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Therapeutic Touch (TT) is quite familiar to many theosophists, and for good reason. Developed in the early 1970s by two life-long theosophists, TT is taught and practiced in Theosophical Society lodges throughout the United States and the world.
The persons most influential in developing the technique are the late Dora Kunz, a gifted clairvoyant and healer and past president of the Theosophical Society in America; and Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., professor emeritus at New York University Graduate School of Nursing. For over three decades, both professionals and the lay public have used TT in homes and in health care settings. Drawing on a natural potential that can be developed in all individuals, the TT technique is gentle, simple to learn, and easy to use. It harmonizes with other approaches to health and can be used very effectively in combination with traditional health care practice.
TT is neither faith healing nor "laying-on of hands." It is a contemporary interpretation of several ancient healing practices. Although derived from these ancient practices, it differs from them in several significant ways. TT is not done within a religious context, nor does it require a professed faith or belief in its efficacy by the practitioner or the recipient. Another significant difference between TT and the laying-on of hands is that TT requires no direct skin-to-skin physical contact between practitioner and recipient. It is an energetic method of healing, based on a postulated re-patterning of energy, a process in which the practitioner uses the hands as a focus to enable people to move toward increased health.
The positive effects of TT are manifested physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Research findings have documented its effectiveness in bringing about a state of deep relaxation, resulting in a decrease in physical and psychological stress. In addition to easing disorders caused by stress and chronic tension, TT is particularly effective in relieving pain, accelerating the healing process, and generally increasing feelings of well-being at all levels.
What is Therapeutic Touch?
What exactly is this healing phenomenon? TT may be defined as a holistic process based on the natural potential to use the hands to consciously re-pattern energy with the intent to heal. TT is holistic in that it affects our entire constitution, not merely the physical dimension, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions, as well. As a process, it is ongoing, dynamic, and continuous; the effects of the treatment are cumulative and increase over time. Every person has the natural potential to heal others; healing is not a "gift," it may be taught and learned. With sufficient practice, every person may heal using only the hands as the instruments for healing. A key concept of TT and a vital and integral part of the method is the conscious intent of the practitioner. In fact, research has demonstrated that, without a healing intent, the method is not effective. We are all aware that, when we suffer physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, the simple presence of another compassionate human being is of great comfort. When our full attention is given to this effort, that is, when our conscious intent and motivation to assist is added to our physical presence, whatever we do is profoundly more effective.
According to theosophical teachings, human beings are energy fields and, according to modern science, energy is in constant motion. It is the pattern and rhythm of that motion, the vibration of energy, which determines our relative health or illness. TT works on the pattern, or flow of the recipient’s energy.
The objective of TT is, of course, to heal. However, to heal is not to cure. To cure is to make healthy, to be rid of all symptoms and to restore health. It is possible to be cured of a cold or a headache. It is not possible to be cured of terminal cancer, or of a chronic and debilitating illness. Although all individuals may not be cured, all may be healed.
The word heal is derived from the Old English haelen, to make whole again. To make a person whole is to assist them to a condition where all dimensions—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual—are working synchronously. Furthermore, it is implied that this is the natural state of being; this is the way we initially were and are meant to be; to make whole again. Healing, then, means to restore energetic order and balance to all dimensions of the human being. When order and balance are restored, it is possible for a person to do whatever it is they must do, fully and to the best of their ability. The person with a cold who is healed is then free to rid themselves of all bodily symptoms of the cold; the person with a headache no longer experiences headache pain. The person with a terminal illness who is healed becomes free to do what they need to do, that is, free to live the remainder of life with quality and to die with dignity and peace.
When all dimensions of the human are working in synchrony, healing occurs naturally. The TT practitioner assists the recipient to move to that state where healing may occur. Thus, the recipient heals himself; the practitioner merely places the recipient in the best possible condition for healing to occur.
Theoretical Assumptions Underlying the Practice of TT
An assumption is a premise, a statement that is assumed to be true because it has not been researched or validated. There are seven assumptions underlying the practice of TT. Three are posited from the scientific perspective and four are posited from the theosophical perspective.
Assumptions from the Scientific Perspective
Controlled clinical trials for TT, to date, have tested only its efficacy and safety because no way of testing its mechanism of action has been available. However, these assumptions regarding the mechanism of action have held true for thirty years.
