By Sue Wright
Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2006 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Wright, Sue. "Therapeutic Touch: The Healing Journey'." Quest 94.4 (JULY-AUGUST 2006):133-137.
Plato taught by his example that man possesses within himself the power to cure the diseases of his body, that in the end, every man is his own priest, and every man is his own physician. Wisdom is a universal medicine and is the only remedy for ignorance, the great sickness of mankind. This is the doctrine of the mystics, the doctrine which they learned in the old temples, the doctrine which someday must be the foundation of all enlightened therapy.
--Healing: The Divine Art by Manly Palmer Hall
The Journey on the Path Begins
Who steps onto the path of healing? Do you undertake the journey as a healer or as one who seeks healing? Most often, the answer is both for healers who learn how to help others learn about themselves in the process of healing. Are there still others who wished to be healers, yet have had no opportunity to fulfill that desire? What does it mean to be a healer? Where does the urge to take up this journey come from?
From the early to mid-twentieth century, prevailing conditions in the modern technologically-based Western countries did not offer much support for those who wished to practice healing. The dominant paradigm for health, disease, pain, and suffering was one in which the mind and body were considered separate entities. Science and the physical world were highly valued over the realms of the emotional and mental.
In a very real way, we were stepping away from ourselves. With health care relying increasingly on technology, in many cases we spent more time interacting with machines rather than with the living and the breathing. The balance had shifted too much in one direction, and when scales are tipped too far in one direction, they can move no further.
Western medicine's development over the past couple of centuries has placed greater emphasis on curing than on healing. To cure is to eradicate the disease process. Most physicians consider death the enemy, to be avoided at all costs. This seems a demoralizing position to take; for if physicians view death as failure they must fail a hundred percent of the time.
This attitude contrasts sharply with that encountered in both modern and ancient Eastern societies. Ayurevedic, Chinese, and Tibetan views about health, disease, and healing, for the living and the dying, are based on a framework we would consider more holistic, in which the duality of mind and body, of matter and energy do not exist. In these systems, healing is valued over curing. And birth, life, and death are seen as part of the universal cycle.
The most universal definition for healing is a move toward wholeness and order. This may mean something as simple as relief of pain; it might mean a moment of insight that leads to a greater understanding of one's self. Today, many seek to reexamine those ancient systems, to move toward learning, or perhaps relearning, a more holistic point of view that extends across disciplines, from physics to biology to health care.
Given that these systems were developed over thousands of years through empirical observation, including the study of anatomy, observation of the influence of emotions, thoughts, the cycles of nature, diet and many other factors, there is a vast amount of valuable knowledge to be gained. Incorporating this complex reality into a viable means of scientific inquiry has proved daunting
The Energetic Perspective
In the West, we most readily understand energy that can be measured objectively; primarily electrical, magnetic, and thermal energy. For example, we measure patterns of electrical energy in the heart and brain as EKGs and EEGs, and thermograms are scans of subtle temperature changes over areas of the body. We have used pulsed electromagnetic fields for decades to speed bone healing in cases of complex or slow-healing fractures.
Most of the ancient systems of health care—and, increasingly, modern holistic systems—view life as energetically based, and the physical body, emotions, thoughts, and the inner self (also known as higher self, soul, or spirit) as forms of subtle energy.
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found at least fifty-two names for this energy in various cultures and other languages. The Chinese call it chi, the Indians prana, while other names include mana, ether, orgone, biomagnetic, and zeropoint.
Perhaps because these subtle energy forms can neither be perceived with normal eyesight nor measured by a machine (as there are none), but only measured subjectively, many in the West have been slow to accept their reality. Critics say, "if this (subtle) energy exists, why isn't there a machine to measure it?" The answer lies in the human perceptual system itself. In Beyond Biofeedback, researcher Dr. Elmer Green of the Menninger Foundation states,
[some energies] have not been detected with scientific instruments because these instruments have no parts above the [physical] level. Humans have all the parts and can therefore detect a greater spectrum of energies. Instruments are made of minerals and lack the transducer components needed for detection. In other words, living beings are coupled to the cosmos better than scientific devices, which are, after all, quite limited tools.
