In many cultures, touch is regarded as a fundamental factor of successful healing. Even the most developed societies tend to rely on spiritual healers, when conventional medicine fails to address patients' health concerns. The history of human touch as a therapeutic mechanism dates back to pre-modern times. Today, "touch is so central in healing work that it comes metaphorically to stand for the whole enterprise skillfully performed" (Leder & Krucoff, 2008, p.321). Unfortunately, too often conventional medical practices are described as having an objectifying or absent touch (Leder & Krucoff, 2008). Meanwhile, therapeutic touch could become a relevant approach to healing. Not all groups of patients can considerably benefit from therapeutic touch, but it can still become a potent healing force in any clinical setting.
As previously mentioned, the history of therapeutic touch transcends all stages of human evolution. The Christian religion provides abundant information on the way healing touch saved people from death. It is a well-known story when Jesus Christ used His touch to cure leprosy and fever (Leder & Krucoff, 2008). At different times, societies utilized the hidden potentials of touch to pursue their healing ideals. Dozens of women were burnt in fires during European witch trials in the Middle Ages (Leder & Krucoff, 2008). At the same time, the hands of French and British kings were claimed to have magical touch (Leder & Krucoff, 2008). Touch was believed to heal epilepsy, scrofula, and many other illnesses (Leder & Krucoff, 2008). Today, therapeutic touch is no longer a matter of pure magic, but rather an essential source of positive energies used in traditional and alternative medicines to speed up the healing processes. Its official history started in 1973, when Dora Kunz and Dolores Krieger founded the Therapeutic Touch program (Aghabati, Mohammadi, & Esmaniel, 2010). Therapeutic touch is well-known for its remarkably speedy impacts on clients: the healing effects become visible within just 2-4 minutes after the interaction starts (Aghabati et al., 2010).
The roots of therapeutic touch, its theory, and conceptual basis can be found in Roger's philosophy of unitary human beings (Kim, 2010). The conceptual definitions included in the therapeutic touch framework are: energy fields, resonance, field patterning, and mutuality (Kim, 2010). In the context of therapeutic touch, clinicians, nurses, and clients are interpreted as energy fields, whose dyadic relationships facilitate the powerful transitions of positive energy to improve clients' health (Kim, 2010). Here, healing is treated as the healer's full engagement in the process by displaying the compassionate interest in helping those clients who need it (Krieger, 2002). Therapeutic touch itself is defined as a contemporary application of alternative healing practices, which include visualization, laying on of hands, touching the patient with or without contact, the use of chakras coupled with conscious, and masterful use of breath to achieve a more powerful healing result (Krieger, 2002).
One of the chief questions facing clinicians is who can benefit from therapeutic touch and if it is effective enough to relieve stress and anxiety in clients. Evidence is emerging that therapeutic touch can be used in diverse clinical situations. One of the most useful applications of therapeutic touch is when it is used to relieve fatigue and pain. Aghabati et al. (2010) found that therapeutic touch was a significant predictor of reduced pain and fatigue in the cancer patients during chemotherapy. Therapeutic touch is potentially useful in easing the post-surgical pain in individual clients. McCormack (2009) discovered that therapeutic touch could help elderly patients cope with their post-surgical pain symptoms. As a result, after a series of non-contact touch interventions, 73% of the experimental group displayed tangible reductions in pain and suffering after surgery (McCormack, 2009). Quite similar were the results of the study conducted by MacIntyre, Hamilton, Fricke, Ma, Mehle, and Michel (2008), who explored the efficacy of therapeutic touch in helping the patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. In addition to reduced pain and suffering, the patients who were engaged in therapeutic touch interventions displayed lower levels of anxiety and spent less time in hospital (MacIntyre et al., 2008).
Apparently, therapeutic touch is the most useful, when it comes to dealing with the psychological aspects of traditional medical procedures, such as anxiety and physical pain. However, it can also benefit the clients, whose problems are purely psychological. In Gestalt therapy, healing touch is used actively to speed up the process of healing (Eyckmans, 2009). Still, not all groups of patients benefit equally from therapeutic touch. For instance, patients undergoing breast biopsy did not report any improvements in their emotional state after receiving therapeutic touch during the procedure (Frank et al., 2008). Therefore, future researchers need to understand what drives the effectiveness of therapeutic touch and why it works or does not work in various clinical situations. It is obvious that the patient plays not the last role in achieving the desired healing result. The client's body must be actively engaged in the process (Leder & Krucoff, 2008). It is not enough to be patient and hopeful, while watching the impactful, gestural procedure. The client must open his/her inner energy to healing and understand that his/her participation is as important as the nurse's and therapist's healing expertise.
In conclusion, therapeutic touch is emerging as an effective supplementary element of traditional therapies. Healing touch has proved to ease the pain and anxiety associated with complicated medical procedures, such as chemotherapy and surgeries. Still, researchers need to understand what factors impact the effectiveness of the healing touch interventions. Patients should assume a more active role in the healing processes involving therapeutic touch.
- Aghabati, N., Mohammadi, E., & Esmaniel, Z.P. (2010). The effect of therapeutic touch on pain and fatigue of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. eCAM, 7(3), 375-381.
- Eyckmans, S. (2009). Handle with care: Touch as a therapeutic tool. Gestalt Journal of Australia and New Zealand, 6(1), 40-53.
- Frank, L.S., Frank, J.L., March, D., Makari-Judson, G., Barham, R.B., & Mertens, W.C. (2008). Does therapeutic touch ease the discomfort or distress of patients undergoing stereotactic core breast biopsy? A randomized clinical trial. Pain Medicine, 8(5), 419- 424.
- Kim, H.S. (2010). The nature of theoretical thinking in nursing. New York,NY: Springer Publishing Company.
- Krieger, D. (2002). Therapeutic touch as transpersonal healing. New York, NY: Lantern Books.
- Leder, D., & Krucoff, M.W. (2008). The touch that heals: The uses and meanings of touch in the clinical encounter. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(3), 321-327.
- MacIntyre, B., Hamilton, J., Fricke, T., Ma, W., Mehle, S., & Michel, M. (2008). The efficacy of healing touch in coronary artery bypass surgery recovery: A randomized clinical trial. Alternative Therapies, 14(4), 24-32.
- McCormack, G.L. (2009). Using non-contact therapeutic touch to manage post-surgical pain in the elderly. Occupational Therapy International, 16(1), 44-56.