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Energy Healing In Maryland

I had an interesting conversation with a reporter today. She called me to get a “medical/skeptical” counterpoint for an article she is preparing on energy healing. Although I don’t know if she’ll faithfully represent what I had to say, we had an entertaining exchange and so I decided to capture the essence of it here. I’m curious to see which parts of our conversation remain in her final article, due out on February 19th. (Stay tuned for that).

Apparently a local hospital in Maryland is now offering nurse-guided therapeutic touch and Reiki healing for inpatients. She decided to interview the practitioners involved, and turned to me for comment. I did not have the benefit of preparing in advance or having references handy – so I gave it my best shot. I’d be interested to know how you might have responded differently.

1. Is there any scientific evidence that energy healing works?

No. There is currently no conclusive evidence that energy healing is more effective than placebo.  Furthermore, there’s no known mechanism whereby an unmeasurable energy could be manipulated to improve one’s health. Such ideas hearken back to a point in history when we didn’t understand the pathophysiology of disease. Hundreds of years ago we had no idea about bacteria, viruses, and the genetics of cancer for example. We did the best guess work we could – and chalked up diseases to mysterious energy imbalances. But thanks to scientific inquiry, we now know a lot more about the true causes of disease.

2. Why do patients turn to “alternative medicine” modalities like energy healing?

In my view, there are two things that drive people to try alternative medicine: 1) They are not satisfied with their current medical treatment – either because there is no cure or sufficient palliation for their disease/condition, or they may have been misdiagnosed, or their emotional needs have not been adequately addressed and 2) People want to feel in control of their health. Unfortunately, the human death rate is still 100%, no matter how hard we try to cheat it. There comes a time when each of us will be very unhappy with our “health outcome.”

I also think that our fragmented healthcare system (with all its perverse incentives) results in a high degree of frustration, access problems, and insufficient time actually getting to the bottom of diagnostic conundrums. Best Doctors estimates that up to 20% of patients have been given the wrong medical diagnosis – probably because the patients were rushed through a busy office without their medical history (and all the tests and medical records) being adequately reviewed. Our broken system sets people up to look further for solutions – and sometimes the path of least resistance is to pay an alternative medicine practitioner to hear your case.

3. Do you think CAM is popular?

It depends on how you define CAM. If you take the broadest definition of it (and include vitamins and prayer as types of CAM) then, yes, most people have tried it. But if you’re asking how many Americans regularly use Reiki, Reflexology, or healing touch, the number is probably less than 1%. While it’s true that more and more academic institutions are setting up “integrative medicine centers” to incorporate CAM into scientific medical practices, I’m also seeing a growing number of skeptics online and in mainstream media. Newsweek took Oprah to task for her steady parade of TV pseudoscience, Amy Wallace exposed the anti-vaccine movement at Wired Magazine, Dave Whelan is doing some quackery exposes at Forbes, and AP’s Marilynn Marchione has taken on false cancer cures. Even Washington is showing a hint of skepticism – with John McCain’s new bill essentially seeking to bring supplements back under some degree of control by the FDA.

4. Do you think that CAM practitioners are intentionally dishonest and selling their therapies for profit?

Some may be that way, but the majority probably really believe in what they’re doing. There is a tendency for CAM practitioners to support their beliefs with anecdotes, though. They believe that their treatments “work” because they’ve witnessed patients getting better. Of course, a certain percentage of patients will always get better on their own. I also think that there’s great value in “talk therapy” – discussing an illness with a empathic listener can reduce anxiety and make a person feel better. CAM practitioners spend a lot of time listening and expressing empathy – which is probably their secret to success (not the “magical” properties of energy healing).

Remember that placebos have effects, and are especially good at modulating the perception of pain or emotional disturbances. I have no doubt that many CAM therapies have placebo effects.

5. What do you think of reflexology?

The idea that body parts and organ systems can be influenced by applying pressure to the feet is part of an old fashioned system of thinking. There is no “humunculus” on the feet (or ears for that matter) and we have proven that with modern brain imaging. Reflexology was created before we understood how the nervous system works or the complex pathophysiology of disease.

But foot massage does feel good, so I can see why some people might be drawn to reflexology as a proxy for a good foot massage.

6. What do you think of healing touch in hospitals?

I’m not a fan. I think it’s misleading to patients – to use the credibility and trust of the hospital’s “brand” to make patients think that they’re receiving a scientifically-proven therapy.  There’s no conclusive evidence that touching patients makes a difference in most disease outcomes – and I would wager that blocking off time for nurses to engage in compassionate dialog with patients would have a similar positive emotional effect. Why the pretense that something scientific is happening? Let’s just make time for normal caring gestures and some good talk therapy.

7. What about yoga and Pilates?

There’s no doubt that exercise – in pretty much any form – is good for the body. Stretching exercises are a valuable part of physical fitness, and core strengthening can reduce the chance of low back injuries for example. I think that yoga and Pilates – and Tai Chi or bowling for that matter – all have a roll in healthy activity levels. These kind of low impact exercises are particularly good for the elderly, and can help to keep the mind active as well.

Posted in: Energy Medicine, Science and the Media

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73 thoughts on “Energy Healing In Maryland

  1. rork says:

    The low coefficient of anger was good/effective.

  2. windriven says:

    A fine job laying out the facts. Where we lose in popular media is not selling the snap and sizzle of modern medicine. Average people relate to anecdotes – witness their power in the CAM armamentarium. They play well on television and the read well in magazines and newspapers. Anecdotes give people a way to relate to powerful forces that they don’t understand. We have anecdeotes too – hugely powerful stories of lives changed and lives saved. Why should we cede this powerful communications strategy to the fruit-loops?

  3. Tantalus Prime says:

    This wouldn’t happen to be Maryland Shock Trauma in Baltimore would it? They’ve been doing this for a few years now (see link).

    http://tantalusprime.blogspot.com/2007/10/woo-comes-to-trauma-ward.html

  4. Franklin says:

    I agree rork – I think a lot of times the average person who doesn’t really encounter alternative medicine (or alternative claims in general) is very easily put off by shrill skeptics.

