13 March 2011

Remote Healing

A friend has pointed me to 'A critical evaluation of the theory and practice of therapeutic touch' by Dónal O’Mathúna, Steven Pryjmachuk, Wayne Spencer, Michael Stanwick & Stephen Matthiesen in 3 Nursing Philosophy (2002) 163–176 as a follow-up to my recent sarcastic comments about the Saniotis & Henneberg 'non-local mind' article in World Futures.

The authors indicate that -
In this paper, the theory and practice of therapeutic touch (TT) is scrutinized from a number of perspectives. Firstly, the alleged close relationship between TT and Martha Rogers' Science of Unitary Human Beings is evaluated. Secondly, the employment of the language of modern physics in Rogers’ theory and TT is critically examined. The authors then review the research literature on TT’s efficacy, completing their critique by discussing the ethical issues involved in the practice of TT. As each of the perspectives considered reveals some concerns, the paper concludes that TT is a questionable intervention, underpinned by a very weak theoretical, clinical and research base.
I doubt that they would be enthused by the World Futures article. Saniotis & Henneberg appear impressed by claims in Dossey's Reinventing medicine: Beyond mind-body to a new era of healing (New York: HarperCollins 1999) regarding Grad's research on 'therapeutic touch' as healing wounded mice. (Wave the magic hands in the direction of the mice - waving some dried herbs, gizzard of goat or live reptile is so so yesterday compared to quantum mystic hands - and the little critters get better). Grad's research was challenged in 'Therapeutic touch: is there a scientific basis for the practice?' by Philip Clark & Mary Jo Clark in 33 Nursing Research (1984) 37–41, which suggested serious methodological problems in the study. They reported that -
An examination of published research literature indicates that empirical support for the practice of therapeutic touch is, at best, weak. The results of well-designed, double-blind studies have been transient, of no significance, or are in need of independent replication. Current practice of therapeutic touch is empirically little more than practice of placebo.
Placebo, not 'soul flight', 'remote healing or other quantum holism mumbo jubo.

O’Mathúna et al comment that -
The concepts of modern physics ... do not give a plausible mechanism for TT and should not be used to support the claims of TT practitioners. Indeed, the effects postulated by the theory of TT appear to be at variance with the known properties of all the forces whose existence is accepted by modern physics. Hence, TT may properly be regarded as inconsistent with background knowledge in that science. This inconsistency goes beyond the mere fact that TT’s mechanism of action is unknown. The theory of TT is an attempt to explain certain putative clinical effects in terms of a causal model involving energetic interactions. Yet, this model is contradicted by a large amount of evidence about the nature and limits of physical forces in the universe, and no alternative with a comparable degree of predictive power or consistency with other well-supported knowledge has been formulated. This has two consequences. First, the theory TT possesses is deprived of explanatory power: one mystery is not explained by an appeal to another mystery. Secondly, the evidence that supports the current picture of physical energy should be regarded as evidence against the theory of TT.
They go on to comment that -
Though the practice of TT has been subject to investigation, most TT studies have been limited. There have been no studies into the nature or properties of the energy field so central to the practice.
Prominent proponents admit that no one has managed to measure the interaction between human energy fields or demonstrate that energy is actually directed during TT (Krieger 1979; Quinn 1989). In two studies (Rosa et al 1998; Glickman & Gracely 1998), TT practitioners failed to detect human energy fields at levels distinguishable from chance results. Significant methodological problems were found in Krieger’s own early research (Schlotfeldt, 1973; Walike et al 1975) and problems have persisted in TT research (Clark & Clark 1984; Meehan 1993; Olson et al 1997). In 1994, a University of Colorado committee of professors from various healthcare professions concluded that:
The scientific rationale for TT is not established and can be questioned in several areas.There is not a sufficient body of data, both in quality and quantity, to establish TT as a unique and efficacious healing modality. (Claman 1994,6)
In considering the use and abuse of literature they state that -
Patient advocacy should be based on reliable and accurate information. This requires accurate reporting of the results of all TT research. The burden lies on promoters of new and controversial therapies to demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that they help. In reviewing controversial therapies, the existence of studies with negative or mixed findings should, at the very least, be mentioned. Unsuccessful replications should also be noted. It could be argued, on the grounds of the quality of specific pieces of research, that omissions are necessary when undertaking a comprehensive review of the literature (particularly when systematic reviews are being undertaken). The reviews cited in the next three paragraphs, however, are biased. Rather than consider a study’s quality, the reviewers’ inclusion criterion appears to be simply whether or not it supports TT. This kind of bias is further explored in O’Mathúna (2000).