The first assumption is that the human being is an energy field. We do not have energy fields; we are energy fields. In our WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) world, many question the reality of unseen energy fields. However, we all accept the presence of energy fields, whether or not we see them. For example, sound is an energy field. We do not see the sound waves, but readily accept the reality of the invisible waves created by one’s vocal cords traveling through the atmosphere to reach another’s ear drum, creating what we experience as the sound of another’s voice. We readily accept the reality of the unseen gravitational energy field, invisible as it is. When we are holding an object and let go, there is no doubt as to what will happen to the object; we never wonder if the object will remain where it is in mid-air, travel upward, or sideways. Based on our knowledge of the gravitational field, we can predict with surety that the object will fall to the floor. The human field, while not visually perceived by most people, is a reality. The basis of TT is that this field may be perceived by touch. The concept of the human as an energy field is entirely consistent with modern physics, whereas Newtonian physics posits a WYSIWYG universe.
The second assumption underlying the practice of TT is that illness is an imbalance in the human energy field, which is in constant motion, as are all energy fields. This dynamism is orderly; it is patterned, balanced, and symmetrical. In the individual who is fully evolved physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, the energy field is perfectly patterned or ordered, totally balanced, and completely symmetrical. Of course, other than the great teachers of the world (such as Buddha or Christ) none of us are fully evolved. Our energy fields are, therefore, never totally balanced and completely symmetrical.
However, if the pattern, balance, or symmetry of one’s field is considerably disturbed, this disturbance or arrhythmia may manifest in a variety of ways: physically, we may get a cold, headache, or other physical ailment; emotionally, we may feel agitated or depressed; mentally, we may find ourselves having negative thought patterns or an inability to think clearly; and spiritually, we may question our own beliefs. It is posited that, when the energy flow is restored to its normal state of balance and harmony, health will be restored.
Several points need to be considered with regard to the assumption that illness is an imbalance in the energy field. First, this may imply that the energy imbalance precedes and causes the illness. It is entirely possible, however, that an illness may precede and cause the energy imbalance as, for example, in the case of a so-called accident. If a normally healthy individual falls, and fractures a leg, the fall and the broken leg will cause the subsequent energy imbalance. However, if this individual is “accident-prone,” suffered frequent mishaps, it is likely that an energy imbalance is be the cause.
Another consideration, from a somewhat different viewpoint, is derived from the framework under which TT was developed. Shaped within the theosophical worldview, the development of TT was also influenced by the theory of Unitary Human Beings, articulated by Martha Rogers in her Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing. It is the conceptual model used to guide the nursing curriculum at New York University. According to this model, the linear model of our universe is flawed and, therefore, cause and effect cannot be known definitively. And so we do not see causal relationships, but rather reciprocal relationships (97). Applied to TT, we would say that there is a manifest illness. We cannot assume whether the energy field imbalance caused the illness or the illness caused the imbalance. However, we can say that there is a direct relationship between the energy field imbalance and the illness; one cannot appear without the other; modifying one will, therefore, modify the other.
The final consideration with regard to this second assumption is that the direct relationship between illness and energy field imbalance does not negate germ theory. Germ theory is the theory that foreign organisms, bacteria for example, cause physical illness and to restore health, medical care may be required, including medication. There is no conflict whatsoever between energy field theory and germ theory. Let us use the example of an individual with a streptococcus throat infection (strep throat). What is the cause of this problem? Is it an energy field imbalance or the streptococcus bacteria? Should this person be treated with TT to correct an energy field imbalance or with antibiotics to eradicate the causative bacteria? Clearly, medication is required to eradicate the bacterial infection and it would be dangerous to do otherwise. However, we may consider the reason this individual succumbed to a particular infection when others sharing the same space have not. An energy field imbalance has compromised this individual’s immune system making him more susceptible to foreign organisms and to infection. This person will recover much more quickly when treated with TT, but still requires an antibiotic to eradicate the causative bacteria. This last consideration leads to an essential mandate regarding treatment with TT: it is not a substitute for medical care; rather, it is an adjunct to medical care.
The third assumption underlying the practice of TT is that the human being is an open system. The term system, that is, a set of things working together, or an interconnecting network, implies that we are unified wholes. Not only is each component of the physical body linked and interdependent, but also similarly, each dimension (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) is linked and interdependent.
An open system is one that is in constant interaction with its environment. According to General Systems Theory, every system that is living is open and interacting with its environment; a closed system cannot live.
We all have experienced this openness with our environments. For example, when entering a new place, perhaps a room where we never have been, we immediately feel “at home” with the place or the people and want to remain there. A colloquialism often used to describe this is that the place has “good vibes.” The opposite experience occurs when we enter a new environment and, for no apparent reason, feel uncomfortable with the place and the people and want to leave. The colloquialism used here would be that the situation has “bad vibes.”
