Touch Therapy

A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch
Linda Rosa, BSN, RN; Emily Rosa; Larry Sarner; Stephen Barrett, MD

Context.—Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a widely used nursing practice rooted in
mysticism but alleged to have a scientific basis. Practitioners of TT claim to treat
many medical conditions by using their hands to manipulate a “human energy field”
perceptible above the patient’s skin.
Objective.—To investigate whether TT practitioners can actually perceive a
“human energy field.”
Design.—Twenty-one practitioners with TT experience from 1 to 27 years were
tested under blinded conditions to determine whether they could correctly identify
which of their hands was closest to the investigator’s hand. Placement of the investigator’s hand was determined by flipping a coin. Fourteen practitioners were tested
10 times each, and 7 practitioners were tested 20 times each.
Main Outcome Measure.—Practitioners of TT were asked to state whether the
investigator’s unseen hand hovered above their right hand or their left hand. To
show the validity of TT theory, the practitioners should have been able to locate the
investigator’s hand 100% of the time. A score of 50% would be expected through
chance alone.
Results.—Practitioners of TT identified the correct hand in only 123 (44%) of 280
trials, which is close to what would be expected for random chance. There was no
significant correlation between the practitioner’s score and length of experience
(r =0.23). The statistical power of this experiment was sufficient to conclude that if
TT practitioners could reliably detect a human energy field, the study would have
demonstrated this.
Conclusions.—Twenty-one experienced TT practitioners were unable to detect
the investigator’s “energy field.” Their failure to substantiate TT’s most fundamental claim is unrefuted evidence that the claims of TT are groundless and that further
professional use is unjustified.
JAMA. 1998;279:1005-1010