Energy therapy: Where mysticism meets science
by Carrie Sturrock, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008

Anne Broderick believes she can use her hands to alter the energy fields of others to help them heal, taking away fatigue, stress and nausea.

A clinical trial at Stanford University aims to prove it. The university is testing whether an energy therapy called Healing Touch can reduce the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on breast cancer patients.

It’s the juncture where touchy-feely New Age mysticism meets hard science.

Healing Touch is a noninvasive energy therapy program founded by a registered nurse in Colorado in 1989. Its following has spread nationwide. Advocates stress that it isn’t a cure but a way of easing the stress, fatigue and nausea of radiation and chemotherapy.

The results of Stanford’s three-year clinical trial won’t be known for two more years, but some who already have undergone the therapy at a Stanford medical program called Healing Partners say they know it works.

“It opened my mind up to the fact there are some things in this world that we can’t explain, and that doesn’t make them any less real,” said breast cancer survivor Catherine Palter, a trained geologist who typically prefers more scientific explanations.

It all started for Palter after doctors diagnosed her with the cancer in 2005. She began the full Western-style treatment plan: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

But she craved the peace of mind of knowing she had tried everything. She heard Stanford had a program that used an “energy therapy” – Healing Touch. What could it hurt?

Someone worked with her weekly for six months to improve her energy flow by simply touching parts of her body such as legs, arms, back and head. The results were immediate and powerful, she said. The lethargy and fatigue of the chemotherapy disappeared. Her surgery wound rapidly healed. She could better cope with the fear of not being there for her two daughters.

“As a scientist, I didn’t have a real spiritual background,” said Palter, who works in the Stanford University planning office on land-use issues. “I found it really powerful.”

Breast cancer patients desperately want to feel better, and that often makes them open to trying something new.  Non-Hispanic white women in the Bay Area have among the highest breast cancer rates in the world: 149.6 per 100,000 had cancer between 2001 and 2005, compared with 138.2 nationally.

The established risk factors for breast cancer include, among others, higher income, higher education, having fewer children, waiting to have children, family history/genetics, hormone therapy and alcohol, said Tina Clarke, research scientist at the Northern California Cancer Center in Fremont.

Healing Partners has paired more than 100 breast cancer patients with Healing Touch providers since the free program began three years ago at Stanford.

That success prompted its director, Kathy Turner, a registered nurse, to prove its effectiveness in a randomized, controlled clinical trial that started last year. As all undergo chemotherapy, one group of breast cancer patients receives Healing Touch for 20 minutes, a second group listens to a relaxation tape, and a third gets nothing. Researchers haven’t yet analyzed the initial data.

Impact of Clinical Trials

Given the Bay Area’s abnormally high breast cancer rates among white women, a process proven to alleviate the devastating effects of cancer treatment could have far-reaching effects, Turner said. Success in the clinical realm could confer widespread legitimacy on a practice that many might otherwise dismiss as loopy and weird.

“It’s based on the belief that our bodies are surrounded by a field of energy and our bodies themselves are a denser form of energy,” Turner said. “The belief there is that once the body’s energy is cleared and balanced, our bodies have the innate capacity to heal themselves.”

The underlying technique is age-old, advocates say, and intends to balance and align people’s energy fields so they become “whole in body, mind, emotion and spirit” – although no one knows quite how it works.

People remain fully clothed. A lot of it is actual touching, but if someone has just had surgery, the healer can work above the person’s body. Healing Touch International Inc. runs a certification program across the country that many nurses take, but it’s open to everyone.

Broderick, a former corporate executive turned psychotherapist, provides Healing Touch to Lydia Li every week. Both survived breast cancer and took part in Healing Partners at Stanford.

Earlier this month, Li arrived at Broderick’s Palo Alto office with shoulder pain and a headache. She lay on a massage table, and Broderick covered her fully clothed body with a white sheet. Broderick, 69, then silently told herself, “I set my intention for the highest good,” and began methodically touching Li to the sounds of running water and quiet music, occasionally sweeping her hands above her. At times, she firmly held a foot, knee or wrist. At others, she seemed to play an imaginary piano on Li’s back.

Often, Broderick begins sessions by holding a crystal (although she said a “lifesaver on a string” would work just as well) 4 inches above Li and watches it circle over the seven chakras – energy vortices – that run along the length of the body. Clockwise is a good sign. No movement or one that’s counterclockwise means the person could use some help getting healthy energy flow, she says.

Li, 56, a business development manager at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, never would have believed in energy therapy a decade ago. She remembers asking at her initial Healing Touch sessions: “What is energy like? Why can’t I see it?” The effects can feel like a tingling sensation or heat, she says. Once, a dramatic light flicked on in her head after Broderick swept her hands over it, lifting her post-chemotherapy fog.

Reticent with Colleagues

Even though energy therapy is a major part of her life, she rarely brings it up with colleagues at Hewlett-Packard.
“I wouldn’t tell everyone I have this side of me,” she said. “They would think I’m weird.”

Broderick herself underwent chemotherapy in 2005 and expected to spend months curled up in a little ball. But she felt little nausea and could still meet with clients.
“Was it HealingTouch?”  She said, “I don’t know. Probably. I’m sure it helped.”
This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Related Articles:

Energy-Based Modalities 
Authors: Joan Engebretson DrPH, AHN-BC, RNa and Diane Wind Wardell PhD, RNC Originally published in Nursing Clinics of North America, Volume 42, Issue 2, June 2007, Pages 243-259
Click here for Abstract

Latest Research in Healing Touch:

Healing Touch with guided imagery for PTSD in returning active duty military: A randomized controlled trial
Authors:  Jain, S., McMahon, G.F. , Hasen, P., Kozub, M.P., Porter, V., King, R. & Guarneri, E.M.
Published in Military Medicine (2012), 177 (9), 1015-1021.