    I think the emotional and empathic approach of these practitioners is indeed their main selling point. If we could get more of that from the medical “establishment” into the public eye, then people might not be so ready to abandon scientific medicine.

    Additionally, people like to say (and I agree) that doctors who don’t pay attention to people or who prescribe treatments with other interests in mind than simply the patient’s needs are simply bad doctors and that this isn’t scientific medicine as a whole. However, it is undeniable that the system is broken and the perverse insentives you mention do drive less than patient-oriented care. And while a lot of anecdotes don’t add up to data, if so many people are unsatisfied with the medical system, maybe it warrants further investigation and discussion.

    I have great sympathy for people who seek help outside the establishment, especially if what they really need is simply someone to listen to them. I have a friend in this situation right now. He has an intractible disease and had some rude doctors and now he is seeing an accupuncturist and he feels a lot better. (for the record, I’m a hard-nosed skeptic about all this)

    In addition to exposing the alternatives to medicine, what can be done to improve the established medical system? It seems like the whole healthcare/insurance debacle in D.C. is eroding people’s trust in the system even more. It’s making so many people believe that money is all that matters, and I’ve heard so many of my friends and family talk about seeking alternative medicine, in part because they can’t afford real care.

  5. bonedoc says:

    FYI:
    The Veterans Administration has been teaching energy medicine courses to nurses in West Los Angeles, CA.

    The course is “Healing Touch Certificate Program – Level 1″ during which “participants practice and share experiences using energy-based healing techniques.”

    Session topics include: “Energy System”, “Energy Assessment Pendulum & Hand Chakras”, “Magnetic Clearing 2:1”, “Chakra Meditation”, “Chakra Connection”, “Mind Clearing (Optional)”, and “Legal & Ethics/Standards of Practice/Scope of Practice” among others.

    The brochure disclaimer begins with “The VA Employee Education System (EES) must ensure balance, independence, objectivity, and scientific rigor in all its individually sponsored or jointly EES sponsored educational activities.”

    The courses are accredited by American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the California Board of Registered Nursing (CA BRN).

  6. KathyO says:

    I wonder if it would make a difference if scientists made a greater effort to separate out the wheat from the chaff in CAM treatments. As Val Jones says, foot massage can make someone feel better even though reflexology is ridiculous.

    A friend of mine was interested in trying drum therapy for her child. She had been told (to the best of my memory) that the drumming would be in harmony with the earth’s rhythm and would align his chakras. Or something like that. I told her that even though there was no such thing as chakras (let alone the earth’s harmony), drumming obviously can affect one’s breathing and heart rate, and ultimately, one’s mood. By all means, I told her, see if your son enjoys listening to drumming.

    By the same token, maybe we should be more encouraging of people to enjoy massage or touching for the things it does provide, not for imaginary benefits.

  7. micheleinmichigan says:

    Dr J. said “I also think that our fragmented healthcare system (with all its perverse incentives) results in a high degree of frustration, access problems, and insufficient time actually getting to the bottom of diagnostic conundrums. Best Doctors estimates that up to 20% of patients have been given the wrong medical diagnosis – probably because the patients were rushed through a busy office without their medical history (and all the tests and medical records) being adequately reviewed. Our broken system sets people up to look further for solutions – and sometimes the path of least resistance is to pay an alternative medicine practitioner to hear your case.”

    This is a great paragraph! Not only is it a good encapsulation of why mistakes are made and one reason people seek CAM, it shows ways that SBM care could be improved to diminish interest in CAM.

    Bravo!

  8. skepchick says:

    WHICH local hospital in Maryland? It had better not be mine!

    I worked at Shock Trauma five years ago and for sure there wasn’t any “therapeutic touch” or Reiki in the PICU then. (Are kids susceptible to woo? Surely they like attention.) But there is harp music in the NICU at a large medical center in Annapolis, even though you can’t hear it in any individual infant’s room. I suppose the RNs find it relaxing?

  9. pmoran says:

    The best argument against healing touch within hospitals is that nursing resources can almost certainly be better spent.

  10. Geekoid says:

    @pmoran – is sad that the best argument against isn’t
    “That shit don’t work.”

  11. micheleinmichigan says:

    # Geekoid “That shit don’t work”

    Well reading the respectful insolence article it sounds like some mindfulness, distraction and cognitive therapy techniques wrapped in a new agey, eastern package. So it wouldn’t be surprising if it is successful in lifting spirits and shifting the patients focus of their pain. (I know, I just said mindfulness, don’t hurt me)

    You could probably come up with a similar science based program targeting techniques used in art therapy and CBT, but it wouldn’t have the brand recognition.

    Maybe you could give it one of those sound alike names. seiki, leiki (no) geiki…

    pmoran – better to spend money on nurses.

    Respectful Insolence points out that this seems to be billed outside insurance as an “alternative service” He says it better.

  12. Zoe237 says:

    Sounds just like religion in science to me. As an agnostic, and someone who believes in “what you see is what you get,” desiring religious-like ritual is completely foreign to me. However, it does seem that many people crave these kind of interactions. I wonder what the solution is. To play devil’s advocate though, they have chaplains in hospitals, and I don’t believe for a second that prayer works to heal people. So why not reiki practitioners? Is the mind/body connection real or overblown?

  13. wertys says:

    Don’t panic michelle, used properly the mindfulness approach is quite an effective science-based modality in pain management. See for example

    Pain. 2008 Feb;134(3):310-9. Epub 2007 Jun 1.
    Pain. 2010 Jan;148(1):120-7. Epub 2009 Nov 26.
    Pain. 2010 Jan;148(1):141-7. Epub 2009 Nov 28.

    as a small selection of the serious liter-a-ture (as Mark Crislip might say.

    Just don’t call it mind-body medicine within my earshot !

  14. Zetetic says:

    BTW – “Therapeutic Touch” isn’t even touching! It’s movement of the hands a couple of inches above the patient. And there are two camps among the nursing profession involved with this. The other group is called “Healing Touch” and they don’t get along.

