Rocky Mountain Skeptics

Therapeutic Touch:
Skeptics Challenge Pseudoscience in Nursing

(adapted from Rocky Mountain Skeptic, March 1993)

The following is a brief history of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics involvement with the Colorado Board of Nursing. Please click on the highlighted text to read supporting documents.

Therapeutic Touch (TT), sometimes called "Healing Touch" is based on "laying on of hands" mixed with Eastern mysticism. As generally practiced, it involves the manipulation by a trained practitioner of a patient's "energy field" which surrounds the body. There is no actual "touch" involved, nor has the practice been proven to be "therapeutic" although claims have been made by supporters for pain relief, faster healing and relaxation.

Members of the Skeptics had noted that the State was granting continuing education credits for courses which taught practices that seemed to have little scientific basis. On January 30, 1992 representatives of The Rocky Mountain Skeptics (RMS) addressed the Colorado Board of Nursing (CBN) with the following concern: "How can Board-recognized, credentializing organizations be made responsible and accountable for the content of continuing education classes?"

While Therapeutic Touch (TT) was only one of many questionable courses stated as a concern it soon became the central focus of the battle to follow. A letter dated March 10, 1992 from the CBN proclaimed the formation of a "subcommittee to address the question and present a recommendation back to the Board." In a response to the letter the Vice President of RMS, Linda Rojas, wrote March 28 that "the Rocky Mountain Skeptics stand ready to assist in any way we can."

A member of Rocky Mountain Skeptics attended a class on Therapeutic Touch and described what he encountered.

In anticipation of being asked to testify in front of the subcommittee we were busy preparing our case when a letter dated June 8 firmly brought us back to reality. In this letter we were told that the subcommittee had already met and presented its conclusions to the full Nursing Board May 28 and 29 to "investigate the awarding of continuing education units to nurses for the study of therapeutic touch and other non-traditional and complementary healing modalities. After review of the research literature and discussion, the subcommittee had made the recommendation that the Board should continue to award continuing education credit to such programs. After discussion, the Board voted to reaffirm its previous determination that therapeutic touch was an acceptable study area for continuing education credit."

Rocky Mountain Skeptics again appeared before the CBN on January 28, 1993 this time charging the Board with violating Colorado statutes in the official discharge of its duties. After a two-hour discussion the Board moved to reaffirm its May 1992 vote to continue to accept TT for credit. Having failed in conveying our concerns to the CBN we approached the Colorado State Senate. A hearing was held by the Health, Environment, Welfare and Institutions Committee on April 29, 1993.

The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center created a special committee in December, 1993 to review current literature on Therapeutic Touch, review the courses offered on this subject at the School of Nursing, solicit input from both supporters and critics of the technique and to observe the therapy in action. Their report was issued on June 6, 1994 in which they concluded on the efficacy of TT that "There is disagreement about whether TT is effective. To date, there is not a sufficient body of data, both in quantity and quality, to establish TT as a unique healing modality....Qualitative judgments and evaluation are not sufficient to document and establish TT as an efficacious therapeutic or healing modality...It is not adequate to state that TT involves mechanisms which exist beyond the five senses and which therefore cannot be proven by ordinary methods. Such comments are a disservice to science and the practice of healing and demonstrate a commitment to metaphysics and the mystical view of life rather than to a scientific or rational view of life."

On the scientific basis for Therapeutic Touch the committee stated that "Although TT practitioners state that the existence and nature of the energy field is a hypothesis which has not been confirmed in over 20 years, in practice they behave as if the energy field were a perceptible reality...There is virtually no acceptable scientific evidence concerning the existence or nature of these energy fields."

However, in deference to academic freedom, the committee recommended that classes be continued in this area but research should be conducted on the topic, particularly with cross-disciplinary input.

In November 12, 1994, Time Magazine published an article detailing the controversy.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Burn Center applied for a grant to study Therapeutic Touch from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), a branch of the Pentagon. They received a grant in the amount of #355,225 in September 1994 to conduct a single-blind randomized clinical trial to quantify the effect of therapeutic touch on pain and infection in burn patients. Carla Selby and Bela Scheiber of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics published a critique of the proposal in the July/August 1996 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.

Meanwhile, Therapeutic Touch continues to be taught in many Nursing Schools and practiced in many mainstream hospitals, even though scientific evidence for its effectiveness has not been demonstrated. Although TT supporters cite studies that allegedly "prove" that the practice works, critics have shown that even the best of these studies are flawed or badly designed. The human "energy field" that TT is purported to influence has never been measured or located.

For more information on this topic or to find out how you can get involved in this issue, please send a message to or call Bela Scheiber, 303-444-7537.

Other RMS Therapeutic Touch material of interest


Last updated: 06/15/01

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