Healing Touch

A Healing TouchOn a foggy winter afternoon, Shannon, a large-boned woman in her 50s, welcomes Home Health nurse Cordy Anderson into her small, rented room. After a few minutes of conversation, Shannon, whose ovarian cancer has just entered its terminal stage, sits on the bed. Anderson places herself next to her. After a few moments of silence, Anderson positions her palms three to four inches away from Shannon's body, and begins to run them symmetrically over the woman's face and torso, using gentle brushing movements.After a few minutes, Anderson begins to stroke the area just above Shannon's abdomen and lower back, making several slow sweeps just above Shannon's stomach. Anderson literally "combs" the space above Shannon's legs with long, deliberate strokes that stretch to just beyond her feet, pausing to lightly grip Shannon's ankles, one in each hand. Anderson then climbs on the bed behind her client and starts to work down her spinal area, brushing the space just above her lower back and pelvis. Occasionally, Anderson shakes her own fingers, as if releasing drops of water.The technique Anderson is using on Shannon is called Therapeutic Touch, a healing modality developed by a nurse and an intuitive healer in the early 1970s. Dolores Krieger, now a professor of nursing at New York University's School of Nursing, and Dora Kunz believed that non-contact "touch" combined with a focused mental intent to help heal could decrease patients' pain and anxiety and speed the healing process.Once the providence of only fringe elements of the nursing profession, today the Therapeutic Touch -- dubbed TT by most practitioners -- is taught at more than 80 colleges and universities in the U.S. and in 78 countries abroad. It has become widely accepted for use in hospices and for in home care of people with chronic conditions or for terminally ill patients, and is increasingly making inroads into hospital and clinical settings. The belief underlying this technique is that human beings don't "stop at their skin," says Anderson, but are actually a web of open systems or energy fields that continually interact with the environment. When a person is healthy, those fields are smooth and flowing. Illness, stress or disease obstructs those energy fields and tips them out of balance. "TT touch goes much deeper than surface or "nurse-y" touch," says Anderson. The concept of TT holds that a person's energy fields begin at her center and emanates three to four feet from their body, she says. "We believe that when we comb the space just a few inches from a person's skin that we are actually going to the center of her energy field, and helping to put it back in balance."In the recent past, Shannon had three surgeries, including a colostomy, and three rounds of chemotherapy. TT, she says, has helped in lessening her reactions to the cancer-killing drugs."With chemo, you feel strange, like you're an alien, not in your own body," she says. "TT helps me feel whole instead of fragmented. When I get a treatment, I start to feel energy all through my body, like blood rushing through me."The most crucial aspect of administering TT, says Anderson, is that practitioners bring themselves to a place of inner quiet and focus their intent on helping the client access their own internal healing capacity. "The focus needs to be on the patient's wholeness, on their highest good, without specifics," says Anderson. Recipients can be awake or asleep, and do not need to believe in the technique or share any other belief system a practitioner might hold. However, Anderson says, clients do need to be open to their own healing.Whereas many practitioners pick up physical sensations through their palms -- some have described the various feelings as prickly, sticky, static-y, empty, hot or cold -- when giving TT, Anderson says what she feels tends to be rather subtle. "Like the difference between not feeling an energy flow and feeling one."During Shannon's treatment that subtlety is accurate. Anderson detects blockage in Shannon's sinus area, and Shannon concurs. Anderson also feels heat emanating from Shannon's lower back and abdomen. After a few minutes she asks her client to lie down, and repeats the same, slow even stokes inches above Shannon's torso and down the length of her arms and legs. After a few minutes Shannon says, without prompting, "My abdomen feels much better."The entire treatment takes about 15 to 20 minutes. "I worked until I felt a change in that stiffness I felt bunched up in her stomach," Anderson explains. She leaves Shannon resting on the bed, quietly telling her she'll see her again in a week.Later, Anderson explains that she was drawn to TT through hospice work, where often, she says, there comes a point where the usual ways of providing comfort -- such as feeding, skin to skin touch, even communication -- are no longer comfortable or appropriate for the patient. "But you can almost always do TT, even to the point of death," she says. The slow, steady movements -- whether done by practitioners or family members -- communicate caring, and can relieve anxiety and restlessness, she says. "We can't stop the process of death, but we can make it more fulfilling."Neila Campbell, who works with the dying and specializes in grief work, has been practicing and teaching workshops on TT in the Eugene area for 15 years. She calls the practice "my doorway to a deeper understanding of what is helpful to dying and grieving people." The