A recent study published in Military Medicine compared the impact of Healing Touch (HT) and Guided Imagery (GI) + treatment as usual (TAU) in the study group (HT+GI + TAU) to treatment as usual only (TAU) in the control group on PTSD symptoms, depression, quality of life and hostility in active duty military personnel. The group of 123 participants were randomly assigned to receive either 6 sessions of HT+GI+ TAU over 3 weeks vs. TAU over 3 weeks. Statistical analyses (repeated measures analysis of covariance with intent-to-treat) revealed statistically and clinically significant reduction in PTSD symptoms as well as depression  for the group receiving HT+GI vs. TAU. This same group also showed significant improvements in mental quality of life  and reduced cynicism vs. TAU group.

This well conducted study supports the use of HT in the care of military personnel with PTSD. Further study is warranted.

Completed Research Studies:

Autonomic Nervous  System Changes During Reiki Treatment:  A Preliminary Study. McKay N., Hansen S. and McFarlane M.A. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (10) 6: 1077-81. 2004
Click here for Study Summary

A Pilot Study of a Bio-Field Therapy for Chronic Neuropathic Pain in Spinal Cord Injury.
Principal Investigator: Diane Wind Wardell, PhD, RNC, HNC, CHTP, University of Texas
Co-Investigators: Gabriel Tan, PhD, Diana Rintala, PhD, and Zhigang Duan MD,MS
Published Date: December 2006
Published by: Journal of Holistic Nursing, Volume 24 Number 4, December 2006, 231-240
Click here for Abstract
Click here for Full Article – requires subscription to Journal of Holistic Nursing Online to view.

Biofield Therapies: Helpful or Full of Hype? A Best Evidence Synthesis 
Published Date: October 24, 2009
Published by: International Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Click here for Full Article

Biological Correlates of Reiki Touch Healing.
Wardell D.W. and Engebretson J.  Journal of Advanced Nursing (33) 4: 439-445. 2001
Click here for Study Summary

The Effect of Therapeutic Massage and Healing Touch on Cancer Patients. 
Principal Investigator: Janice Post-White, RN, PhD, FAAN
Co-Investigators: Mary Ellen Kinney, RN, BA, CHTP, Carol Wilcox, RN, MS, I.J. Lerner, MD, and J. Bernsten, RN, MS
Date: December 2003
Click here for Abstract

Effects of Reiki on Pain and Selected Affective and Personality Variables of Chronically Ill Patients.
Dressin L.J. and Singg S. Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (9) 1: 53-82. 1998
Click here for Study Summary

The Lived Experience of Healing Touch with Cancer Patients 
Principal Investigator: Charlene Ann Christiano, Florida International University
Date: 1997
Click here for Abstract

Personal Interaction with a Reiki Practitioner Decreases Noise Induced Microvascular  Damage in an Animal Model.
Baldwin, A.L. and Schwartz G.E. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 12 (1), 15-22. 2006
Click here for Study Summary

Reiki Improves Heart Rate Homeostasis in Laboratory Rats
Authors:  Baldwin, Al, Wagner, C. and GE Schwartz  Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14 (4):  417-422. 2008
Click here for Study Summary

Using Reiki to Decrease Memory and Behavior Problems in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Mild Alzheimer’s Disease.
Crawford, S.E., Leaver V.W. & Mahoney S.D.  The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 12 (9): 911-913. 2006
Click here for Study Summary

In Process Research Studies/Clinical Trials:

Currently, there are a couple of dozen of clinical studies under way.  Visit for a complete listing.  Listed below are a few:

Effect of Healing Touch on the Experience of Women Undergoing Treatment for Breast Cancer
Principal Investigator: Lynn M Westphal, Stanford University
Start Date: January 2005
Study Sponsor: Stanford University
(study recently completed; results pending publishing.)

Healing Touch and Health-Related Quality of Life in Women With Breast Cancer Receiving Radiation Therapy 
Principal Investigator: Lisa L Schnepper, MSN, PhD (c), University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Start Date: January 2008
Study Sponsor: University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
(study recently completed; results pending publishing.)

Healing Touch and Relaxation Therapies in Cervical Cancer Patients 
Principal Investigator: Susan K Lutgendorf, MD, University of Iowa
Start Date: September 2002
Study Sponsor: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
(study completed; results pending publishing.)

Healing Touch as a Supportive Intervention for Adult Acute Leukemia Patients: A Pilot Study 
Principal Investigator: Suzanne C. Danhauer, PhD, Wake Forest University
Start Date: February 2006
Study Sponsor: Wake Forest University

Healing Touch Breast Cancer Study 
Principal Investigator: Susan K Lutgendorf, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa
Start Date: June 2003
Study Sponsor: University of Iowa

Healing Touch During Chemotherapy Infusions for Women With Breast Cancer 
Principal Investigator: Dr. Ellie Guardino MD/PhD and Kathy Turner RN, NP, Stanford University
Start Date: April 2007
Study Sponsor: Stanford University

Healing Touch in Treating Fatigue in Women Undergoing Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer 
Principal Investigator: Nancy Wells, DNSc, RN and Fern Fitzhenry, PhD, RN Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center
Start Date: February 2007
Study Sponsor: Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

Hypnosis, Massage Therapy, and Healing Touch in Treating Patients Receiving Chemotherapy for Ovarian Epithelial Cancer or Peritoneal Cavity Cancer 
Principal Investigator: Patricia L. Judson, MD Masonic Cancer Center at University of Minnesota
Start Date: May 2005
Study Sponsor: Masonic Cancer Center at University of Minnesota

– Please check back for updates as completed studies are pending publication. –


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