Probing Therapeutic Touch - The first phase of a continuing investigation

-- by Bob Glickman

As belief in the paranormal grows in everyday society, so it does in the world of healthcare. Unfortunately, trained professionals, who should know better, are also buying into the mystical and the pseudoscientific. I've been a registered nurse for 15 years so I find it discouraging and alarming that my profession is at the forefront of some these "innovations," with Therapeutic Touch (TT) being the biggest. Some elements of nursing have also been actively promoting other questionable modalities such as foot reflexology, homeopathy, crystal therapy, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and many others. In September of 1995, a nursing conference featuring Edgar Cayce's "therapies" was to be given by one of his grandsons at the Adam's Mark Hotel. It was advertised in the Nursing Spectrum, a biweekly nursing newspaper in the Philadelphia area. Fortunately, the conference was canceled due to lack of interest. We should be thankful for little victories.

I've spent considerable time in the past few years looking into TT. My present effort stems from an article in the Jan/Feb issue of Today's OR Nurse. This article said that operating room nurses should be using TT to clear patients' energy fields during the many phases of an operating room visit. My concern is that if enough of these articles appear and go unchallenged, somewhere down the road TT will become mainstream and I will be considered negligent because I withheld a vital treatment from my patient.

My coworkers and I arranged to have a TT practitioner (TTP) come and give us a demonstration. The TTP, who was also a registered nurse, thought the article to be valid and agreed that TT belonged in the operating room. Wanting only the best for our patients, we decided to demand the same level of efficacy we would expect from any other technique or device used in the operating room. By the end of the demonstration, none of us was able to feel an energy field, nor were we convinced that the TTP could either. However, she did recommend that we take her $125 course and really learn how to feel a field.

In the course of the demonstration, the TTP made several amazing claims about her ability to feel and distinguish between energy fields. Thus we proposed a test based on her claims. The TTP would become familiar with the distinct energy fields of six people. Then, on a random basis, each of the six would have a turn hiding under blankets. Without visual cues, the TTP would assess the field of the person under the blanket and identify who was there. The TTP refused. We simplified the test. Either an adult or a child would be hidden under blankets. The TTP refused again. We simplified the test even further. Under the blankets, we would hide a person or just more blankets. As easy as this test should have been, she refused again. It turns out that we just had to believe.

Arising out of some of the claims and events of this demonstration and on other material, I co-wrote a research paper with Janet Burns RN, MSN. So far it's been submitted to all three of the most widely read and important nursing journals. Nursing 95 was the first to refuse it in April, last year, stating that it did not "meet their needs" at this time. Next in line was the American Journal of Nursing. The April 95 issue cover featured a highly favorable and totally uncritical article on TT by Rochelle Mackey RN, a TTP. Our paper was retooled as a response to some of the points in her article and its inclusion of useless anecdotal references as proof. Again it was turned down. The AJN editors thought that Mackey's article and the four critical letters (including one from Rocky Mountain Skeptics (RMS) President, Bela Scheiber) in the July issue more than covered the topic. What's difficult about this is that Mackey's rebuttal to those letters was left as the last word on the subject. I sent the following letter to the AJN:'The most disturbing element of Rochelle Mackay's rebuttals to her TT critics was that she was allowed to sweep the search for truth into the mystical realm of the unknown and unknowable. This is why we have the phrase, Everything in nursing can't be measured.' In the case of TT, this simply isn't true. The energy field and the ability of a TTP to feel it can be easily measured with a test I've devised. [I go on here describing my test].

As simple as this sounds, I've had two TTPs claim that no TTP would be able to pass such a test. Even a test where the TTP would merely determine whether a bed is occupied or unoccupied was refused.

I agree with Rochelle Mackey that more research on TT should be done. If TT is real, then it should be understood and exploited. One must ask how ethical it is to experiment on humans with forces we don't understand. But even before considering this, we should make sure these energy fields actually exist. I look forward to working with and testing any TTP willing to see if what they practice is real.'This letter was not printed. However as Mackey noted, her article received 500 responses, signalling that the article served its purpose of reaching the "grass roots.' Presently, our critical article is in the hands of RN magazine. Prior to submitting it, I sent a copy of it to James Randi. After reading it, he gave me his approval to offer his award of $475,000 to any TTP who can feel an energy field. We included this notice in the paper and hopefully it will add a sense of importance and urgency to the topic.

I have been able to occupy my time while waiting for RN magazine's response. It turns out that courses in TT are eligible for Continuing Education Units (CEUs). In the last year the Mind/Body Connection of King of Prussia, PA was offering CEUs on its course on TT. I was curious to know who was certifying this course. Last November, I called the Pennsylvania Nurses Association (PNA) and talked with Cindy Stone, the administrative assistant for Nursing Education Programs (NEP). The PNA certifies any CEUs for Pennsylvania and they had no record of authorizing this TT course. It turns out that the Center for Nursing Excellence, a PNA approved provider for CEUs, was authorizing this course.

An investigation of this unusual arrangement was to be started. I made a follow up phone call in January and talked to Connie Taylor RN, the new NEP supervisor. She said that she had just replaced the previous supervisor and was going to look into the matter. Regarding TT, as long as the course meets the American Nurses Association (ANA) standard for quality of an offered course, it will meet theirs.

I followed up with Christine Fillipovich RN, who is in charge of the PNA's division of Nursing Practice. The PNA has taken no position on TT because no one has asked them to do so. Hopefully this will soon change. After a productive conversation with me, she'll be requesting some information from Bela Scheiber of the RMS who have done a lot of work in this area. I'll also be sending her a copy of my paper.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing also has no official position on TT. I'll see what I can do to change this also.

The following is an addition by Eric Krieg:

I can verify most of Bob's account about the TT person who gave the demonstration . I video taped her making many testable assertions about her ability to detect fields. She clearly refused Bob's gracious offer to lend credance to her claims via verification. She only offered to take Bob's money for training. I personally wrote to her and begged her in the name of all of humanity to allow TT to be believed (if true) by more people via proper testing. I got no response. I'm sure she's still happy to take people's money with out offering proof of her claims

-- Eric Krieg

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