gentle technique has helped her develop "a calmness, a peacefulness" around death and grief, she says. "And I'm more helpful to others because I am better able to hold that quality of calmness within me."Anderson says that of about 150 Home Health nurses at Sacred Heart, about 20 have been trained in TT, with more planning to attend future training sessions. Because TT is a nursing technique, it doesn't require a physician's order, she says. And most clients tend to be receptive, once the technique is explained to them."Only about one person in 15 has said no," she says. "Family members who've seen it can be more receptive, because they've seen that TT can make a difference."Often, due to time constraints, home health nurses will visit clients and give TT treatments during weekends or after regular working hours. Fees are not charged for the treatments.Michelle Harvey, also a home health nurse, says TT automatically gives back to the people who are giving the treatment. "When you do TT, you have to stop your mind from flying all over the place. That's a plus right there," she says. "And when you're done, you feel good, physically. You end up being re-charged."**********Because it was always intended to fit into the mainstream of nursing care, from the beginning TT's developers made TT subject to laboratory testing. Hence, "TT is one of the most studied and documented complimentary modalities in use throughout the world," says Campbell. More than 200 studies have tested the technique's effectiveness on conditions including wound healing, chronic anxiety, tension headaches and post-chemotherapy nausea and vomiting. According to Krieger, it has been found to be reliably effective in relieving dysfunctions of the lymphatic, circulatory and genito-urinary systems.Even so, the majority of physicians still keep a professional arm's length between themselves and the low-tech, non-invasive and inexpensive touch technique. Jan Stafl, a Eugene ob/gyn, is one of a few local physicians who is an unabashed proponent of TT. Stafl estimates that 75 to 80 percent of conditions that bring patients to his office are psychosomatic. The term doesn't mean the patient's symptoms aren't genuine, he says, but that the patients have "conditions where stress and anxiety play a large role in the causation of symptoms."Stafl says his approach as a physician is to help the patient relax and thereby lessen the impact of symptoms "so that I can then get to the real cause of the disorder -- whether it be a person's social situation, work atmosphere or even past abuse or underlying subconscious conflicts." Not only is TT instrumental in promoting relaxation, says Stafl, but it also helps rebuild an immune system compromised by stress. In addition, he says, "it opens up a door in the psyche that helps people heal. It enhances the body's ability to heal from the inside." Stafl says he particularly recommends TT to patients who complain of chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, symptoms of heart disease and post chemo-therapy nausea. Stafl admits that most physicians don't share his enthusiasm. "I have talked to some who are open, but none who are dedicated to doing it as much as I am."Part of that reticence of doctors -- and hospitals -- in general to accept TT says Annette Gardner, perinatal nurse specialist at Sacred Heart Medical Center, may be due to the fact that-even though it has been the focus of hundreds of research studies-how TT actually works remains a mystery. "The medical community has a stringency around research. They want the effects of a procedure measured with known tools," she says. "But with TT, there's no tool to measure energy flow. Someday, there will be. But now, you just have to trust that it works."And Gardner -- who has been trained in TT -- does. In addition to reported benefits of TT for pain relief, pre-op anxiety and post-operative pain, she has seen TT lower the heart rate and relax agitated, drug-affected infants. So convinced is she of the basic premise of the technique -- that focused intention can promote healing -- that she adapts the attitude even when not actually performing TT."All energy work shares the same basis -- the intention to be of service, to open up to compassion and offer that to others," she says. "So I just come from that place from the time I walk in a patient's door." Gardner says it's ironic to her that while many physicians discount TT because of a lack of scientific proof, the National Institutes of Health is withdrawing funding for further TT studies because they feel there has been "adequate research" regarding the technique's effectiveness. Whereas hospitals such as Sacred Heart Medical Center see TT as a tool for outpatient use, many are more reluctant to embrace it as a nursing technique for use on inpatients. According Judy Sladek, regional director for clinical support services at Sacred Heart, the hospital has no official policy on Therapeutic Touch."People here are basically all over the map -- from supportive and understanding to thinking it's way out there and woo-woo," she says. "It's one of those complementary therapies that's evolving in terms of gaining acceptance. A lot of research supports its benefits, and I think in the future we will deal with it in a more formal way." Elsewhere, a significant number of medical centers have already chosen to include TT as an integral component of nursing care. A recent video produced for National League of Nursing