All living things-people, animals, plants, and others-are bioenergetic entities existing in the physical world as systems of energy fields, constantly interacting with each other and the environment. These energetic fields permeate space. The physical body can be seen as the densest localization of energy. Other types of energy making up these systems include intuition, emotional, mental, and vital or etheric energy. In humans, localized concentration of these energies creates the complex human energy field (HEF), a whole, dynamic, and interdependent system.
Consciousness inhabits this energy, adding form, motion, and order. This energy is dynamic and governed by order and compassion. There is also a higher level of energy—the inner self-that exists and sees the order and the unity in this universe. The inner self can be defined as the highest representation of Self. All forms of energy, all levels of consciousness—physical, etheric, emotional, and mental—and the inner self are all aspects of the human energy field. Visually, this energy radiates out of us like ripples on a pond.
When a person is healthy, there is order and a continual exchange of energy within the environment; when there is disorder in the energy, the result is disease. Over time, energy patterns develop that affect health in both positive and negative ways. These patterns are complex and result from the interaction of too many variables to name, but they include DNA, environmental factors, one's experiences, and the conditioning one adopts throughout a lifetime. These habitual patterns are associated with changes in the order and flow within the energy system.
It is also important to remember that the organs, glands, nervous and lymph systems are part of the energetic system. When the energy that supplies one of these systems is disordered or disrupted, the body's organs and systems are less able to defend against disease and injury. In the same way, if our emotional and mental energy is disrupted, we are less able to cope and feel stressed, which in turn has a negative impact on our physical systems and a negative cycle ensues. When our energy systems are clear and balanced, we are in a better position to deal with stressors we encounter on all levels. Understanding the nature of these relationships and connections helps us understand the nature of disease, guiding us toward more effective treatment.
By the time a disease can be diagnosed medically, the energy in these interrelated systems has ceased flowing harmoniously, indicating that something is not working in our lives. If we don't pay attention to these initial, subtle energetic messages, the warnings will become more severe until we do take notice. Once we become aware of this, we can regard illness in a more positive light, as long as we act upon these warning signs and make the appropriate changes necessary to heal.
Energy is within and around us all the time, but our consciousness enables us to activate it and make it vital. In reference to the energetic framework, Dora Kunz said,
The application of such a perspective may have outcomes that change our perception of human relationships, since every thought or emotion is an energy that may affect the energy field of others. Every thought, action, and emotion can thus be seen as an energetic pattern with distinct characteristics-a pattern that we may unconsciously radiate or deliberately direct at another person. In fact, illness and health have characteristic patterns of energy flow within each inpidual. Such dynamic patterns of energy may be likened to the ripple formation caused when a pebble is dropped into water. (213-261)
As this knowledge is disseminated more broadly and interventions based on a holistic, energetic perspective become more readily available, people in need have more options available to them. This alternative path offers many more choices for healing to those seeking help, especially those dissatisfied with traditional allopathic medicine.
In the middle of last century, alternative paths for those who felt compassion and a desire to help others were not as clear. At that time, the people who designated themselves as "healers" were mostly religious leaders, their beliefs based in Christianity. Their desire to help and heal was primarily expressed through prayer; their ability to heal seen as a rare gift from God, one that could not readily be taught to others.
In the 1960s, Dora Kunz, past president of the Theosophical Society in America and a clairvoyant, observed many of these religious healers. Based on her observations, Dora felt that it was possible for virtually anyone to learn to be a healer provided they had a desire to help others, an ability to quiet the mind, and compassion. Based on these beliefs, she and Dolores Krieger developed Therapeutic Touch (TT), which they defined as a modern interpretation of several ancient healing modalities, including the laying on of hands. It is the use of consciously directed energy towards the purpose of healing.
