Therapeutic Touch (TT) is one of the complementary and alternative medicine practices based on using human energy to heal some medical problems. It consists of three steps: centering, assessment and intervention, but no step requires actual contact with the human body. As with most CAM modalities and practices, it is a highly controversial issue, and there is an ongoing debate about its effectiveness. One of the prominent works devoted to this topic is A Close Look At Therapeutic Touch by Rosa, which provides evidence of its failure and unjustifiable use.1 This essay will provide a critical evaluation of the study, starting with the identification of the reasons and the recommendations based on it and proceeding with the multidimensional critique.
To begin with, it is essential to understand the preconditions of conducting this type of research by Rosa. The complementary and alternative medicine methods, especially ones concerning distant healing, such as prayer or therapeutic touch, remain debatable issues, with some scholars proving their effectiveness.2 Rosa’s research could be called a complimentary one to these opponents of the therapeutic touch. Even though the roots of medicine lie in Asian traditions, namely in Indian prana or Chinese qi, nowadays, the practice attracts the attention of practitioners all around the globe. Rosa argues that most of the research in favor of the method is qualitative rather than quantitative, and thus, represents anecdotal evidence based on people’s descriptions of their feelings. This study, in turn, intends to fill the gaps in the study of this subject. It involves 21 people tested for their ability to feel this human energetic field (HEF). They should have identified and placed the investigator’s hand under blinded conditions. Based on this research, the main recommendation was to terminate any further practice of the therapeutic touch due to its groundless claims.
The first problem with this research connects with the investigator. It is evident that a particular bias is present before conducting the study and the authors admit that they are not the proponents of the TT. Moreover, throughout the literature analysis, a clear overweight of the unsupportive works could be observed. As the investigated issue is connected with human energy, it is possible to assume that the investigator’s attitude has a strong correlation with the outcomes. The investigation itself was performed by a child to obtain the trust of the people but not to demonstrate its trustworthiness to the readers. Thus, the study cannot be called objective as it is initially directed at obtaining the specific results that disprove the effectiveness of the therapeutic touch and not at conducting general research on the topic.
Proceeding to the sample, it is essential to notice that it was utterly random, without any common characteristics of patients except for being between 1 and 27 years old. As per evidence-based medicine, a patient or a problem should be possibly described in terms of similar groups. Furthermore, the empirical evidence-based 21 people are not enough to prove or disprove the effectiveness of the method used by a hundred thousand people. Even if no other proponent quantitative study up to date has used a more significant sample, it is essential to expand the number of people.
The control methods are relatively straightforward, as a tall opaque screen and a draped towel apparently ensure the fairness of the conducting of the experiment. However, the disproof of the influence of such external factors as air movement and body heat seems not convincing, as only seven subjects were in the experiment. Hence, being the less controversial issue in this research, there is still room for improvement in the control methods.
The study’s design in relation to the principles of TT is the most problematic element of the research. Its objective is the most severe issue, as it is not directed at any medical outcomes but only at the identification of the human energy field. The connection between the ability to ‘feel’ it and the actual effect of the therapeutic touch is not explored throughout the study. Thus, the investigator’s reasons for performing the research on the topic of the theory of healing do not include any healing methods and, therefore, cannot be considered tangible evidence of its ineffectiveness. Moreover, due to this fact, it lacks the comparative perspective with the standard therapy, which demonstrates the absence of a crucial element of the well-formed clinical question.3 Hence, it could be inferred that as the connection between the feeling of the HEF and the outcomes of TT is not proven by this research, it can hardly be used for providing any recommendations.
To conclude, this essay provided a critical overview of the study conducted by Rosa, considering such elements as an investigator, sample, controls, and the design of the research in relation to the therapeutic touch. The main inference is that the information and the empirical evidence presented in this quantitative paper are not sufficient to justify the ineffectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine practices. Therefore, any recommendations given in the paper, including one to stop further TT implementation, are not convincing.
Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, Barrett S. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA. 1998;279(13):1005-1010.
Astin JA, Harkness E, Ernst E. The efficacy of “distant healing”: a systematic review of randomized trials. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine. 2000;5:181.
Heneghan C, Badenoch D. Evidence-based Medicine Toolkit. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing; 2006.