  15. qetzal says:

    Zoe237,

    A hospital chaplain can provide spiritual comfort to religious patients without claiming the ability to heal them through prayer. And, more importantly, a hospital chaplain doesn’t charge patients for what he does.

    So, why not reiki practitioners? Because they make false claims about healing patients by manipulating non-existent energy fields. And they get paid for it. I imagine the hospital gets a cut as well.

    IMO, the patient is being defrauded – primarily by the hospital. The reiki practitioners can be at least partly excused, since most of them are probably sincerely convinced by their own nonsense. The hospital should be allowed no such excuse.

    Note: I have no objection at all to providing spiritual and emotional support, even for a fee. I don’t even object to telling patients that improving their emotional well-being might have physical benefits as well. Just don’t make up a bunch of bogus crap about energy fields, wave your hands around, and claim that you’ve got special healing powers.

    And don’t let others do it in your hospital, either.

  16. Zoe237 says:

    “A hospital chaplain can provide spiritual comfort to religious patients without claiming the ability to heal them through prayer. And, more importantly, a hospital chaplain doesn’t charge patients for what he does.”

    Many Christian chaplains believe just that, particularly evangelical ones. In fact, healing through prayer (but not by itself… they don’t trust God that much!) a KEY component of many major religions. Of course, they also use modern medicine (most of them), but so do reiki patients. As far as getting paid, volunteer Reiki practitioners would be a okay? What if acupuncturists/ Reiki/ TT whatever baloney practiced in a church of shaman healing? Again, what’s the solution for those who crave religious-like “influence” over their health, but aren’t Christian? In my mind, that’s why the new agey stuff is exploding, as society becomes more secular.

  17. pmoran says:

    “The best argument against healing touch within hospitals is that nursing resources can almost certainly be better spent.”

    “@pmoran – is sad that the best argument against isn’t
    “That shit don’t work.””
    ==============================
    It depends upon whether you want a bitter argument, or you merely wish to effectively counter the practice.

    In surgical wards a quick round of all patients will ALWAYS find patients who are in need of standard nursing care or who merely need to know they are not forgotten.

  18. ceekay says:

    Pilates? Pleeaase

    Show me the double blinded randomized clinical trial evidence evidence that it works!

    On the other hand, compassionate, caring touch (regardless of the “energy” BS that a nurse might use while she does it) is definitely evidence-based. Look at Uvnas-Moberg’s studies on touch and the release of oxytocin in rats and humans.

    I bet if you compare the evidence-base of compassionate touch (what in animals would be called grooming touch) with Pilates, there would be a much stronger basis for touch.

    How about it?

  19. micheleinmichigan says:

    # Zoe237 and others

    I’m an agnostic too, but I’m also an artist, so I have an interest in how visual, tactile, dramatic, musical elements can help people access useful emotions. This is a very powerful element in many religions as well.

    I don’t think this should be ignored in a hospital setting. There are goals outside fixing the bones, skin, organs. Reduction of stress, lowering chance of depression or use of pain medication can be valuable goals. I would guess, there are many ways to help patients access more useful emotional states of relaxations, resilence, amusment, bravery, inspiration, etc. Sometimes this is accomplished with the help of family members, clergy, etc. But I think it’s can be useful to look at new techniques or let outside groups work within the hospital to offer new techniques. As for me, if I were in the hospital, I’d prefer a therapy dog over a spiritual practitioner or my MIL visiting any day.

    BUT I think the use of nurses in any alternative therapy is a bad idea. It is a waste of nurses training and I want the nursing profession to be about caring and knowledge regarding a patients MEDICAL needs. There is no way I would trust someone who genuinely believes they will heal me with their hands, to administer any medication.

    “I bet if you compare the evidence-base of compassionate touch (what in animals would be called grooming touch) with Pilates, there would be a much stronger basis for touch.

    How about it?”

    They are two different things. Pilates is exercise. It has the benefits of exercise. Touch is a social instinct. Apples and Oranges.

  20. Zoe237 says:

    “BUT I think the use of nurses in any alternative therapy is a bad idea. It is a waste of nurses training and I want the nursing profession to be about caring and knowledge regarding a patients MEDICAL needs. There is no way I would trust someone who genuinely believes they will heal me with their hands, to administer any medication. ”

    Definitely. Actually, I would probably run the other way from any such services.

  21. qetzal says:

    Zoe237,

    Being atheist, I may be mistaken about hospital chaplains, but don’t they usually strive to be relatively nondemoninational? I’d be quite surprised if hospital chaplains routinely performed faith healings as part of their jobs. (Unless maybe they work at private, fundamentalist hospitals or something.)

    To me, praying with a patient, even praying for their recovery, is a different matter than offering to perform faith healing (or healing energy manipulation). Especially if it’s being offered on a fee-for-service basis.

    Regarding Reiki practitioners, the best case would be that the hospital gives them no support and receives no income from them. If a patient wants to pay for a private Reiki woo-master to come to their room and massage their energy fields, the hospital shouldn’t interfere, any more than a hospital should interfere if a patient wants their personal pastor to come and pray with them.

    But a hospital should NOT be promoting Reiki, or making any special accommodations for its practitioners. They shouldn’t advertise it, they shouldn’t provide dedicated space for it, and they definitely shouldn’t have Reiki practitioners on staff or offer Reiki as hospital-sponsored service.

    All IMO, of course.

  22. micheleinmichigan says:

    Actually, I would go so far as to have a “patient non-medical services” brochure that shows an offering of services by various organizations, chaplains, therapy dog organization, hair dresser, massage (not by physcial therapist) or other alternative therapies.

    Listing participants would have to meet hospital approval, undergo a training program and sign code of conduct form stating their access will be revoked if they interfere with patient medical treatment in anyway. Participants who work for free get listed free. Participants who charge a fee, pay an access or listing fee.

    Brochure would have a disclaimer saying that the listing is a courtesy to patients, providers do not meet medical evidence standards and are not employed by the hospital.