We generally feel good and uplifted when around peaceful, joyous people and feel uncomfortable when with angry or restless people. There is no choice but to be open to our environments; it is not possible to close ourselves off from the energy fields around us, or to close our fields so others do not affect them. Our skin, our perceived boundary, is not a boundary at all. In fact, our boundaries are undefined.
Without this third assumption, TT could not be effective. The first two assumptions, that humans are energy fields and that illness is an imbalance in the energy field, are insufficient. If the recipient’s energy field is not open, the TT practitioner could not have any effect on it.
Assumptions from the Theosophical Perspective
Many wonder why TT is taught and practiced worldwide in theosophical lodges and centers. Not only was TT developed by two lifelong theosophists, but it reflects the theosophical world view and is, therefore, consistent with theosophical doctrine and practice. From the perspective of the theosophical world view, there are four assumptions underlying the practice of TT.
The first assumption is that there is but one reality, an underlying Unity of all existence. In other words, all life, in fact, the whole manifest universe, emanates from one source. All existence is interconnected. Metaphorically, we are all sparks of the one flame. If there is only One, it follows that matter and energy are two expressions of that One; and that they are equivalent. Therefore, any change in the subtle energy field affects the grosser physical, and likewise, any change in the physical affects the more subtle energy. Thus, when TT alters the subtle human energy field, effects may be experienced in the physical body.
The second assumption is that an innate intelligence or wisdom prevails throughout the universe. Our universe is patterned, ordered, and purposeful, with an inherent harmony, a tendency toward equilibrium. The pattern and order in the universe is undeniable. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Furthermore, the time of sunrise and sunset may be accurately predicted. Acorns that fall from oak trees germinate and produce new oak trees, not maple or elm trees. The seasons follow one after the other in an orderly cycle. The tendency toward equilibrium is a manifestation of the law of karma, the Great Law that restores balance in the universe. It is the Great Equalizer, restoring equilibrium or, as Plato described it, the Good (Allegory of the Cave, Republic VII). Healing is a natural consequence of this tendency toward equilibrium, toward the Good. Our bodies, emotions, minds, and spirits enjoy this natural tendency toward the Good, and TT merely enhances this natural tendency toward order and health.
The third assumption is also related to karma, the law of adjustment, of cause and effect. We are not in a position to know what karma is and how it plays out. If an individual is ill and suffering, perhaps it is their karma to experience the healing effects of TT. Perhaps the fact that this suffering individual crossed my path is my karma in order to provide me with the opportunity to learn and to grow through our mutual interaction. Of course, we cannot eradicate another person’s karma, but we may influence or mitigate it. We can help smooth out scars of past experiences (samskaras), through facilitating the person’s inner change. Regardless of how we may speculate, TT provides the opportunity to alleviate suffering in others, to act in compassion.
The fourth assumption is that consciousness is primary. It conceives, directs, and governs gross physical matter. And so, our conscious intent, if properly directed, can affect the subtler energies, resulting in changes physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
A Compassionate Universe
When practitioners provide TT, they are instruments of compassion; when I provide TT for another, I do not feel compassion, I am compassion. Our universe is compassionate, and when I am doing TT, the universe is acting through me; I am simply acting as an instrument of the universal healing energy, fulfilling the universal dharma of compassion. If it is the karma of the person receiving TT to achieve greater health, it will happen. If it is that person’s karma to suffer from some physical, emotional, or mental affliction, perhaps the TT may assist them to have the strength and insight to better deal with their illness. Whatever the result, we cannot place a value on the outcome, nor can we desire any specific outcome. As Dora Kunz frequently reminded the nurses she taught for decades, TT is offered with no attachment to the result, knowing that “the outcome is not in our hands.”
Some people ask, “What do theosophists do other than meditate and sit around discussing?” An outgrowth of both the theosophical worldview and modern physics, TT is a compassionate intervention used worldwide to alleviate suffering. TT is an example of theosophy in action.
As generally taught and practiced, TT consists of five steps usually performed while the recipient is seated in a chair with eyes closed and feet flat on the floor.
A typical TT treatment lasts approximately 10-20 minutes, although treatments may extend up to 30 minutes or more. For more detailed information, see Therapeutic Touch: A Practical Guide.
Macrae, Janet. Therapeutic Touch: A Practical Guide. NY: Alfred A.Knopf, 1988
Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Tr. B. Jowett. New York: Random House. 1937
Rogers, Martha. An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 1970.
Nelda Samarel is the Director of the Krotona School of Theosophy in Ojai, CA and Western District Director of the Theosophical Society in America. A practitioner and teacher of Therapeutic Touch for over twenty-five years, Nelda has taught TT throughout the world, received national funding to research its effectiveness, and published several articles on the subject in professional journals.
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