Developed in 1972, TT was a new idea for its day. Kunz and Krieger decided to teach nurses. Dora would say about herself "I am a practical girl," and teaching TT to nurses was practical. Most nurses already possessed compassion and a desire to help, and the patients they cared for were people who could most benefit from TT.
Today, more than thirty years since its inception, it is clear that TT has struck a chord and its practitioners now come from all walks of life. Many people who were looking for a way to be of service—a way to heal and be healed—found the right path for themselves when they found TT.
This is poignantly illustrated in an example of Dora's work. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this country was in the early grip of the AIDS crisis. Dora began holding a weekly TT practice group that included many AIDS patients. To that point, AIDS' mortality was considered a hundred percent, but more significantly, many of those living with AIDS had witnessed their friends and lovers die agonizing deaths. They carried those pictures with them, along with fear of their own deaths. What Dora and TT gave them was not necessarily extended life, but rather new pictures of a peaceful death for themselves and those they helped. This provided a truly a healing experience on many levels for all concerned.
Challenges and Rewards on the Healing Path
The intrepid healer will face many challenges along the path. This is true whether one chooses to practice TT, as this author has, or to practice other forms of healing.
Therapeutic Touch has been described as both "a technique for healing and an inner journey" for the healer. Through the discipline of "ping" in TT practice and through meditation, the healer strengthens the connection with our highest level of consciousness, the inner self. The path to the inner self becomes clearer, engendering a stronger sense of peace, a deeper realization of the order and compassion of the universe, and greater certainty in one's intuitive insights. While some healers describe the strengthening of the inner self-connection as "going deeper," Krieger has referred to the process as going "inth."
Healers have the privilege of being with others in the most significant, often vulnerable, parts of their lives: birth, serious illness, and death. For some, the challenge is staying ped in the presence of another's pain and suffering. The difficulty is multiplied when the healer feels connected to the patient on a deeper emotional level. The healer's strong identification with a patient's pain is often accompanied by a stronger desire to help. Yet, this increased desire to help often results in the opposite effect if the healer is no longer engaged in the healing interaction from a ped place. Instead, the healer can get hooked into responding to the patient's pain, lose connection with the inner self, and thus lose focus on the intention of bringing order and compassion to the healing.
For many healers, the tendency to get hooked into a patient's pain and suffering stems from a pattern that started in their own childhood; a pattern that Dora referred to as the "sensitive child." The sensitive child seems to have blurred boundaries between their own emotions and emotions they pick up from others around them. For example, the sensitive child may start to cry in a room with arguing adults, but not know why they feel upset. Typically the sensitive child is sympathetic to others; often at the expense of their own well-being. But because they have an understanding of the pain others experience, they frequently become adult healers.
The other end of the continuum from the sensitive child is not an insensitive child, but rather a child who naturally possesses a "rejection principle," that allows them to be in the midst of the same chaos as the sensitive child, but without internalizing the emotional disturbance.
It is important for every healer to learn where emotional boundaries lie between themselves and others, but this is especially true for the sensitive child. The challenge is to learn to reach out to others from a ped place, offering compassion and understanding, but without incurring the personal cost. The ping process helps healers learn to make this distinction.
Most people will experience a degree of pain and suffering in their lives, some much more so than others. Some people create strong attachments to their pain, which can become habitual over time. Psychologists will often say, "Such people do not want to get well, they are comfortable in an uncomfortable pattern," meaning that to break the pattern would frighten them more than living with the pain they know.
A healer who has broken these patterns and learned from the experience can use the insight gained from personal understanding of pain and illness to help others. The time of suffering can serve as a process of initiation and metamorphosis. Eventually, the healer comes to understand suffering as an opportunity to dissolve old ways of being, and through a connection with the higher consciousness of the inner self, to emerge as someone new.
Not everyone who withdraws into the cocoon of personal suffering is able to awaken and be transformed by it, but the healer who has been able to do this comes away with a greater understanding of the process and the patterns. Then, in a healing interaction, the healer who can stay ped, see the patient's patterns clearly and avoid getting hooked into the patient's emotions can be tremendously helpful. Walking next to the patient through the healing process, the healer can share with them the potential paths to wholeness. With greater understanding of this process, the ped healer can help the patient learn more about themselves and can encourage the inpidual to follow their own trail in the healing experience, directed by their own inner resources.
