view is based entirely on a field world view....Quantum
theory states that all of reality is made up of energy fields and that over 99% of the
universe is simply space....Our present technology does not allow the measurement of the
human energy field, but to a trained sense, primarily touch, the human energy field can be
perceived and assessed."
On the one hand, we are supposed to believe that TT is grounded in quantum physics, an
accepted set of scientific theories and facts. On the other hand, we are supposed to
believe that the "human energy field" TT is based on can't be measured by
current technology. Furthermore, we are supposed to believe that there are some people who
can be trained to "feel" these energy fields. Not only can they "feel"
the field; they can measure it, too. They can "assess" what they
"feel." Well, I guess I am just the dumb one here for not seeing the empirical
and scientific nature of these concepts. But it seems to me a bit dangerous to rely on the
feelings of someone who thinks what they are feeling is due to their ability to measure
energy fields no scientist has ever heard of and who thinks these energy fields are the
ones of interest to quantum physics. Would you let such people work on your cars, much
less your body? I wouldn't even let them near my garage.
But perhaps I am too hasty in my evaluation of the energy field theory which is the
basis of TT. Rebecca Witmer has written an article for Healing Arts magazine titled
Heal: The Art of Therapeutic Touch. Ms. Witmer is an administrator for a large
insurance company with an interest in self-care and alternative health.
Derived from several ancient healing practices, including the laying on of hands, TT
is a consciously-directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses
the hands as a focus to stimulate and enhance the patient's own natural healing ability.
In its contemporary form, Therapeutic Touch was developed by Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N.,
(Professor Emerita of New York University) and her mentor, Dora Kunz, in the early
nineteen seventies. TT is now practiced by thousands of health care professionals and
laypeople worldwide. Popular among nurses in many Canadian hospitals and nursing homes, TT
is taught at over 80 universities and hospitals and has been incorporated into the College
of Nurses of Ontario 1990 Implementation Standards of Practice. TT has been the subject of
numerous doctoral dissertations and masters theses, and in early 1994, the U.S. National
Institute of Health awarded a research grant to study TT. For a fledgling alternative
health practice, TT has garnered immeasurable respect and interest.
But does TT deserve this immeasurable respect and interest? Is it really
immeasurable? If so, then it is much like like the energy fields the TTers are supposedly
channeling. What is the empirical basis of TT? According to Ms. Witmer
The underlying principles upon which this technique is based include acceptance of
the Einstein paradigm of a complex, energetic field-like universe (i.e., the existence of
a Life energy flowing through and around all of us). Further, if life is characterized by
an interchange of various qualities of energy, it can be assumed that any form of
obstruction -- either within the organism or between the organism and the environment --
is contrary to Nature's tendencies and therefore unhealthy. In practicing Therapeutic
Touch, one attempts to influence this energy imbalance towards health to restore the
integrity of this field. In this way the TT practitioner does not so much "heal"
the patient as facilitate the patient's own healing processes, by gently manipulating the
body's energy flow and adjusting it as a whole. With the achievement of balance in mind,
body and spirit, we have a truly holistic approach.
Now let's carefully examine these claims and the inferences drawn from them. Einstein,
as far as I know, did not have a paradigm, much less a model or a theory, which included
the notion of "a Life energy flowing through and around all of us." He may have
written of interchanges of quantities of energy and many physicists have written of
such things as transforming mechanical energy into electrical energy, for example, but as
far as I know neither Einstein nor any other notable physicist ever wrote of life being
characterized as an interchange of qualities of energy. I wonder if Einstein would
even understand the expression "life is an interchange of qualities of energy"?
I know I don't and I wish Ms. Witmer would explain the notion, for she must understand it.
After all, she knows what may be logically inferred from this notion: any form of
obstruction within the organism or between the organism and the environment is contrary to
Nature's tendencies and therefore unhealthy. How she knows this, I have no idea. I
don't think she even knows how she knows this, for she says that "if life is
characterized by an interchange of various qualities of energy, it can be assumed
that any form of obstruction -- either within the organism or between the organism and the
environment -- is contrary to Nature's tendencies and therefore unhealthy."
