Testing a Therapeutic Touch Practitioner

-- by Bob Glickman and DeeAnne Wymer

With over 40,000 Therapeutic Touch Practitioners (TTP) in the USA, you would think that more than one would have leapt at the chance to earn $742,000 (which could be kept, or given to charity) to prove to the world that a TTP can feel the alleged Human Energy Field, and to prove to James Randi that paranormal powers are real. You might think this, but you would be wrong. Last November's TT test drew only one participant and she was a nontraditional practitioner, not a nurse. The Randi award has now risen to $1,100,000. A test session was scheduled for June 2, 3 and 4 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There were no takers.

As things turned out, we should consider ourselves fortunate that there was at least one person willing to be tested last November. However, the difficulty of developing a workable test almost prevented November's event from happening. Nancy Woods, a practitioner and teacher of TT, is a massage therapist by trade and lives in California. She charges $75 for a TT treatment, takes Visa and Mastercard, and her service is free if it does not work. She was so interested in the test that she offered to fly to the test site at her own expense. Woods had her own version of a test in mind. She wanted to gather several people with aches and pains (migraine headaches are her specialty, she claims) so she could treat them. Then we would see how many felt better. She had little interest in the fact that there was no double-blinding in this type of test. It was explained several times that the purpose of the test was to see if TTPs are able to feel energy fields.

The test was conducted in the Short Procedure Unit (SPU) of Frankford Hospital which was unoccupied at the time of testing. The SPU is a self-contained nine bed unit. Only one of the nine rooms has a door which can be closed; the other eight have curtains which are drawn for privacy. Several PhACT members were present for the test, as well as some nurses and health care workers interested in TT. PhACT member Ed Gracely (whom the authors would like to thank for his assistance with the preparation of this report) was present to give statistical advice. We were fortunate to have Bela Scheiber, the President of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics present for the proceedings. James Randi acted as moderator and overseer.

The test design was based on a fiberglass construction, the "TT 109," which has two sleeves that allow either one or both arms or legs to be inserted into them. This test unit was secured to a standard hospital bedside table. This table was then anchored to the foot of a stretcher bed. The footboard was removed so that a person could lie on the bed and easily place their arms or legs into the unit's sleeves. The test unit was hidden under a sheet and the subject was hidden behind a curtain. Our initial test protocol was so designed that, on the basis of a coin toss, either the subject's left or right arm would be inserted in the unit. The TTP would assess the energy fields through the sleeves and declare which sleeve was occupied. A video recorder, positioned within the hospital bed area, would record the test.

Ms. Woods' abilities differ from those of the typical TTP so the test was modified from its original design to accommodate this. She states that, to her, a normal arm or leg does not have a field or sensation she can detect. It is indistinguishable from no limb at all. She said that an injured or painful limb, however, felt to her like a cold, hot or "pulling" sensation. It had been arranged for a few people with painful conditions to be available for the test. One was Maureen Ketrick, a 57 year old female who has had a painful left foot and ankle for the past four years. She has been diagnosed as having tarsal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis and exostosis of the heel. She has been treated with cortisone injections by her podiatrist but with no lasting relief.

Another potential patient was "Pam" (PM), a 42 year old female and self-described "gypsy" who believes in paranormal phenomena. This was her first introduction to TT. Pam hit her right hand against an air conditioner three years ago and has been treated by an M.D. with minimal relief. She wears a brace on her right wrist when she works. She also has occasional pain in her left wrist.

The third potential patient was Glickman's 13 year old daughter Brianne who has had chronic headaches because of a TMJ-type chewing disorder. She had been receiving trigger point injections with moderate relief of her headache pain. She had a moderate headache the evening of the test. She was really just a back-up because the testing parameters would have needed serious modifications if we had had to accommodate testing different heads.

Upon Woods' arrival, she was informed of each person's condition and allowed to assess them. The first to be assessed was Ketrick. Woods noted a cold sensation over the left foot and ankle, the affected side. Woods then noticed coldness around the right foot, the normal foot. As the assessment continued, Woods stated that there was already a difference in the field and the cold sensation was almost gone. Ketrick made an important observation at this point, "But my foot still hurts!"

Ms. Woods turned her attention to Brianne Glickman, mentioning that she loved to work with migraines. After a few minutes of "working" with her, Woods asked Brianne if she felt anything or if she felt any improvement. Although Brianne responded, "No," she later stated that she felt an obligation to respond "Yes," because of the insistent way Ms. Woods asked her. Ms. Woods also stated that at the end of this session, Brianne's field would change as she assessed it.

It soon appeared that there might not be any testing at all because of the constant changes and inadvertent healing caused by Woods' assessments. This is another way in which Woods' talents differ from the average TTP. In TT there is a component called "intentionality" where the TTP intentionally transmits energy to balance and treat their patient. Woods seems to have little control over this aspect of TT.