    There are probably glaring holes in this idea, but there it is.

  23. micheleinmichigan says:

    actually, the fee structure might get problematic if the hospital becomes dependent on fees ex: U.S schools and Soda Machines.

  24. Todd W. says:

    Energy healing is endorsed in the Partners HealthCare Network in Massachusetts, too. Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital not only offers reiki to patients, but has seminars to teach it to nurses and other health care professionals. Brigham & Women’s Hospital, as I understand it, offers reiki. I’m not certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised in Massachusetts General Hospital also offers some manner of energy healing. Hopefully the article will shine the light of reason on the issues in MD. Be nice if the Boston media would do the same here.

    Energy healing is a waste of time, a waste of money and emotional manipulation. Sickening, really.

  25. BillyJoe says:

    qetzal said,

    “But a hospital should NOT be promoting Reiki, or making any special accommodations for its practitioners. They shouldn’t advertise it, they shouldn’t provide dedicated space for it, and they definitely shouldn’t have Reiki practitioners on staff or offer Reiki as hospital-sponsored service.”

    I fully agree.

    “If a patient wants to pay for a private Reiki woo-master to come to their room and massage their energy fields, the hospital shouldn’t interfere, any more than a hospital should interfere if a patient wants their personal pastor to come and pray with them.”

    I slightly disagree.
    If the pastor is providing emotional support there is no problem. But, if he comes as a “faith healer” I do see a problem. For the same reason, Reiki practitioners should be banned unless and untill they can demonstrate that what they do is plausible and works, otherwise the hospital is giving tacit support no matter what their policy statements say.

  26. I know a doctor who allows traditional Chinese (or whatever, depending on the ethnicity) healing methods when a patient is terminal. It allows the family to feel as though they’ve “tried everything.”

  27. edgar says:

    I generally agree with you, but then one ‘but what about’ that stuck in my mind is Kangaroo care, and conversely FTT for a baby that is denied contact.
    Care to comment?

  28. micheleinmichigan says:

    “If the pastor is providing emotional support there is no problem. But, if he comes as a “faith healer” I do see a problem. For the same reason, Reiki practitioners should be banned unless and untill they can demonstrate that what they do is plausible and works, otherwise the hospital is giving tacit support no matter what their policy statements say.”

    I disagree. The patient is still a free individual how should be able to associate with whom they please (as visitors) regardless of how misguided that person’s beliefs are. I have a old and good friend who is very into alternative/pagan healing type stuff. If she wants to chant over me and I decide to humor her, or if I’m stressed out and decide to believe her (that would be a high level of stress) that is my business.

    Of course if someone in any of these roles is interfering with care, they should be treated like any other family or friend who is interfering with care (someone sneaking a bottle into someone in liver failure, or trying to discourage a trama patient from taking needed pain meds).

    Having visitors of any ilk does not imply approval of their behavior by the hospital.

  29. EricG says:

    @ Dr. Jones

    Fantastic. very fair, very straight forward, very diplomatic. I like the approach almost saying, “theres no question that some of these modalities might be effective some way some how, but they aren’t really medicine as much as they are human bonding”

    @ KathyO

    Ditto on the 2nd paragraph. my gf and I had a talk when she got started in yoga cause she was scared she might get wooed away. I said, “hey, whatever helps you practice yoga better…just know that its exercise, not magic.”

    @ ceekay

    lol, double blind pilates? im dying to see that.

    “welcome to pilates. for the next hour you will stand still and i will do nothing. enjoy the pilates.”

    @ qetzal

    your response : qetzal on 05 Feb 2010 at 10:23 am

    i’ll second that. essentially my perspective as well. with careful consideration of BillyJoe’s caveats

    so, where are the ever dying supporters of woo in the comments that would normally flood for this special opportunity to assert some anecdotes?

  30. Fifi says:

    Dr Jones – Thanks for sharing this and your very sensible (and may I say kind) approach. I particularly appreciate you saying “Let’s just make time for normal caring gestures and some good talk therapy.” It can be easy to underestimate just how much relief that we humans – who are social animals – get from something as simple as being truly heard and seen, offered some compassion and empathy, a kind word or a bit of gentle and caring touch. It’s not magic, it’s just being a relaxed human who feels accepted into the group :-)

    KathyO – “By the same token, maybe we should be more encouraging of people to enjoy massage or touching for the things it does provide, not for imaginary benefits.”

    I agree totally. In some ways it’s a bit sad that something as basic as gentle touch (or massage) has taken on magical qualities and is so removed from some people’s everyday experience that it seems like magic! It’s a bit of a WASP and/or Puritan cultural hangover I suspect.

    wertys – My apologies if I’ve given you the creeps using “body/mind connection” or “brain/mind” (it’s just the easiest way to say it for people to understand what one means, in my experience). Not that I’d call mindfulness or cognitive behavioral practices “mind/body medicine”. Interestingly, on a personal level I find “mindfulness” sounds more associated with religion or woo to me since it’s generally the term used with certain kinds of Buddhist meditations and practices. That said, it really is the best descriptor for what the practices entail. “Paying attention” practices just doesn’t have the same ring to it!

  31. Fifi says:

    qetzal – “Note: I have no objection at all to providing spiritual and emotional support, even for a fee. I don’t even object to telling patients that improving their emotional well-being might have physical benefits as well. Just don’t make up a bunch of bogus crap about energy fields, wave your hands around, and claim that you’ve got special healing powers.”

    I agree, mainly because it’s misrepresenting what’s going on and making it something that can only be provided by magically qualified people (for a fee). It’s much more ethical to educate people about reality and empower them to do kind and nurturing things for themselves or their loved ones for free, or to meditate or practice being mindful, or how their body works vis a vis relaxation and feeling good, than it is to pretend that it’s some kind of magic (particularly magic that can only be provided by special people for a fee). Not that I object to people paying for things if they don’t have anyone to give them a hug or a foot massage, or if they don’t know how to relax, it’s just unethical to pretend it’s magic.