showcases five urban hospitals in Colorado, California and New York City where TT is used routinely in trauma cases, in intensive care, neo-natal and pediatric units and for post-operative recovery.McKenzie Willamette Hospital in Springfield also has no written policy on the use of TT, says nursing administrator Hanna Thomassen, but she says nurses trained in the technique are free to use it. "And many of them have," she says. "The TT model isn't foreign to our environment and has an appropriate place in our hospital."Gardner has faith that TT will become more accepted at the area's largest medical center. "Even at Sacred Heart, things are opening up," she says. Already modalities once considered "fringe," such as massage, breathing techniques and visualization, are accepted procedure in the labor and delivery room, she says. "Our challenge with TT is how to mainstream it in such a way that physicians are comfortable with the process." Mary James, a Home Health Nurse at Sacred Heart who has been trained in TT, believes there is definitely a place for the technique in the hospital setting. In her former position as a cardiac clinician in St. Patrick's Hospital in Missoula, Montana, Evans says she had results with TT that surprised even her.In one case, she says, a man who had received an aortic bypass was experiencing "excruciating pain" even though he had been given a high dose of morphine. The patient was on a respirator and monitors indicated his blood pressure was dangerously high. According to James, when the surgeon read the man's blood pressure, he looked at her and said, "Do something." "So I decided to do TT," says James. She relates how she centered herself, then placed her hands just inches above the patient's incision, her palms feeling the "cold" sensation TT practitioners say is typical of the energy field surrounding surgical incisions. "Almost immediately the man, who had been thrashing around, became peaceful, " James remembers. "And I could see on the monitor that his blood pressure returned to normal. But when I took my hands away, it would start to climb back up." James said she was able to, quickly, instruct his wife in the rudiments of TT, and continue on with her other nursing duties. In another case, James used TT to help ease an elderly patient whose lungs were filling up with fluid. The treatment eased the woman's breathing and prevented her from having to be hooked up to life support equipment as a physician had ordered. The woman died peacefully two days after the treatment, James said, but "she didn't have to be violated and put on a respirator."************In the last decade, TT has grown past its use as a professional nursing tool and, via workshops and classes, has come into the hands of lay persons who are seeking ways to help ease the discomfort of sick or dying loved ones. Campbell herself estimates she has taught the technique to over 200 individuals in the Eugene area alone."TT is very learnable -- it doesn't require any special talent," she says. "It's a wonderful way people can be helpful to others they care about. And it does make a difference. To relieve anxiety and fear -- that's doing a good thing."Vicki, now in her early 40s, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 15 years ago. For about the past three years, she's been receiving TT treatments regularly, either from Neila Campbell or from her husband, John, who took a TT workshop. Vicki doesn't consider TT miraculous. It doesn't have dramatic effects every single time, she says. And she knows it won't cure her MS. "But usually when I get TT, something happens," she says. For instance, she says, TT almost always helps her feel more tranquil. And several times it has helped with her balance, literally enabling her to dance when just hours before she could barely stand. "When I'm not feeling well, I can become very inward," she says. "Then when I get TT, I get the feeling I'm more expanded. That my being is outside and looking at other people instead of being mentally curled up in a fetal position." John, her husband, considers himself an "agnostic practitioner" of TT. "I don't understand it, but I know it works. I've just let go of needing to know what's going on," he says. John says it took him almost a year to be comfortable with TT. In fact, he says he still "feels a little foolish around it." But post-treatment results such as "seeing Vicki hop around the place after days of being unbalanced" have made him a convert. Marie found out about TT through a UO program for parents of children with developmental disabilities. Not only has she used it to calm her 7-year-old, says Marie, but she's been able to ease her friends' headaches and also was able to help her father be more comfortable during his last days.Marie says giving and receiving TT has also brought her insights she may have not had otherwise. "I've learned that underneath even the most vicious disease is a whole person," she says. "And I've learned to nurture that wholeness." And she has especially grown to appreciate the technique in the last six months, which have seen her husband lose his job, the family move, another major surgery for her son and news that several family members were suffering from terminal illness.TT's ability to relieve stress "has helped bring a semblance of order to all that chaos," she says. "It helps me integrate my spirit and soul into my day-to-day consciousness."


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