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Therapies

energy healing

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What You Can Expect

Health Benefits

How To Choose a Practitioner

Cautions

References

Evidence Based Rating Scale

 

What Is It? 

Energy healing is a broad term for any type of healing that smoothes out, manipulates, restores, or balances the flow of energy in the body. It is grounded in the belief that, in addition to its physical and biochemical systems, the human body is made up of a complex system of energy that’s not ordinarily detectable by direct observation. Often referred to in English as "universal life force energy," it is called by different names in different cultures: The Chinese know it as qi; the Japanese refer to it as ki; in India, it is prana; among homeopathic practitioners, it is the vital force. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, charged with researching the effectiveness of such therapies, categorizes the various modes of energy healing as "biofield therapies." 

It is believed that this vital life force energy continually flows throughout the body in organized patterns, just as blood does. However, unlike blood, there are no known vessels; so these patterns can become disrupted. Also life force energy does not stop at the surface of the skin but extends beyond the body, thereby creating a unique energy field (the biofield or aura) for each individual. 

Energy that flows freely in a balanced and symmetrical manner is consistent with good health. However, when the energy flow becomes restricted, disordered, or weakened, an imbalance occurs and an excess or deficiency of energy results. This can lead to symptoms of emotional and physical distress and eventually to chronic pain and disease. Conversely, physical or psychic trauma could alter the energetic field; thus restoration of full health may require addressing all of these spheres. 

Many traditional health systems have recognized this vital life force principle and employed it in healing. Indeed, such widely known systems as East Asian medicine (acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu, and so on), homeopathy, naturopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, anthroposophical medicine, traditional osteopathy, chiropractic, magnet therapy, and cranio-sacral therapy  all use some aspect of the vital life force principle in diagnosis and treatment. In addition, practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong (pronounced “chee gung”), and some forms of meditation incorporate perceiving and directing this energy flow in one's own body. Other therapies that purportedly use energy to promote healing include shamanistic healing, crystal and gem therapies, and Bach flower remedies. 

More recently, the term "energy healing" has come to refer to the abilities of individual healers who diagnose and treat energy imbalances in clients using their own energy fields. In some cultures such healers are considered to have God-given spiritual gifts. However, as energy healing has become more widely recognized, the methods of energy healing taught in various cultures are now being integrated into training programs and professional schools. In such programs, practitioners learn to develop their innate talents in a consistent manner. Common hands-on energy healing practices taught in the United States include Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki, polarity therapy, and Jin Shin Jyutsu. 

With this in mind, energy medicine is divided into two categories:

veritable, meaning forms of energy that can be measured; and putative—energy fields that have yet to be measured.

The veritable energies involve measurable wavelengths and frequencies, such as sound, electromagnetic forces, visible light, magnetism, monochromatic radiation (i.e., energy with a narrow wavelength, such as the light emitted by “neon” color lights and specific color laser beams), and rays from other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Putative energy fields are those that are not as yet measurable, for example, the biofield, or invisible energy, which serves as the basis of much energy healing. 

Controversy about energy healing therapies exists because the putative energies are not measurable by any currently available "biophysical means," according to the NIH. (1) (Numerous scientific facts had similarly challenging starts, e.g., the concept of bacteria was disputed before there were microscopes.) Nonetheless, the therapy is gaining popularity in Western medicine. Surveys conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2002 and 2007 indicated that about 0.3% of participants had used qigong and 0.5% had used Reiki. Interestingly, these therapies saw slight increases in use (to 0.5% and 1.1%, respectively) in a similar survey in 2004, but the overall results remained the same when comparing responses from 2002 to 2007. (2, 3)   

For more on these and the other energy healing methods mentioned above, see the WholeHealthMD Reference Library. 

How Does It Work? 

Those who have had success with energy healing believe that the treatments work by manipulating the energy that pulsates in and around all living beings. Energetic intervention by a practitioner, either through the hands or with other methods, can serve to correct imbalances in energy flow, restore symmetry, and re-establish the free flow of energy through the body's energy pathways. Terms for such pathways in energy healing include: channels (Meridians), chakras, etheric levels, and others.

  • Channels. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, shiatsu, and other acupressure systems, energy flows through a person's body via various acupoints that are organized into channels, or meridians. The meridian system contains several hundred points that can be manipulated to promote energy balance in parts of the body that experience discomfort or disease. Although Western science has been able to measure the existence of the acupoints using their electrical properties, researchers are still investigating ways to measure the groupings of points in the meridian channels. Studies have shown that stimulating acupoints can release chemical messengers in the body, including endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. (4-6)

  • Chakras. In Indian or Ayurvedic medicine it is believed that the body's vital energy flows up from the feet to the top of the head and concentrates at different levels in the body called chakras. Maps of the body's chakras generally show seven major chakras along the centerline of the body, and multiple minor chakras outside the body and along the extremities. Energy is thought to flow through nadis, which are analogous to the meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine and concentrate in the chakras. The state of each chakra reflects the health of a particular area of the body. It also reflects psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When chakra energy is blocked or misdirected, emotional and physical illness can arise.

