Touch is as simple as a kiss. We kiss our children’s boo-boos, we hold them when they cry, we rub their backs when they can’t sleep. Touch heals.
The therapeutic use of touch is one of the oldest known medicines, so it is ironic that now it’s at the forefront of the new wave of alternative or complementary treatments available.
“When you are hurt, or have a headache, instinctively you hold the area that hurts. You’re channeling energy to that area on your own,” says Suzanne Jenkins, a licensed massage therapist (LMT) at Equinox Health and Healing in Exeter.
Like everything else in the modern world, there are more options now than ever before. Some are familiar, such as chiropractic, basic massage and Reiki. The list of lesser-known touch therapies listed at www.massagetherapy.com fills a Web page with such opaque monikers as quantum touch, trigger point and craniosacral therapy.
What they all share is a basic principle that sounds right and is hard to refute. The body is an energy system with a natural flow. When the system becomes misaligned, or blocked, the body’s energy flow is disrupted and this has a significant impact on one’s well being.
The touch modalities are said to assist in clearing the body’s pathways so that energies needed for the mechanical and cellular functions of the body can flow freely and optimize health.
“Touch releases toxins and increases energy flow, and we know that this happens because it can be measured. It’s not wacky-quacky anymore; it’s verifiable,” says LK Jordan, a registered nurse with 30-plus years of studying both the science and the art of healing. Therapeutic touch is one of the many nursing skills she incorporates in her consulting practice in Bow.
Back to the Basics
The television commercial shows a couple hand in hand, they gaze into each others eyes. He lifts her into his arms and carries her up the stairs. Love is in the air. He has a magic pill and the world is good. The second part of the commercial is quieter, with a rapid voiceover listing all the side effects associated with the drug.
“You have to say to yourself, ‘Are we that stupid?’” says Jordan.
In spite of the proliferation of drug commercials like that, a growing number of health care practitioners and a more informed public are less willing to accept the mounting number of side effects of many drugs. So the search is on for drugless “evidence-based” healing modalities that are effective and make sense. The field of energy/vibrational medicine has emerged and the validating research data is rapidly expanding.
“This growing body of research is demonstrating that much of the touch therapies are not as ‘woo-woo’ as previously believed. There is scientific evidence that all life forms on the planet have energetic processes going on all the time — this ‘energy’ is a core structure of life,” Jordan says.
Therapeutic Touch was developed in the early 1970s by Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., a faculty member at New York University’s Division of Nursing. The American Holistic Nurses Association, of which Jordan is a member, endorses therapeutic touch.
“We are dynamic energetic beings; we are not mechanical beings put together like a puzzle. That is the myth we have operated under for the last century. This is an exciting time in science and medicine; there is a shift occurring and a realization of the importance of energy and the pathways it must travel to support health are being recognized and explored,” says Jordan.
In searching for the cure for whatever ails you, professionals like Jordan have a bit of advice: “When choosing a practitioner look for those with professional training and credentials. Check out their reputation through prior clients when possible and try to discuss your interest with your more traditional physicians and health care providers. You may be surprised at their willingness to at least listen.”
EFT-Emotional Freedom Technique
How many times have you heard people say to one another, “Stop worrying yourself sick over things you can’t control”? EFT is about taking control of worries and freeing up emotions.
“Think of acupuncture without the needles,” says Ingrid Dinter, a life coach and EFT practitioner since 2002. “What we do is tap at the end points of certain ‘meridians,’ which are basically power lines that run through our system.”
The goal is to release energetic blocks that she says cause trauma, fears and many physical symptoms. The treatment is a gentle tapping technique on designated points around the head and neck. It can be learned (instructions are free on Dinter’s Web site, www.eftcoach.us) and self administered.
“We don’t diagnose disease or treat disease; we focus on events in the past that have caused energy disruptions,” says Dinter, who has a practice in Hopkinton.
Dinter says she is using EFT successfully with many returning veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We go through these memories in a gentle way and tap. As soon as something comes up and it begins to get intense, we tap and then we go on to the next emotion. Let’s say they remember a shooting. We start at the beginning, going back to that morning, and we tap, inching our way through. We tap on the sadness, the grief, the guilt and collapse all the emotions.”
Dinter is doing a study on her veterans and measuring their anxiety levels in the same way the Veteran’s Administration does to diagnose PTSD. She says that after a few sessions her clients report a decrease in anxiety. The V.A. in New Hampshire has yet to embrace her practice, but a psychologist with the V.A. in Texas has contacted Dinter to start a family program in EFT for their vets.
“We can help veterans and that is dear to my heart,” she says. “With the tapping the insomnia goes away, the nightmares — and they begin to heal.”
Craniosacral Therapy (CST)
Is it all in your head? Maybe. Craniosacral therapy was developed by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger following extensive research between 1975 and 1983. His theory: By applying a light pressure to the cranial bone and bones surrounding the skull, the tissue around the brain is relaxed and the central nervous system functions more freely.
Sarah-Elizabeth Witcomb, of Concord, has been doing CST since 2004 after studying at the Upledger Institute.
“I think of it as relaxing the body from the inside out,” says Witcomb. “During a session your body relaxes deeply as you gently release from within.”
Like massage, CST begins with a person lying on a table, with a light air mattress underneath to allow the practitioner’s movement.
“I start by tuning in at their feet and begin to listen to the body and I check in verbally with the client, asking, ‘Where do you feel the tension?’ I wait for the body to respond and as it begins to release I slowly follow the area where it is releasing. Both my hands will move slowly.”
Witcomb likes to create a calm and relaxing environment. Soft music plays in the background, the light is dim and the process is not rushed.
“They are here to relax and to be with their bodies, I invite people to let go of the morning, let go of the afternoon, let it all go and bring themselves into the present moment and the work will happen.”
Whether it be Reiki, the Japanese technique for stress reduction administered by the laying of hands, one of the touch therapies mentioned earlier or a gentle hand on a shoulder, touch heals. Touch soothes. Touch calms. And more and more traditional medical practitioners are realizing its benefits, including hospitals.
Concord Hospital provides approximately 1,000 Reiki treatments a year to in patients at their bedside.
“A small number of Reiki treatments are also given in the pre-op area, just before the patient goes in to surgery,” says Jennifer Dearborn, director of public affairs for Concord Hospital.
Portsmouth Regional Hospital offers massage therapy and Reiki to outpatients as well as patients in the hospital, Reiki coordinator Christine Niles says. “You’ll see a patient hooked up to the monitors and with Reiki you can watch the blood pressure drop or come up to a normal level. Patients can have a hard time sleeping in hospitals. When someone falls asleep then during Reiki, that’s proof for me that it is working.”
Add to that the results of a study at the Institute of Neurological Sciences in Scotland that found both heart rate and blood pressure decreased with the help of Reiki in a blind trial.
Michelle Kenna-Gendron, a licensed massage therapist at Catholic Medical Center, has been practicing for 14 years. “As a therapist, you can feel the muscles tightened and restricted like a coiled spring. With massage, you want that muscle to lengthen and release,” she says. “Chronic pain patients report less pain with massage therapy. It also can help with lowering blood pressure or it can help those who are diabetic.”
While empirical evidence helps bring funds and attention to the field, touch therapy has one thing in its favor: Skeptics may debate the medical benefits of touch within the context of a greater health care crisis, but it’s hard to argue with the power of a hug. NH Lisa Brown, New Hampshire Magazine