Several attempts were made to find some kind of mutually acceptable test. A final attempt was made with both Ketrick and Pam taking turns with their limbs in the TT 109 unit. Randi asked Woods whether or not she could feel a difference. Her response was that she could not feel a difference between the two subjects. After some more discussion, Woods stated, "I can feel a difference if someone is not injured...and someone is..." At this point, Scheiber volunteered that he was perfectly healthy and had no problems with his arms. In Woods' assessment of his arms, she noted coolness in his right arm which she "worked on" and for some reason she felt drawn to his left elbow.

After some more discussion, Woods agreed that she would be able to successfully determine the difference between Pam and Scheiber. This led to an open test in which Woods could see which subject was in place. The subject was determined by a coin flip. Woods was able to identify the field or sensations 10 out of 10 times. (See Table 1.)

The next step was a preliminary closed test. In the "closed" test, a curtain was drawn across the foot of the hospital bed, effectively preventing anyone on the opposite side from identifying the participant. Three individuals were present within this partitioned area, our two subjects (Pam and Scheiber) and Eric Krieg who conducted the coin toss and recorded the results.

Woods was taken into an adjacent room and the door was closed. At a signal, the coin was tossed, determining whether Pam or Scheiber would lie on their stomachs on the hospital bed and insert their arms into the TT 109. At the call of "ready," Woods was brought into the testing area and allowed to approach the testing device. She then proceeded to determine whether Pam or Scheiber had their arms in the casing. Woods assessed the TT 109 with her hands hovering a few inches above the unit. She then described her sensations and her conclusion about the individual's identity. These were recorded by Dr. Wymer. (See Table 2.)

At the close of the test, Woods and the other participants waited in a nearby lounge for the results. The tabulations revealed that Woods correctly identified the subject 11 times out of 20. This, of course, was well within the domain of chance. On the basis of this result it was decided not to proceed with the formal test.

It was quite apparent from watching Woods perform her assessment that her choice of "sidedness" (which limb or body area emitted the sensations she claimed to feel) could be based upon her own motor predilection. The descriptions noted in the open test that she "preferred" to locate ailments/sensations on the patient's left side -- her right side. Wymer noted that Woods focused on the left side (her right hand) much more frequently and made larger and more frequent "hovering" motions with her right hand than with her left.

Wymer suspected that this bias is unconscious on Woods' part and merely reflects her own handedness, assuming she is righthanded. This may be an interesting avenue for a critical analysis of TT. If someone finds a greater percentage of "sensations" claimed by TTPs to be on one side or the other of their patients/participants and discovers a correlation with their own handedness, we might suggest that there is an unconscious bias on the part of TTP's which is based on their own motor skills. This would be another factor implying that what a TTP senses is based on their own suggestibility.

It appears at present that this may be the last time a Therapeutic Touch Practitioner will be willing to come forward to attempt to prove that someone can feel a human energy field.

Record of the testing of Nancy Woods on November 8, 1996

Table 1 - Open Test

Trial# Participant Subject's Comments
1 PM Feels coolness on (participant's) left (L); nothing on right (R)
2 BS Doesn't feel a whole lot ("Not a whole lot"); less than PM
3 PM "She's changed... warm on L...less on R... totally different"
4 BS She is drawn to his L elbow and not much else
5 BS Seems to take longer...feels L elbow and nothing else
6 BS Similar to before - L elbow
7 PM Feels cold on top L...thinks PM is more tense
8 BS L elbow...nothing else...gets more subtle with each one
9 BS He's cold (referring to elbow)...nothing else
10 BS Felt cool on left towards wrist area and nothing on right

Table 2 - Closed Test

Trial# Actual Response   Subject's Comments
1 PM BS   Feels heat on L...cold on R..."He's different"
2 PM PM + Feels warm then "it got hot" on L
3 PM BS   "My first thought is...nobody is here"
4 PM PM + Feels cold
5 PM PM + "It's a girl"...feels cold
6 BS BS + "Very subtle change here... I'm toying... having to struggle.. difficult to guess...I'm going to say a guy"
7 PM PM + "It's a girl"...feeling cold at top L
8 PM BS   "It's a guy...nothing...he is less whacked"
9 BS PM   "It's her"...feels cold on lower L
10 PM BS   "Not much of anything...more of a turkey shoot now because they've changed so much"
11 PM PM + Focuses on L..."It's a girl" but feels torn ... feels something on upper L
12 BS PM   "It's a girl"...she senses something on lower L but can't go up because of curtain
13 PM PM + Again female...doesn't feel drawn to L side
14 BS BS + Her hand wants to go up into the curtain (to elbow)
15 PM PM + Cold on lower L...not drawn to elbow..."this is interesting"
16 BS PM   No desire to "go up"...cold on lower L
17 BS BS + Doesn't feel cold...drawn to elbow
18 PM BS   Touches elbow..."Cold up here"
19 PM BS   "I'm not drawn to the L elbow but I think it's the guy...don't feel much"
20 BS BS + "I think it's the guy...didn't notice a whole lot"

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