  • Etheric levels. According to energy healing, just above the skin's surface, the human energy field is divided into so-called etheric levels. Each of these levels is three-dimensional and envelops the body like a sheath or shell. The levels closest to the body are the physical, emotional, and mental. The physical level is linked to vitality and is the one most easily seen in a person's aura. The emotional level contains the energy associated with both positive and negative emotions. Because physical and emotional energies are interconnected, emotions can have a profound effect on how the body functions. The third level is the mental field and contains energy associated with thought, conceptualization, rationalization, and interpretation of events. Energy from this layer surrounds and interfaces with the emotional level, intensifying the relationship between thoughts and feelings. (7, 8)

 

In diagnosing and treating a client, a practitioner of energy healing will detect the pattern of energy flow in one or more of these pathways, and manipulate energy wherever it is blocked. Often during a session, a client will achieve a deep state of relaxation. Western science tells us that such deep relaxation helps to balance the autonomic nervous system and possibly trigger the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, which can help to decrease pain and increase a sense of well-being. Thus, purported benefits could derive from the relaxation experience alone without any shift in putative energy. Making this distinction is an ongoing challenge for scientific research using current methodology. 

Energy healing also purports to release emotional energy that may have become stuck and to increase awareness of mind-body patterns that contribute to energy imbalances. Most people who receive an energy healing session note an immediate decrease in stress level, which has long been recognized as a major contributor to wellness. 

What You Can Expect 

Receiving energy healing should be a soothing experience. A session typically begins with a thorough health history, as well as a discussion of the conditions for which the patient is seeking relief. The practitioner will likely ask the patient about any previous medical problems in addition to learning about the patient's diet and exercise habits, home and work life, and general mental and emotional health as well as any history of emotional or physical trauma. 

The practitioner will then do an energy "diagnosis," using various techniques that can reveal the major areas of imbalance. Among the diagnostic methods that may be employed are body scanning (either visually or with the hands on or off the body), use of a pendulum to read the energy flows at each chakra, or applied kinesiology, a technique that uses an extensive diagnostic procedure called manual muscle testing to uncover imbalances that can lead to muscle weakness. 

As the practitioner gets information from the body, various possibilities for treatment will be discussed. A well-trained practitioner may specialize in one method of energy healing or may be able to provide various therapies. These may include hands-on healing techniques such as Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki, or shiatsu, as well as the use of scents (aromatherapy) and flower remedies. Some therapists may also incorporate the use of colored light; tuning forks, crystal bowls used to generate pure tones when rubbed on the rim, or the voice for therapies using sound; movement therapies; or dialogue. Depending on the ailment a patient might also be referred to an acupuncturist, chiropractor, osteopath, homeopath, or behavioral health practitioner for additional treatment. 

An energy healing session usually lasts an hour, depending on the condition being addressed. For basic stress reduction, a few sessions may be all that are needed, with follow-up sessions scheduled if necessary. For the treatment of chronic diseases, long-term treatment, often in conjunction with a conventional medical doctor and/or one or more other medical practitioners, (e.g., naturopath, osteopath, chiropractor), may be required. 

Health Benefits 

There have been few controlled studies showing direct health benefits from energy healing, but there is much anecdotal history, some of it dating back centuries, about the efficacy of the techniques that are used. It is important to note that energy healing is not a substitute for conventional medical care. However, as an adjunctive treatment it can be, at the very least, a relaxing and noninvasive approach. 

Among the specific ailments for which energy healing has been found effective are chronic tension and migraine headache, chronic neck pain and low back pain, osteoarthritic pain, digestive complaints, fibromyalgia, respiratory problems, Hypertension, mild depression, and anxiety. (9-21) Some people like to use energy healing as a preventive therapy, believing that blockages in energy flow can occur before actual medical conditions begin to manifest themselves. 