  32. cloudskimmer says:

    Great article! Thank you.

    But when you said “There is no “humunculus” on the feet” did you mean “homunculus,” as in the miniature human thought to inhabit the head of a sperm? The other word is not in my dictionary. And while we’re at it, what is IMO?

    to Zoe237: in the latest attempt to pass a health care reform bill, Christian Scientists were asking to be paid for intercessory prayer, so sometimes religious figures do want a cut of the already expensive, so-called “health care” system we have in the United States. And California licenses quacks who practice acupuncture, chiropractic and naturopathy, so insurers sometimes pay for these practices.

    to micheleinmichigan: Sadly, hospitals do not employ many of the people who work there. A recent form I saw recently, which had to be signed prior to admission, indicated that nearly all the Doctors are NOT employed by the hospital, nor will they accept any responsibility for the Doctors’ actions, which I thought was pretty sad.

    Insofar as people should have the visitors they desire (in reasonable numbers,) when stuck in the hospital, certainly they can include faith-based and alternative practitioners. What is more worrisome to me is when a specific religion (Catholicism) sets up hospitals where they refuse to perform perfectly respectable medical procedures on religious grounds, even when doctor and patient are not Catholic. This is a clear instance where magical thinking overrides science-based medicine, and is the flip-side of hospitals providing alternative medicine. They deny access to real medicine while allowing magic in the hospital. None of this bodes well for the future of medicine.

  33. nitpicking says:

    Several posters have said that Reiki and Therapeutic Touch might have value because humans are reassured by physical contact with other humans.

    No. Reiki and TT involve not touching the patient. The practitioner waves her hands around and claims to have touched the patient’s energy field. In the case of some Reiki people they aren’t even on the same continent as their patients.

    @Cloudskimmer: the “homunculus” is a reference to the presence in the human brain of several geometric mappings, essentially distorted “drawings” of the human body, with the neurons in each region controlling or handling sense information from the corresponding portion of the body.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortical_homunculus

    “IMO” is “In My Opinion”.

  34. BillyJoe says:

    cloudskimmer said:

    ““homunculus,” as in the miniature human thought to inhabit the head of a sperm? ”

    nitpicking said:

    “the “homunculus” is a reference to the presence in the human brain of several geometric mappings, essentially distorted “drawings” of the human body”

    The homunculus in the head of the sperm dates back to the 17th century, which I think must predate the homunculus in the cerebral cortex. I could be wrong though

  35. nitpicking says:

    @BillyJoe, of course it does, but it isn’t what Dr. Jones was referring to. It’s just Latin for “little man”.

  36. BillyJoe says:

    @nitpicking:
    I was not commenting on Dr. Jones article, I was putting cloudskimmer’s derivation ahead of your own in an historical sense. ;)

  37. oderb says:

    EricG,

    You get your wish! Here I am as a devotee of woo with an anecdote.

    I have been seeing an energy healer/medical intuitive for many years, both in his office and over the telephone.

    As I have a slew of ‘real’ medical problems I rely on him to discern whether a particularly symptom is serious enough to see a doctor. I have of course no idea how he does what he does, but in over 50 calls/visits he has been 100% accurate in his assessments. These assessments were confirmed at least 7 or 8 times by conventional highly competent doctors, several of whom were astonished when I presented my diagnosis to them which sounded unlikely until their workout confirmed what I said to them).

    I am of course a control group of one and if anyone is still paying attention to this post no doubt the sarcasm and snarky comments will quickly follow.

    I know from my personal experience that he has this ‘magical’ ability to sense – non locally – signals – yet to be identified by science- that a living organism emanates.

    He was tested in a lab setting at a major university and was able to influence the health of a living organism located some distance away as measured by very sensitive instrumentation. That’s not proof but it is suggestive.

    Of course this experience doesn’t mean I believe that Reiki or TT works, only that it can work.

    Finally why do I bother writing when I know what reactions I will receive? Maybe it’s like Sodom and Gomorrah. If only one reader is open minded enough to have the humility to recognize that there are forces that we don’t yet know or can explain – however ‘implausible’ they may sound – and decides to look into it or even – gasp – go to an energy healer and see for him/herself (if only to write an entertaining post) then it’s worth it. Essentially maybe someone here will say – goodness that’s highly implausible, but maybe not impossible.

    I recognize the enormous psychological, intellectual and emotional investment that most all doctors/scientists have in the prevailing paradigm. If what my healer does is ultimately proven to be ‘real’, then much of what you all believe would need to be reassessed.

    No one likes to be in that situation, and so i understand the resistance, sarcasm and hostility with which posts like mine have engendered on this and other similar sites.

    ps I initially went to this healer with a great deal of skepticism, but like many who go this route, conventional medicine was not able to offer me much – either treatment or comfort, so I figured what the hell.

  38. BillyJoe says:

    Dear oderb,

    First of all, we do not know you from Snow White or one of her Seven Dwarves. You could be a pathological liar. You could someone out for a bit of fun. You could be deluded. Or you could be trustworthy and reliable – okay I don’t think you’re reliable because your post actually reveals that you definitely are not.

    You said went to this healer with a great deal of scepticism, right? Then why did you actually go to him? My own scepticism would prevent me from going to someone, whose ideas are antithetical to science, providing a treatment for which there is no scientific evidence. Also, “I figured what the hell” does not sound like a good reason for a sceptical person to attend a self styled “healer”.

    I doubt that conventional medicine hasn’t much to offer you in the way of treatment. You said you have a whole slew of real medical problems. What exactly are these slew of medical problems none of which, apparently, conventional medicine can treat? How unlucky can you be? And, if you didn’t get “comfort” from your doctor, did you try finding one who is more…um…comforting (hey, you said you were going to get sarcasm. I did not want to disappoint!) ?

    You said you know from your “personal experience that he has this ‘magical’ ability to sense – non locally – signals – yet to be identified by science- that a living organism emanates”.
    First of all, you must be aware (after all, you said “I am, of course, a control group of one”) that “personal experience” is so unreliable as to be almost useless as a method of separating fact from fiction. Hence the scientific method. Again, if you do not believe in the scientific method then, despite what you say, you are not a sceptic because the two are almost synonymous.

