therapeutic touch

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

Health Benefits

How To Choose a Practitioner



Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It? 

Therapeutic touch is a healing technique in which a practitioner's hands are passed in wavelike motions inches above a person's body. (Despite the name, the practitioner typically does not make contact with the body, although some practitioners do include physical touch.) It is believed that by doing therapeutic touch, the practitioner can break up a person's energy blockages and thus improve health and well-being. Other names for this therapy include healing touch, energy healing, and touch therapy. 

Therapeutic touch weaves together elements from a variety of healing traditions, among them Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, reiki, and the ancient religious practice of laying on of hands. It was developed in the early 1970s by Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., a professor emeritus of nursing at New York University, and Dora Kunz, a healer and author of several books on human energy fields and therapeutic touch. 

The idea of a human energy field, or life force, isn't new. It is included in the Ayurvedic medicine of India as prana, and the Chinese know it as qi. Therapeutic touch is sometimes controversial in the West, however, where the notion of an energy field is not generally accepted.  

How Does It Work? 

Those who have had success with therapeutic touch believe that the treatments work through manipulation of a human energy field  that emanates just beyond the patient’s skin--similar to what Western physicists call a force field. It is thought that therapeutic touch improves health by clearing blockages in that energy field and by helping a person build up his own curative energy. It is normally used as adjunct therapy to conventional medical treatment. 

What You Can Expect 

Therapeutic touch sessions generally last 20 to 30 minutes. They can be conducted in a practitioner's office, or in a hospital, nursing home, or other medical center as required. The patient can be fully clothed, and may be standing, sitting, or lying down. 

A session will usually begin with a conversation between the patient and the practitioner about the patient's health problems. There are three basic steps for therapeutic touch, none of which actually require touching the person's body. To begin, the practitioner meditates on their intent to treat the patient or improve the patient's condition. This step is called "centering." The next step is "assessment" where the practitioner assesses the patient's energy field, scanning for energy blocks by moving the hands in slow, rhythmic motions a few centimeters above the skin without touching it. This step identifies sensory cues to where problems or blockages may reside. Once a blockage is found, the practitioner begins the final step known as "intervention." During intervention, the practitioner moves the hands in a flowing manner from the top of the blockage location down and away from the body, "unruffling" the energy field where it is blocked. This action is repeated until the blockage is no longer felt by the practitioner or the patient feels relief. The resulting energy balance supposedly stems disease and allows the patient's body to heal itself. (2) 

The number and frequency of treatments depends on the patient and the illness. A muscle spasm may only require one treatment, while a chronic condition such as fibromyalgia may need multiple sessions. 

Health Benefits 

Advocates of therapeutic touch believe this therapy can reduce stress, promote relaxation, relieve pain, and stimulate healing. A 1999 review of studies suggests therapeutic touch should be further explored as a stress-reduction method for surgery because it is believed to help promote relaxation, reduce pain and accelerate healing. (3) In a small 2010 study, 24 nurses were given 17.5 hours of healing touch training over two days. The nurses reported significant improvements in anxiety, depression, relaxation, sleep, and well-being four weeks after their training ended. (4)  

More controversial is a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, which tested whether therapeutic touch practitioners could actually detect the human energy field. In the study, which was conceived, designed, and carried out by a 9-year-old student, researchers had 21 practitioners place their hands through a screen so that the practitioners couldn't see them. A researcher then held one of her hands over one of the practitioner's hands and asked the practitioner to tell which hand she was near, by feeling for the energy field of the hand. The practitioners chose the correct hand only 44% of the time, a result similar to that expected from random chance. Critics of therapeutic touch believe that this study shows the therapy's lack of validity. However, most therapeutic touch advocates question the findings of the study, believing that it was badly designed. (5)  

Specifically, therapeutic touch may benefit: 

Alzheimer's Disease and dementia. In a small study of nursing home patients with dementia, 65 patients were divided into three groups to receive therapeutic touch in two sessions each day for three days, a mimic treatment, or routine care. Restlessness was significantly reduced in the group who received therapeutic touch. (6) In another study, 51 patients with Alzheimer's were assigned to one of three groups to receive therapeutic touch, simulated therapeutic touch, or routine care for disruptive behavior. The three types of disruptive behavior assessed were physical aggression, physical non-aggression, and verbal agitation. Of these three behaviors, physical non-aggressive behavior decreased significantly in the group who received therapeutic touch compared to the other two groups. (7) Therapeutic touch is a safe, non-pharmacological therapy for reducing disruptive behavior in patients with Alzheimer's and dementia. 