Putative therapies: 

Of the various energy healing practices, Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, and Reiki have been the most widely and successfully used in hospitals, hospices, and out-patient facilities. These modalities all involve movement of the practitioner's hands over the patient's body, "feeling" problem areas and reorienting the patient's energies. Small studies have shown each of these practices may help to accelerate healing, quicken recovery from surgery and trauma, reduce pain such as that associated with migraines and osteoarthritis, lessen stress, and assist with emotional and spiritual healing. However, research has not been conclusive. In a 1999 meta-analysis of 11 controlled Therapeutic Touch studies, seven controlled studies had positive outcomes regarding therapeutic benefits, and three showed no effect. In one study, the control group healed faster than the Therapeutic Touch group. (9) In addition to treating the above conditions, proponents of Reiki and Johrei tout beneficial effects against allergies, heart conditions, high blood pressure and chronic pain. (10) Most evidence, however, is anecdotal and not backed by scientific studies.  

A mounting body of evidence is building in favor of acupuncture to treat a variety of conditions. Several studies and reviews have shown efficacy in treating arthritis, back pain, fertility, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, postoperative pain, and stress. (11) (For more information about these specific studies, see the WholeHealthMD library entry for acupuncture.) However, while the practice focuses on acupoints to promote qi flow along the meridians, the extensive research thus far has not proven the existence of qi, or energy. 

A Chinese practitioner created a collection of 2,000 anecdotal reports regarding qigong, the ancient Chinese practice of using breathing, meditation, visualization and repetitive physical exercises to cleanse and strengthen the body. The collection indicates that qigong exhibits extensive benefits in treating several conditions, such as asthma, fibromyalgia and high blood pressure. (12) However, scientific evidence has yet to support this anecdotal evidence. For example, a 2009 review of randomized, controlled trials on alternative therapies such as qigong to treat fibromyalgia found no positive evidence for the modality. (13) 

Homeopathic practitioners diagnose patients based on symptoms that they interpret as the body’s best attempt at restoring itself to balance and health. What is unique about homeopathy is that it is based on the "law of similars": treatment consists of giving a miniscule vaccine-like dose (usually in pill or liquid form) of a substance that produces the same symptoms as the patient's illness. The medicines in most cases are highly dilute creating skepticism that any original substance remains. Homeopaths believe that the unique process of serial dilution and agitation “potentizes” the medicine, adding the energy of the original substance to the dilution without its potential toxicity.  Like other energy healing modalities, anecdotal reports of treatment successes abound; however randomized controlled trials are challenging due to the individualized nature of the homeopathic prescription. Systematic reviews have found that many studies were of poor quality and inconsistent. (14) For more information, see the WholeHealthMD entry on homeopathy. 

Polarity therapy practitioners use touch (massage, acupuncture), stretching and exercise, diet, and mental-emotional techniques to influence life force energy. The belief is that healing can be achieved through manipulation of complementary forces, or polarized forces, such as yin and yang. A 1999 study tested the electromagnetic fields in 30 volunteers while receiving either polarity therapy or sham treatments. The polarity therapy group had marked decreases in the number of gamma rays (units of electromagnetic radiation) at every spot tested compared to less change noted in the control group, providing potentially detectable putative energy. (15) Further research is still needed in this area. 

Veritable therapies:

Magnet therapy involves the use of a magnetic device, either permanent static magnets or electromagnetic devices, placed on or near the body to relieve pain, speed healing, and improve energy flow. The treatment is most often used for pain (usually of the joints and muscles), post-surgery pain, migraine headaches, and to reduce stress and relieve insomnia. Anecdotal reports indicate efficacy of static magnets in relieving pain, but scientific evidence is lacking. Preliminary laboratory evidence, however, is beginning to show that static magnetic fields can influence physiological processes, such as constricting and dilating micro-vessels to improve blood flow. (16) The use of pulsating electromagnetic therapy is well-recognized as standard treatment for fractures that have not healed properly: proponents say it is also effective in treating osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and sleep disorders. (17) While the basic mechanism has been described in some laboratory and animal studies, more research is needed to determine the exact mechanism of action and ability of pulsating electromagnetic therapy to treat these conditions. 

Music therapy and tuning fork therapy have been used as part of the sound energy therapy field, based on the belief that sound frequencies affect specific organs or chakras in the body to promote healing. Music therapy is the most studied of these therapies and has been shown to promote relaxation, relieve anxiety and stress, and to treat depression. It has been studied in hospitalized patients with burns, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and is useful in newborn care of premature infants and children undergoing medical and surgical procedures. (18) Other forms of sound therapy, such as chanting, have not been as well studied and require testing to determine efficacy. 

Light therapy uses natural or artificial light to treat various aliments, primarily depressive and sleep disorders. High-intensity light therapy has been shown to be effective in helping those suffering from seasonal affective disorder. (19) While light therapy has been used to treat depression and insomnia, evidence has only been anecdotal. (20, 21) Scientific evidence supporting light therapy for those uses is lacking.  