    Secondly, how exactly did your “personal experience” lead you to identify the mechanism as being one involving emanations from the living organism and non local signals. Did the healer feed you that line and you swallowed it hook and sinker? Or did you investigate and discover the mechanism for yourself? If so, please publish the results in a reputable peer reviewed scientific magazine so that we can evaluate your conclusions.

    You said that he has been 100% correct in 50 visits with 8 confirmed by highly competent doctors. A few things here: how do you know the other 42 were correct? How did you assess the competency of those doctors? Did they really confirm the daignoses? Or did they merely accept that they may be consistent with your symptoms?
    How do we even know that the statistics you have given us are correct? Apart form my earlier point about not knowing you from Snow White, we do not know how accurately you recorded the visits. Did you actually record them? Or did you rely on recall? You do know how unreliable recall is don’t you?

    You said he has been assessed in “a lab setting at a major university and was able to influence the health of a living organism located some distance away as measured by very sensitive instrumentation”. Do you know that for a fact? Or did he tell you that? Which major university? Which reputable scientists? How was he tested exactly? Do you have the protocols handy? Do you know how to assess a scientific trial for methodological flaws? If you don’t know the answer to all these questions, how can you be certain that, what you ask us to believe just because you say so, is actually true?

    You ask us to be open minded. Well, we try, but we are not going to fall for every crackpot healer or idea, related second hand by someone who doesn’t impress us with his scientific underpinnings, that happens to come our way. We have seen too many come and go, dissected, drawn and quartered and found disappointingly wanting. But we wait still, with open minds, for the evidence.
    But personal experience doesn’t cut it, so please don’t ask us to see that “healer” for ourselves. After all, that is how you were fooled (hey, that is the default position for someone who has seen too much to believe any of this is possible and untill the scientific evidence is presented).

    Finally, scientists are attached to the prevailing paradigm only as far and as long and to the extent that the evidence supports it. Give them the evidence that overturns that view and they will be happily to listen (okay, they may be exceptions). But, again, personal experience and some mumbo jumbo from a delusional mystic or scammer won’t cut it.

    I could go on and on, but enough already.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

  39. Dottor Emiliano says:

    Nice interview. I would like only to object partly to point 7.

    As Wertys suggested, there are growing clues that what is now called “mindfulness”, meaning an un-philosophical and unconfessional application of the trascendental meditation, owns a unique neurophysiological pattern and beneficial effects on blood pressure, adrenergic tone and even cardiovascular morbidity above what can be obtained by simple relaxating activities (such as bowling as you say, or listening to music).

    Evidence is still weak, with little (but rigorous) studies, but it’s something that has a biological plausibility supported by neuroimaging techniques.

  40. nitpicking says:

    @oderb,

    If you have seen 8 doctors 50 times for serious medical conditions, I am sorry you are so ill.

    If your “sensitive” can really do this, get him to apply for the Randi million-dollar challenge. If he wins, expect your (his) claim to be taken more seriously.

  41. Fifi says:

    nitpicking – “Reiki and TT involve not touching the patient. The practitioner waves her hands around and claims to have touched the patient’s energy field. In the case of some Reiki people they aren’t even on the same continent as their patients.”

    Well, yes, there is the whole silly distance healing aspect. However, what a lot of reiki and TT practitioners are actually doing are holding their hands just slightly over the person’s body so while they’re not actually touching the person the heat from the healer’s hands can be felt by the person being treated (and in a dry environment there’d be static electricity too). That’s what creates the the illusion of “energy transference” and “warm healing energy” (along with a good dose of imagination to create the narrative around the sensation). If someone is highly concentrated, the sensation of warmth if magnified. Also, our nervous system interprets gentle touch very differently than firm touch (think, for instance, of the sensation of a very gentle breeze). Add in that there’s often a visualization and relaxation aspect to these practices and it’s not surprising people feel “better” afterwards. It’s worth trying to understand what’s really going on rather than just dismissing something out of hand simply because the magical explanation is preposterous. I’ve found that being able to offer someone a plausible and understandable non-magical explanation is more effective at counteracting woo than simply telling someone they’re a deluded idiot who didn’t have an experience that they actually did have (though have created a false narrative around or mis-attributed to magic rather than real world mechanisms).

  42. Fifi says:

    oderb – “I am of course a control group of one”

    I think you misunderstand what a control group is and how the scientific method works. You’re not actually a scientific experiment of any kind or even using scientific methodology to try to discern what’s going on with yourself in as objective and unbiased manner as possible. You’re simply one person relating an anecdote about their experience.

    Control group
    Participants in a control group are used as a standard for comparison. For example, a particular study may divide participants into two groups – an “experimental group” and a “control group.” The experimental group is given the experimental treatment under study, while the control group may be given either the standard treatment for the illness or a placebo. At the end of the study, the results of the two groups are compared.

  43. rosemary says:

    oderb

    Please give us the name and contact numbers of your healer.

  44. Zoe237 says:

    “I’ve found that being able to offer someone a plausible and understandable non-magical explanation is more effective at counteracting woo than simply telling someone they’re a deluded idiot who didn’t have an experience that they actually did have (though have created a false narrative around or mis-attributed to magic rather than real world mechanisms).”

    Yep. The latter just drives people further away from science and more towards people who don’t believe in science, but at least don’t make them feel like idiots and are at least trying to help.

  45. Fifi says:

    Zoe – “The latter just drives people further away from science and more towards people who don’t believe in science, but at least don’t make them feel like idiots and are at least trying to help.”

    Totally, being adversarial or claiming a dominating authoritative position automatically puts someone on the defensive – particularly when it’s discussing a personal experience or belief. (Of course, when someone starts out being adversarial, defensive or on the offense, it’s not always possible to defuse the dynamic to simply have a rational discussion. Particularly if someone is blind to their own biases or assumes they don’t have any.)