By failing to incorporate studies with mixed or negative findings or unsuccessful replications, many TT reviews misrepresent research results. For example, Hughes et al (1996) and Olson et al (1997) cite Heidt (1981b) and Quinn (1984), but fail to mention that Quinn (1989) could not replicate those findings. Numerous articles cite two research studies by Wirth that support TT’s wound healing efficacy (see, for example, Jonasen 1994; Schmidt 1995; Mackey 1995; Mulloney & Wells-Federman 1996; Olson et al 1997). However, Wirth subsequently published three other studies with findings that were not supportive of TT’s effectiveness in wound healing (Wirth, 1995). The above reviews did not mention these failed replications, even though the studies were published well in advance of most of the reviews.

Contradictory results within a study should also be noted. For example, Jonasen (1994) and Hughes et al (1996) cite Fedoruk (1984) as finding statistical significance for anxiety reduction. Olson et al (1992) have been cited similarly, again by Hughes et al. and by Schmidt (1995). Both studies, however, found statistical significance only with behavioural measures, and not with physiological measures. General reviews have also reported the results of some studies inaccurately. Jonasen (1994) and Hughes et al. (1996) claimed that Parkes’s (1985) study supported TT’s anxiety-reducing properties. Parkes (1985,84) actually found that ‘therapeutic touch did not reduce anxiety’. Jonasen similarly cited Quinn (1989) as having beneficial results even though Quinn found no statistically significant reduction in anxiety by TT.
I've exhibited my usual irreverence about the existence or efficaciousness of reincarnation, intercessory prayer, remote healing, precognition, remote viewing, dowsing and other parapsychology that features in World Futures and is recurrently legitimated through reference to 'quantum holism'.

The Skeptics Dictionary more gently dismisses remote healing as quackery, commenting that -
Therapeutic touch (TT) is a type of energy medicine whereby the therapist moves his or her hands over the patient’s "energy field", allegedly directing the flow of chi or prana so the patient can heal. TT is based on the belief that each living thing has a "life energy field" which extends beyond the surface of the body and generates an aura. This energy field can become unbalanced, misaligned, obstructed, or out of tune. Energy healers think they can feel and manipulate this energy field by making movements that resemble massaging the air a few inches above the surface of the patient's body. Energy healers also think that they can transfer some of their own life energy to the patient. These airy manipulations allegedly restore the energy field to a state of balance or harmony, to a proper alignment, or they unblock a clog in the field or transfer life energy from healer to patient. This restoration of integrity to the field is thought to make it possible for the body to heal itself.

TT has no scientific basis but it does have a history. It was created by a nurse and a theosophist. Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., and a faculty member at New York University's Division of Nursing began TT in the early 1970s. She was convinced that the palms are chakras and can channel healing energy. She is the author of Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help and to Heal (1979) and several other books on TT. Dora Kunz, president of the Theosophical Society of America, was her mentor and an intuitive healer. TT is practiced primarily by nurses, though TT is apparently being practiced worldwide by all kinds of “alternative” healers and laypersons.

Practitioners admit that there has never been any scientific detection of a human energy field. This, they say, is because of the inadequacies of our present technology. One with a trained sense, however, is allegedly able to detect the human energy field and assess its integrity. Despite the obvious metaphysical basis for this quackery, defenders of TT claim it is scientific because it is based on quantum physics.
Dossey's The Power of Premonitions is unfussed, with its author claiming that -
More than an examination of case studies, The Power of Premonitions reveals the world of science and research that proves the human capacity for knowing the future. Experiments consistently show that human beings are as wired to know what's coming next as we are to see, feel, hear and think. Dossey uses cutting-edge science to prove the value of what had long been considered the provenance of mystic charlatans and to show readers how to cultivate their natural abilities.
Yes, buy the book, polish your ESP and you too can forsee the future.

Given that I'm unconvinced, I responded to the current public consultation by the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC) regarding alternative medicine, challenging proposals to treat reiki (ie TT) and homeopathy as professions.