What she seems to be saying is that since we have made one assumption, we may as well
make another. Or maybe she is saying that since we claimed Einstein as the source for our
first idea, we can assume anything we want after that! Who could fault such logic? In any
case, let's examine these new notions, for whether they are assumptions or inferences from
the false Einsteinian notion, they are either absolutely true or utter gibberish or
absolutely false. It might be true that an obstruction within an organism is contrary to
Nature's tendencies if by that we mean such things as blockage of an air passage is
unhealthy or blocked arteries are unhealthy. Still, if I have either one of those problems
I want a surgeon to unblock the passageway, not a mystic to wave her hands over me to move
my energy field.
On the other hand, it seems clearly false to claim that it is contrary to Nature's
tendencies for there to be an obstruction between an organism and its environment. If
anything is more natural than obstructions between organisms and their environment, I
don't know what it is. For most organisms, their environment is mostly obstructions.
Whether this is healthy or unhealthy, I can't say, but it seems obviously true
Finally, what does it mean to say that it is unhealthy to go contrary to Nature's
tendencies? Are the hurricane, the tornado, the volcano, the flood, the lightning bolt and
the earthquake contrary to Nature's tendencies? How could they be, since they are part of
Nature as we know it. If we could prevent these natural forces from destroying life and
the environment, would that be "unhealthy"?
The "theory" of TT appears to be little more than a hodgepodge of ancient
beliefs about life forces and a butchered version of quantum physics. I would hope any
scientific committee in its right mind when approached by anyone wanting money to test
this theory would be shown the back door. It is a metaphysical theory masquerading as one
grounded in science. In short, it is a paradigm of a pseudoscience:
a theory claiming to be scientific when it is not. Yet, over $350,000 tax dollars are
being spent to "test" this theory! The "test" is a howler, by the way.
One group of patients will get "real" TT and what is being called the control
group will get "fake" TT. I have no doubt that the Pentagon will get their
money's worth or at least what they deserve.
Now, one might wonder why a group of otherwise intelligent, highly trained
professionals such as nurses would be attracted to something like TT. Ms. Witmer might
have the answer. She writes
Those who practice Therapeutic Touch often report reaping benefits for themselves.
For example, the ability of TT to reduce burnout in health care professionals has been
I can understand the benefits. You have powers physicians don't have. Secret, mystical
powers which only you can measure. No one can prove you are wrong. You become the shaman
and you find that people believe in you. You like that. You get a lot of positive
feedback. You network and those in your network feed off of each other's enthusiasm. You
feel revitalized, empowered.
Furthermore, you may actually be on to something. You find that patients aren't
necessarily turned off by your weird notions. In fact, you find that patients are willing
to try anything to help them get better. They begin asking for TT. Soon they'll be
demanding it. You have found that you can even placate skeptics by saying things like
"what harm can it do?"
Try this bit of visualization, if you will. In the future, hospitals will be packed
inside and out with people praying, vibrating, waving colored sticks, chanting, burning
incense, sending out good vibes, etc. Doctors and nurses won't be able to find a parking
space because they'll all be used by New Age spiritual healers who are helping out. Or,
more realistically, visualize this: hospitals offer more and more untested and untestable
New Age spiritual healing "modalities" as part of their comprehensive
"complementary medicine" plan. Gibberish becomes a marketing strategy. The
patients want these New Age treatments. What harm will it do to offer them along with the
traditional offerings. The competition's going to do it. And, who knows, maybe some day
the government will require you to offer every alternative health care technique known on
this or any other planet under its new "fairness" guidelines.