Intention and Focus
In the course of a beginning Therapeutic Touch workshop, most people can quiet their minds enough to focus on treating a patient for a few minutes, at which point most patients will feel at least a mild sense of relaxation. A much greater challenge for the healer is treating someone who has severe pain, has suffered through a long illness, or is dealing with issues stemming from childhood abuse. The energetic patterns associated with such complex and severe problems are far more difficult to treat.
In the presence of such problems, the patient will likely lose their sense of self, the sense of "I," and identify more with the pain than with themselves. The physical, emotional, and mental factors that were present when the pattern began can be very disordered and deeply engrained. The healer's challenge in treating someone in this situation is to focus on the clear intention of sending energy through that pattern. The more the healer is ped, the stronger the intention and thus, the stronger the energetic flow transmitted to the patient.
Several common factors can detract from the healer's focus and ability to remain ped. We mentioned identifying with the patient's pain rather than the inner self earlier, but the healer must also stay nonjudgmental, unattached to an outcome, and aware of what might trigger an emotional reaction within themselves as the healer.
Another practice TT healers learn is to assess imbalances and changes in the energy fields. This assessment is key when it comes to intention. Energy flows where intention goes, so when a healer assesses the patient's energy and finds areas of disorder, intention can be focused specifically in that area.
When a healer sends energy to the patient in a general way, the patient will take in some of that energy, but in an assessment, the healer sees where the greatest need for energy is and focuses on sending energy directly through that particular area. In the former situation, the patient would definitely be helped; a positive thing and sufficient reason to administer TT. In the latter, by focusing intention, the healer sends energy through the specific area of disorder. All other factors being equal, the patient in the second instance receives more energy and more positive change in their pattern from the healer's assessment and clear focus.
So the healer's ability to assess imbalance and disorder in the patient's energy—as well as have confidence in this assessment—is a key factor. By quieting the mind and ping themselves, healers put aside distractions and create peace within that allows them to access and interpret their intuitive flashes.
While a healer's hands are important in assessment, the real key to the healing process is intuition. Healers learn to use their hands as sensors, gathering information to foster intuition.
Very often, less experienced healers have lower confidence in their abilities. A healer must understand the impact of internal dialogue and learn to recognize and trust the way their own intuition manifests itself. Repetitive practice is the way to build confidence. It is important for the healer to learn the difference between an intuitive flash and a busy mind. The healer must also put aside fears about "getting it wrong" and any prejudgments based on how a patient looks or acts.
Dora always suggested that beginners assess the patient without prior knowledge of their symptoms. The healer is then able to assess and get feedback from the patient, comparing how and what the patient feels with imbalances the healer might have intuited. Through feedback and practice, healers learn to trust their intuition. (One cautionary note: The purpose of this process is NOT to make a medical diagnosis, but rather to assess energy patterns.)
Why choose the path of the healer? Why choose to seek? Certainly it's not required. It may be difficult to find a teacher. Often it involves going against the beliefs of those around you such as your spouse, children, relatives and friends. Why deal with the looks and giggles from people who think what you're doing is crazy?
To pursue the path despite these factors, you must have a strong internal desire to learn; to explore life in a more meaningful way. By choosing this pain, we create the opportunity to touch our inner self and to make its peace and order a bigger part of daily life. In consciously connecting with our "self," we tap that essence that allows us to release our negative patterns and to connect consciously with everything. As more and more people make this choice together—which begins when each person makes the choice inpidually—it can change the patterns of conflict in the world. Healing then becomes a shared, lifelong journey of self-discovery, self-empowerment, and transformation for both healer and patient.
Green, Elmer. Beyond Biofeedback. New York, NY: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1977.
Kunz, D., and Eric Fields Peper. Spiritual Aspects of the Healing Arts. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1985.