For more information on the health benefits attributed to specific energy healing modalities see the WholeHealthMD Resource Library. 

How To Choose a Practitioner 

There is no national certifying agency for energy healing practitioners, however, many practitioners who were originally trained and licensed as nurse practitioners, massage therapists, physical therapists, and physicians may have added energy healing to their professional skills. 

To date, there are no national standards in the USA providing for licensure of energy healing practitioners, although to the extent that such practices are included within chiropractic, naturopathic, osteopathic, massage, or physical therapy techniques, practitioners are licensed. In many states, however, energy healing is considered a spiritual practice and registered clergy are exempt from state regulation. In other states practitioners may need to qualify under massage regulations in order to do hands-on healing. 

The Florida State Board of Independent Education licensed the Professional Brennan Healing Science Program, part of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing in Boca Raton, FL. Brennan has been a pioneer and innovator in the field of energy healing for more than 30 years and her program is designed to give students comprehensive instruction in self-transformation, hands-on healing techniques, body-oriented psychotherapy, high sense perception, meditation, creative arts, channeling, ethics, and professional practice development. 

Healing Touch was developed in the late 1980s by Janet Mentgen, R.N., B.S.N., of Denver, CO. In 1997, the Healing Touch International Foundation was established to receive and distribute funds to assist, encourage, and advance the philosophy, objectives and techniques of Healing Touch therapy and other energy-based healing techniques. Today the program offered by Healing Touch International is endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses' Association (AHNA). As participants develop their expertise through extensive experiential learning, they become eligible for international certification. The courses are open to all registered nurses, physicians, body therapists, counselors, psychotherapists, and other professionals and individuals desiring an in-depth understanding and practice of healing work using energy-based concepts. 

There is no national or statewide licensing for Reiki practitioners, although many who practice it may be licensed as physical therapists, massage therapists, or even integrative physicians. Traditional training in the Reiki method spans three degrees, and students progress from one degree to the next according to their own rate of inner growth. The first-degree Reiki practitioners have completed two days of training on the history of Reiki and becoming individually “attuned” or “initiated” to the healing energy from the Reiki Master. Students in the first degree also learn the basic Reiki hand positions for treating the whole body. Second-degree training involves learning special techniques for enhancing the level of energy transferred, training to transmit healing energy long distance to family and friends, and contacting the subconscious in themselves and others. Third degree, or Reiki Master, is available to students who have been practicing second-degree Reiki for at least one year, but this level can take years to master. A Reiki Master can teach and initiate students.  

To find an energy healing practitioner, ask a trusted bodyworker, a friend, or primary-care physician for a referral. You may also want to check the Find a Practitioner database on the WholeHealthMD home page. 

Cautions 

 There is no evidence that energy healing cures disease, and it is not intended to be the primary treatment for any health problem. Rather, it is a complementary therapy used to support other ongoing physical, mental, and emotional treatments. 

 Energy healing is not recommended for the emergency treatment of broken bones, acute pain, or any condition requiring immediate medical attention, although it may provide a calming effect before, during, or after medical-surgical interventions or any traumatic event. 

 Work with the emotional aspects of energy can release old feelings of emotional distress. While energy healing holds promise for helping resolve such distress, persons with a history of mental health disorders should have a trained counselor or psychiatrist available to them when undergoing a series of energy healing sessions. In addition, the energy healing practitioner should be comfortable in referring clients to counselors for mental and emotional problems outside of the healer's expertise. 

 There is a slight chance of nausea and dizziness occurring after certain energy healing treatments. 

 A person in a weakened state may become irritable and uncomfortable if flooded with too much energy during a treatment.


References
 

1. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Energy Medicine: An Overview." 2005.
2. Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. CDC Advance Data Report #343. 2004.
3. Barnes P, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United State, 2007.
4. Zhu L, Li C, Ji C, Li W. The role of OLS in peripheral acupuncture analgesia in rats. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu [Acupunct Res]. 1993;18:214-18.
5. Zhou L, Jiang JW, Wu GC, Cao XD. Changes of endogenous opioid peptides content in RPGL during acupuncture analgesia. Sheng Li Xue Bao. 1993;45:36-43.
6. Wu GC, Zhu J, Cao X. Involvement of opioid peptides of the preoptic area during electroacupunture analgesia. Acupunct Electrother Res. 1995;20:1-6.
7. Neff J. “Etheric Body Crystals.” The Sedona Journal of Emergence. Sept 1998;56. Accessed online at http://www.melora.org/EthericText.html on September 22, 2009.
8. Martin WJ. Etheric bio


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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