But enough of this negativity! I have made a resolution to look for a silver lining in
every cloud and so I offer this possibility as the good that has come and will come from
TT and other New Age modalities. It brings patient and health care practitioner together
as person to person. It is very soothing and contrasts greatly with the often cold and
impersonal way we are treated by our physicians and in hospitals. Maybe it will lead to a
change in the way many physicians treat their patients. Maybe more physicians will begin
treating their patients as human beings with feelings, hopes, desires and anxieties, as
well as a body with parts that might be broken or malfunctioning. Maybe traditional
medicine will become a bit more humane. If so, maybe fewer people will feel a need for TT
and its sisters.
Some might say that I have ignored the anecdotes. Well, it is true that I don't put
much weight on testimonials. Nevertheless, I'll mention just
one. Someone has posted a story on the WWW called cancer treatment by TT. It is the
story of the author's uncle who was told by his doctor that he had cancer, that the two
months of radiation therapy he had been getting had done no good and he had 2 months to
live. Let's assume the doctor was an oncologist and he made such a specific prediction.
The author claims that his uncle was told this some nine months ago but he is now
"alive and well" because a spiritual healer treated his cancer with TT. Here is
how it works
The healer directs his energy to the patient's body without touching it wave by
wave. In our case he would place his hands over my uncle's chest and then move them in a
slow motion around his lungs for about 30 minutes.
It is possible the doctor was wrong in his prediction of how long his patient had to
live. Maybe this error will teach the doctor not to be so cocksure in his predictions in
the future. Or maybe the uncle and his nephew misunderstood the doctor, who may have
stated his prediction in a qualified way, such as, "my best guess is..." or
"based on similar cases I have had, I would estimate...." It is also possible
that the doctor was wrong about the effectiveness of the radiation therapy. It is possible
that the cancer went into spontaneous remission. It is possible that his uncle was
misdiagnosed and mistreated and he is alive only because his doctors had given him up for
dead. It is possible the author is lying. It is also possible that TT worked in this case.
But what seems more probable?
Let's just assume for a minute that there are people out there who can move electrons
with laser powers in their fingers, for that seems to be what they should be able to do if
they are altering the energy fields quantum physics talks about. How do these people make
it through the day? Wouldn't anything they get near be in danger of having its molecular
structure changed? Wouldn't atomic explosions follow them along their mystical paths as
they release all that pent up energy in the subatomic world? Wouldn't objects all around
them be constantly transforming due to their energy displacements? Shouldn't they be able
to walk through walls? In short, shouldn't we be able to identify those with these powers
very easily? If the powers allegedly utilized by the practitioners of TT are as real as
they say they are, would we really have to spend any money to test them?
On the other hand, maybe there is another explanation for the power of Bob Gibson's
fastball. He didn't throw the ball by the batter; he threw it through their
bats! The miracle was that he was able to halt his special power in the instant between
the ball's going through the bat and arriving in the catcher's mitt. I always thought
there was something supernatural about his fastball. Maybe there was.
In conclusion, we should note that 9-year old Emily
Rosa tested 21 TT practitioners to see if they could even feel energy when
they could not see its source. The test was very simple
and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not detect the energy of the little
girl's hands when placed near theirs. If they can't detect the energy, what are they
detecting? It seems that TT is another in a long list of cases of self-deception based on wishful and confirmation bias.
See related entries on acupuncture
and alternative health practices.
Clark, Philip E. and Mary Jo Clark, "Therapeutic touch: Is There a Scientific
Basis for the Practice?" Nursing Research, 33 , Jan/Feb 1984.
Gilovich, Thomas. How We Know What Isn't' So: The
Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (New
York: The Free Press, 1993) $12.76
Hover-Kramer, Dorothea . Healing touch : a resource for health care professionals
with contributing authors, Janet Mentgen, Sharon Scandrett-Hibdon (New York : Delmar
Selby, Carla and Bela Scheiber.
"Science or Pseudoscience? Pentagon Grant Funds Alternative Health Study, " in
the Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 1996.
Williams, Susan M. "Holistic Nursing," in Examining Holistic Medicine
(Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989).