    Most people actually like to understand things, it’s why so many of us are prone to considering magical explanations when we don’t have rational ones. Most of us are also not very comfortable with uncertainty so we’re prone to cling to potential explanations of various kinds that fit our belief systems. Trying to tell someone that their experience isn’t real is actually kind of stupid on the part of the person saying it because people’s experiences ARE real, it’s their explanations for their experiences that aren’t. A lot of people, even very intelligent ones who are science oriented, don’t understand the difference between subjective experience (and all of us experience reality subjectively) and objective measures and explanations. Trying to deny someone’s subjective experience – instead of simply discussing their explanation for that experience and offering another more plausible one that respects objective/physical reality as well as their subjective experience- really is actually kind of off the mark. We all like to believe our own senses and perception are accurate but the human brain/mind really is a bit of a kluge and prone to all kinds of errors. It’s why we use the scientific method in the first place :-)

  46. Newcoaster says:

    Val
    A very reasoned response, and please update us as to what they actually publish. It is really disheartening to see woo creep into hospitals and academic medicine.

    It was an attempt to bring Healing Touch into my little local hospital about 7-8 years ago that got me out of my skeptical closet to become more of an activist. I didn’t know much about it at the time, but did a lot of research, presented my findings and had a debate with the physician proponent and his nurse wife and the application was withdrawn.

  47. BillyJoe says:

    oderb said “I am of course a control group of one”
    Fifi said: “I think you misunderstand what a control group is”

    Yes, I missed that. I read what I thought he would have said rather than what he did say. To be clear, what I think he meant to say: “I am a clincal trial with and N of one”.

    (My response was basically that a clinical trial with an N of one does not and cannot provide any scientifically usefull information whatsoever.)

  48. Fifi says:

    BillyJoe – “(My response was basically that a clinical trial with an N of one does not and cannot provide any scientifically usefull information whatsoever.)”

    Agreed. Of course, we are all an N of 1 when it comes to treatments (which is not in any way to discount the usefulness of well done clinical trials or imply that we can extrapolate from our own experience or biology in a generalized way). I’d argue that oderb wasn’t even an N of 1 since he wasn’t even trying to observe himself with any procedures or concerns for objectivity or that control for bias. Really he’s just offering an anecdote regarding his subjective experience and the narrative he’s constructed or accepted to explain it.

  49. Forget Reiki– how great would it be if insurance paid for all hospital patients to get massages!

  50. BillyJoe says:

    Fifi,

    “I’d argue that oderb wasn’t even an N of 1 since he wasn’t even trying to observe himself with any procedures or concerns for objectivity or that control for bias.”

    I suspect you are correct, but I asked him several questions aimed at ascertaining whether or not he was fulfilling even those minimal requirements (of record keeping and objectivity), so perhaps we’ll wait for his response.

  51. oderb says:

    @nitpicking

    I did ask my healer about the Randi challenge. He said he looked into it quite seriously and was convinced that the structure was set up in such a way as to almost guarantee that no one, no matter how compelling their evidence was, could prevail.

    I will ask him if he could be more specific about the reasons for his skepticism about the program and I will report back.

    More later responding to the other comments.

  52. nitpicking says:

    Allow me to translate for the healer: even though under the terms of the challenge, I myself would set the conditions I would then have to meet in order to pass, somehow I would be unable to do so.

    In other words: I am scamming you.

  53. BillyJoe says:

    oderb,

    “I did ask my healer about the Randi challenge. He said he looked into it quite seriously and was convinced that the structure was set up in such a way as to almost guarantee that no one, no matter how compelling their evidence was, could prevail.”

    But, then, being the true sceptic that you are, you didn’t just accept his word for it but looked into it yourself.

    Didn’t you?

  54. tmac57 says:

    BillyJoe, nice dissection of oderb’s anecdote. I get very suspicious of statements like :
    “I have of course no idea how he does what he does, but in over 50 calls/visits he has been 100% accurate in his assessments. These assessments were confirmed at least 7 or 8 times by conventional highly competent doctors, several of whom were astonished when I presented my diagnosis to them which sounded unlikely until their workout confirmed what I said to them).”
    This sounds like someone who is working ‘overtime’ to convince the audience that they are really, really, really, telling a “true” story, even though it sounds fishy.

  55. Calli Arcale says:

    I did ask my healer about the Randi challenge. He said he looked into it quite seriously and was convinced that the structure was set up in such a way as to almost guarantee that no one, no matter how compelling their evidence was, could prevail.

    As the trials are designed in part by the applicant himself, such a lack of confidence can only mean three things (which are not mutually exclusive, I must point out):

    1) He has not actually investigated the JREF challenge to any real extent.

    2) He is paranoid enough to believe a conspiracy in anything.

    3) He knows his healing is actually a fake.

    Seriously, the million-dollar challenge is set up to be absolutely fair. Quite a number of people have failed at the preliminary stage, all earnest believers in their “gifts” and baffled at how their gifts failed to manifest when all bias was removed.

  56. SkepticalRN says:

    The duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware is providing Healing Touch “Nurturing Energy Therapy” as a free (to patients) service. They actually have brochures on the hospital units promoting this sham. I am appalled. I don’t see how this is any different from bringing in a faith healer. At least a faith healer claims the unfalsifiable notion that a supernatural being is at work. The HT nurse thinks she is using a scientifically-based treatment. This nurse sincerely believes she is helping.

    How do I start to challenge this “therapy”? I challenged the nurse and she directed me to the literature. I did, and found the literature to be pretty lacking in evidence. I now see that the new EHR actually provides a provision for MDs to order HT for patients and some are using it! How do I convince the hospital administration that HT is pseudoscience and has no place in a modern medical facility?