Cancer. In a small study of twenty patients with terminal cancer, three therapeutic touch treatments were administered to ten of the patients.  Their well-being was assessed  immediately following the last treatment. Therapeutic touch increased the sensation of well-being in these patients. (8) However, therapeutic touch may be ineffective for cancer pain. A 2006 review of studies suggests complementary therapies, including healing touch, seem promising for relieving short-term cancer pain, but they cannot yet be recommended due to a lack of rigorous studies. (9)  

Chronic pain. By definition, chronic pain is any condition that causes pain lasting for six months or longer. Several studies indicate therapeutic touch reduces pain intensity and depression and improves sleep quality in patients with chronic pain. A 2009 review of studies concluded therapeutic touch can be safely recommended for adults with chronic pain despite limited research. More studies are needed to determining the benefit of therapeutic touch on children with chronic pain. (10-12) 

Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, and non-restorative sleep. In one pilot study, six therapeutic touch treatments were administered to patients with fibromyalgia. The patients experienced significant decreases in pain and improvement in quality of life after each treatment. (13)  

How To Choose a Practitioner 

Therapeutic touch practitioners are not licensed or certified. There are several organizations, however, that train clinicians in this therapy. The Therapeutic Touch International Association (formerly the Nurse-Healers Professional Associates International) certifies training programs in therapeutic touch. The majority of health-care professionals who practice the technique today are nurses. 

Look for a practitioner who has completed a workshop in therapeutic touch or who has continuing education credits in the therapy from a state nursing association. The practitioner should have practiced the technique under a mentor for at least a year. Ask a trusted bodyworker or primary care physician for a referral to a therapeutic touch practitioner. 


No significant adverse effects have been identified with therapeutic touch. However, anyone who is pregnant or lactating should avoid this therapy since it has not been evaluated for this group. 


1. Therapeutic Touch. Website available at Accessed December 12, 2011.
2. Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, Barrett S. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA 1998;279:1005-10.
3. Ramnarine-Singh S. The surgical significance of therapeutic touch. AORN J. 1999 Feb;69(2):358-69.
4. Tang R, Tegeler C, Larrimore D, Cowgill S, Kemper KJ. Improving the well-being of nursing leaders through healing touch training. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Aug;16(8):837-41.
5. Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, Barrett S. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA. 1998 Apr 1;279(13):1005-10.
6. Woods DL, Beck C, Sinha K. The effect of therapeutic touch on behavioral symptoms and cortisol in persons with dementia. Forsch Komplementmed. 2009 Jun;16(3):181-9.
7. Hawranik P, Johnston P, Deatrich J. Therapeutic touch and agitation in individuals with Alzheimer's disease. West J Nurs Res. 2008 Jun;30(4):417-34.
8. Giasson M, Bouchard L. Effect of therapeutic touch on the well-being of persons with terminal cancer. J Holist Nurs. 1998 Sep;16(3):383-98.
9. Bardia A, Barton DL, Prokop LJ, et al. Efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine therapies in relieving cancer pain: a systematic review. J Clin Oncol 2006;24:5457-64.
10. Marta IE, Baldan SS, Berton AF, Pavam M, da Silva MJ. The effectiveness of therapeutic touch on pain, depression and sleep in patients with chronic pain: clinical trial. Rev Esc Enferm USP. 2010 Dec;44(4):1100-6.
11. Monroe CM. The Effects of Therapeutic Touch on Pain. J Holist Nurs. 2009 Jun;27(2):85-92.
12. So PS, Jiang Y, Qin Y. Touch therapies for pain relief in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD006535.
13. Denison B. Touch the pain away: new research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome. Holist Nurs Pract. 2004 May-Jun;18(3):142-51.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.






Alzheimer's Disease


Small studies indicated reduced disruptive behavior in patients with Alzheimer’ Disease. (6, 7)


Small study showed improvement in well-being in patients with terminal cancer; however, more studies are needed to recommend for cancer pain. (8, 9)

Chronic Pain  
Several studies indicate therapeutic touch reduces pain intensity and depression and improves sleep quality in patients with chronic pain. (10-12)

Pilot study showed significant decrease in pain and improvement in quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia; more studies are needed. (13)
Small studies indicate improvements in anxiety and relaxation. (3, 4)

Date Published: 04/19/2005
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