New-Age Practitioners Twitch

Girl, 9, Casts Doubt
On ‘Therapeutic Touch’

by Gina Kolata

The New York Times

Emily Rosa, now 11, tested practitioners of the technique for a school science fair project two years ago

April 1, 1998

Two years ago, Emily Rosa of Loveland, Colorado, designed and carried out an experiment that challenges a leading treatment in alternative medicine. Her study, reported today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has thrown the field into tumult.

Emily RosaEmily is 11. She did the experiment for her fourth-grade science fair.

The technique she challenges is therapeutic touch, in which healers manipulate what they call the human energy field by passing their hands over a patient’s body without actually touching the patient. The method is practiced in healing centers and medical centers throughout the world, and it is taught at prominent universities and schools of nursing.

Tens of thousands of people have been trained to treat patients through the use of therapeutic touch. Its practitioners insist that the human energy field is real and that anyone can be trained to feel it.

But Emily asked a sort of “emperor’s new clothes” type of question. Could therapeutic touch practitioners actually detect a human energy field? Her method was devilishly simple.

It was a question that critics of alternative medicine had asked before. But only one practitioner had agreed to submit to a test, said James Randi, a magician who conducted that test.

Emily, however, was able to recruit 21 practitioners. Her mother, Linda Rosa, a nurse who is among the critics of therapeutic touch, said she thinks Emily succeeded because practitioners were not threatened by a 9-year-old girl.

Rosa said Emily originally was designing a science fair experiment involving different colored M&M’s candies. Then she glanced at the television screen in her home where her mother was watching a videotape about therapeutic touch. Emily piped up, saying she had a way to test the premise of therapeutic touch, her mother said.

Emily designed an experiment in which the healer and Emily were separated by a screen. Then Emily decided, by flipping a coin, whether to put her hand over the healer’s left hand or the right hand. The healer was asked to decide where Emily’s hand was hovering. If the healer could detect Emily’s human energy field, he or she should be able to discern where Emily’s hand was.

In 280 tests involving the 21 practitioners, the healers did no better than chance. They identified the correct location of Emily’s hand 44 percent of the time. If they had guessed at random, they would have been right about half the time.

Emily wrote her study with her mother, a member of the National Therapeutic Touch Study Group, a group based in Loveland that questions the method. The study’s authors included Larry Sarner of the Therapeutic Touch Study Group and Dr. Stephen Barrett, board chairman of Quackwatch in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a nonprofit group that is putting information about questionable medical practices on the Internet.

No April Fools Joke

The report on the study is accompanied by a note from Dr. George Lundberg, the Journal’s editor. In it, Lundberg said that “practitioners should disclose these results to patients, third-party payers should question whether they should pay for this procedure, and patients should save their money unless or until additional honest experimentation demonstrates an actual effect.”

Lundberg said the journal’s statisticians thought the study was well done. “They were amazed by its simplicity and by the clarity of its results,” he said.

Practitioners hardly agree.

“I do hope it’s an April Fool’s joke,” said Dr. Dolores Krieger, an emeritus professor of nursing at New York University who is a developer of therapeutic touch.

Krieger and other therapeutic touch practitioners insist that they and anyone else who is trained can easily feel human energy fields. I her book, “Accepting Your Power to Heal” (Bear & Co. Publishing, Santa Fe, N.M., 1993) Krieger said the field feels like “warm Jell-O or warm foam.”

Practitioners of therapeutic touch say patients who are ill have hot spots or cold spots in their fields or areas that feel tingly. By “rebalancing” a person’s field, practitioners say they can calm colicky babies, relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, treat cancer and more.

Krieger said that since she developed therapeutic touch 26 years ago, she has trained more than 47,000 practitioners. Her acolytes have gone on to train thousands more. The method also has been the subject of numerous doctoral dissertations and postdoctoral studies.

Krieger said it is taught in nursing schools and colleges in 70 countries and is used in hospitals around the world. “It works,” she said, adding that Emily Rosa “completely misunderstood what the nature of basic research is.”

But other researchers say there is no reliable evidence that practitioners of therapeutic touch can heal patients.

Dr. Donal O’Mathuna, a professor of bioethics and chemistry at the Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio, said he had reviewed more than 100 papers and doctoral dissertations on therapeutic touch but has faund no convincing data suggesting that the method works.


Life Imitates
Figure of Speech

by Woody Johnson

[Editor’s Note: We realize this one’s a bit off the topic, but...]

March 26, 1998

A Sri Lankan charged with theft threw a plastic bag filled with human feces at policemen but it hit a fan and showered the entire court, officials said.

They said the accused, Subhasinghe Premasiri, who had been charged with stealing gas cookers and cylinders, had taken the bag out of his pocket and thrown it at policemen when he was asked to step into the witness box Tuesday.

“The bag struck a fan, got entangled and the entire court was showered with excreta,” said an official at the court in Modera town, just south of the capital Colombo.

The accused was remanded by the chief magistrate for insulting the dignity of the court, which had to be cleaned before proceedings could continue, the official said.

This human court, even in the hands of Premasiri, still ®has more dignity than that of Jehovah, the Bible god, of course, who allegedly told his priests: “Behold, I will corrupt your seed and spread dung on your faces.” (Malachi 2:3)