  57. @SkepticalRN:

    contact Linda Rosa RN via the ISM website:

    http://www.scienceinmedicine.org/contact-us/

    She has more experience fighting the TT juggernaut than anyone. You also might check out a couple of SBM posts on the topic, which have useful links of their own:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=135
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=130
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=134

  58. EricG says:

    oderb

    ah yes, and wooey it was…

    I see JREF has been mentioned. lets put it this way, if the foundation had been enacted 150 years ago and someone came forth with an xray machine, it would undoubtedly pass the criteria for the claim of “I can see your bones with this machine.”

    likewise, i always laugh at this “there are things science can’t know” bit, because it is the oldest/lamest trick in the book. you make a claim that is unfalsifiable and then furrow your brow disapprovingly when we ask then how *you* in fact are so certain that it exists. then, when you stumble through your feeble logic, we immediately address it (perceived of course as a close minded attack) and you revert back to your argument from ignorance or say that “our methods” can’t get to it.

    everything else has already been addressed. you might try to open your own mind and acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, magic doesn’t exist and you have been had. magic has never been demonstrated, charlatans certainly have.

  59. EricG says:

    about JREF, the terms are mutually agreed to. go to the site. there are email exchanges in the dozens that tediously go over how the claimants went about specifying their power and how they would demonstrate it. no tricks, this is mutually sanctioned debunking. period.

  60. BillyJoe says:

    oderb said: “More later responding to the other comments.”

    …or not. :D

  61. BillyJoe says:

    oderb?

  62. EricG says:

    BillyJoe

    Wishful thinking. I check hopefully at my exchange with Ullman with similar letdown.

  63. brendatucker says:

    I learned Therapeutic Touch from a clairvoyant healer who was at that time President of The Theosophical Society. She had been the subject for study and research done by Shafica Karagula earlier in her life and had been written about (under a pseudo name) in a book published by that researcher.

    I don’t engage in applying it or receiving it much, but value the approach and my training in it. I am so grateful that it is broadening out as I am grateful for the institution inb 1991 of NCCAM as the “Government’s lead agency for scientific research on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.” I have actually learned of its existence and the category of energy healing from your blog.

    I don’t want to join this debate at this time because I am embroiled in the debate on evolution. However, I feel that learning from you, as I have done, warrants the fair turnabout of offering you my learning in exchange. I hope you will visit my website and become familiar with my work with communicating regarding what I call a girasas, a higher kingdom of nature.

    I feel you have been done a disservice in not allowing you (as well as other U.S. students) to hear about this theory of evolution (found in theosophy) long ago. The story goes that a Messenger was expected in the last quarter of the 20th Century that would bring further light on what we find in theosophy and it is possible that this view of evolution wasn’t taught because it wasn’t complete enough.

    When I went to the University to train to become a psychologist, I encountered resistance to my learning what I was interested in learning and left school to work at the Headquarters of The Theosophical Society, where I encountered many fascinating lecturers on diverse subjects. I never accomplished my career goal of becoming a psychologist.

    As long as ridicule and harsh denial of people’s intelligence and human rights is considered to be part of a scientific method, American students won’t receive the type of education (or medical treatment) that they are entitled to receive. You have a wonderful mind and apply rigorous criticism to data, engaging in subjecting your knowledge to continuous updating, while improving your application of what you know.

    Other people in our population do not have the luxury of carrying their torch along with you. If it is possible that our experiences exist way beneath your own, then it is also possible for you to be adept at stepping down your knowledge so that we may participate at a level that is comfortable to us.

    Sometimes when we submit ourselves to your expertise, we lose the sense that we are valuable members of society. But is is not the human beings who have devoted their lives to continued study and therapy. Instead, I believe it to be part of this process of evolution, whereby a higher “girasas” kingdom invades the human beings and in this process of having them live within us, we lose some of our own willingness to do things for ourselves. We submit to their positions within our lives and bodies.

    I hope you do know that we cannot compare to you and there COULD have been quotes from the interview which you gave this journalist which could have made the article more valuable and would have reached US. I just doubt that they would have been abject criticism, but quotes that showed your patience and co-partnership with human needs and struggles exhibited by the very existence of NCCAM in recent years.

    You have to continue on your path and we have little choice but to struggle along at our level, but I hope you might enjoy hearing that evolution could involve a higher kingdom entering into us and in that way, our knowledge of what that higher kingdom does would be very limited. I hope you visit my webpage or search with “girasas” online to hear this new theory.

  64. weing says:

    Sounds like an invasion of the pod people.

  65. aliceofva says:

    @Billyjoe, I’m a little puzzled by your assertion that:

    “I slightly disagree.
    If the pastor is providing emotional support there is no problem. But, if he comes as a “faith healer” I do see a problem. For the same reason, Reiki practitioners should be banned unless and untill they can demonstrate that what they do is plausible and works, otherwise the hospital is giving tacit support no matter what their policy statements say.”

    Are you really suggesting that hospitals prohibit patients from exercising their religious beliefs? As long as the practice doesn’t interfere with the provision of healthcare, why should it matter if someone brings in their personal psychic/pastor/dowser/whatever? Really, it’s attitudes like that that feed into the fear of “OMG scary atheists want to ban our religion !!!!1!!!1″. People’s practices are their own business as long as it doesn’t affect others. To attempt to prevent someone from exercising his beliefs, no matter how wacky, is just as offensive as insisting all patients attend a daily prayer session.

  66. BillyJoe says:

    aliceofva,

    Well, if they provide support and don’t interfer with medical treatment and don’t upset other patients or create a spectacle, maybe an exception could be made.
    On the other hand, the patients ARE in a hospital getting medical treatment.
    And I wonder if a doctor would be allowed in an altmed hospital to prescribe conventional medicines?

  67. mdcatdad says:

    I get the Suburban Hospital (Bethesda, MD) newsletter because I live in the same County in which it’s located.

    In 2007 I noticed that they were offering Therapeutic Touch to cancer patients. Our skeptics group wrote a letter to Suburban and, while we never got a response from the Hospital, we got a defensive letter from the nurse overseeing TT, citing a positive review of TT in a nursing journal.

    I note with gratification that the nurse is no longer at Suburban and that TT is no longer mentioned in their publications, indicating that skeptical activism can produce, if not miracles, beneficial results ;-)

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