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Energy therapy - edit
NCCAM classifications
  1. Alternative Medical Systems
  2. Mind-Body Intervention
  3. Biologically Based Therapy
  4. Manipulative Methods
  5. Energy Therapy
See also

Energy medicine is one of five domains of "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) identified by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in the United States.[1] Subfields within the practice of "energy medicine" and even practitioners themselves vary wildly in terms of philosophy, approach, and origin.

NCCAM divides the overall approach to the practice of "energy medicine" into two general categories:

  • putative, therapies predicated on theorized forms of "energy" (that is, forms of energy of which scientific investigation has not confirmed the existence)
  • veritable, therapies which rely on known forms of energy (that is, forms of energy such as electromagnetism)

Early reviews of the scientific literature on energy healing were equivocal and recommended further research,[2][3] but more recent reviews have proved increasingly negative[4][5][6][7][8] with some complaining of a paucity of reliable data.[9] The theoretical basis of healing has also been criticised[10][11][12][13] and Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, has warned that "healing continues to be promoted despite the absence of biological plausibility or convincing clinical evidence ... that these methods work therapeutically and plenty to demonstrate that they do not."[6]

Some claims of those purveying "energy medicine" devices are known to be fraudulent.[14] Their marketing practices have drawn law-enforcement action in the U.S.[14]

Varieties of energy medicineEdit

The term "energy medicine" has been in general use since the founding of the non-profit International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine in the 1980s. Guides are available for practitioners[15] and other books aim to provide a theoretical basis and evidence for the practice.[16][verification needed] Energy medicine often proposes that imbalances in the body's "energy field" result in illness, and that by re-balancing the body's energy-field health can be restored.[1]

The US-based National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) distinguishes between complementary and alternative interventions involving actual, well-known forms of physical energy (termed "Veritable Energy Medicine"), and those that invoke "energies", such as the Chinese Qi or the Indian prana, that serve as explanatory paradigms of claimed medical effects but lack the apparent quantifiability and falsifiability that current scientific method requires. (termed "Putative Energy Medicine").

Alternative therapies that use veritable energy, such as electromagnetic therapy, may still make claims unsupported by evidence. Many claims have been made[by whom?] on behalf of forms of energy poorly understood at the time and associated with religious ideas of "spirit" which later have been commercially exploited as soon as they became differentiated and associated with scientific technology.[citation needed] In the 19th century, electricity and magnetism were in the "borderlands" of science and electrical quackery was rife. In the early 20th century health claims for radio-active materials put lives at risk.[citation needed] In the 2000s, quantum mechanics and grand unification theory provide similar opportunities for commercial exploitation.

Energy healingEdit

Energy healing is based on the belief that a healer is able to channel healing energy into the person seeking help by different methods: hands-on,[20] hands-off,[20] and distant[20][21] (or absent) where the patient and healer are in different locations. The Brockhampton Guide to Spiritual Healing describes contact healing in terms of "transfer of ... healing energy" and distant healing based on visualising the patient in perfect health.[21] Practitioners say that this "healing energy" is sometimes be perceived as a feeling of heat[20] although this sensation could also derive from the heat radiating from the healers' body.

There are various schools of energy healing. It is known as biofield energy healing,[22][23] spiritual healing,[24] contact healing, distant healing, therapeutic touch,[25] Reiki[26] or Qi Gong[22]

Spiritual healing is largely non-denominational and traditional religious faith is not seen as a prerequiste for effecting a cure. Faith healing, by contrast, takes place within a religious context.[27][verification needed]

Energy healing techniques such as Therapeutic touch have found recognition in the nursing profession. In 2005-2006, the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association approved the diagnosis of "energy field disturbance" in patients, reflective of what has been variously called a "postmodern" or "anti-scientific" approach to nursing care. This approach has been strongly criticised.[28][29][30]

Believers in these techniques have proposed quantum mystical invocations of non-locality to try to explain distant healing.[11] They have also proposed that healers act as a channel passing on a kind of bioelectromagnetism which shares similarities to vitalistic pseudosciences such as orgone or qi.[12][13] Drew Leder remarked in a paper in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that such ideas were attempts to "make sense of, interpret, and explore "psi" and distant healing." and that "such physics-based models are not presented as explanatory but rather as suggestive."[31] Beverly Rubik in an article in the same journal[32] justified her belief with references to biophysical systems theory, bioelectromagnetics, and chaos theory that provide her with a "...scientific foundation for the biofield...". Writing in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, James Oschman[33] introduced the concept of healer-sourced electromagnetic fields which change in frequency. Oschman believes that "healing energy" derives from electromagnetic frequencies generated by a medical device or projected from the hands of the healer.

All of these attempted explanations by believers are roundly criticized by physicists and skeptics as being pseudophysics, a branch of pseudoscience which explains magical thinking by using irrelevant jargon from modern physics to exploit scientific illiteracy and impress the unsophisticated.[10] Indeed, even enthusiastic supporters of energy healing point out that "there are only very tenuous theoretical foundations underlying healing."[19]

Scientific InvestigationsEdit

While faith in the supernatural is not the purview of science, claims of reproducible effects for such magical techniques have been subject to scientific investigation. Scientific research into various aspects of biofield therapies is ongoing.

Distant healingEdit

A systematic review of 23 trials of distant healing published in 2000 did not draw definitive conclusions because of the "methodologic limitations of several studies".[2] In 2001, the lead author of that study, Edzard Ernst published an primer on complementary therapies in cancer care in which he explained that though "about half of these trials suggested that healing is effective" he cautioned that the evidence was "highly conflicting" and that "methodological shortcomings prevented firm conclusions." He concluded that "as long as it is not used as an alternative to effective therapies, spiritual healing should be virtually devoid of risks."[3] A 2001 randomized clinical trial by the same group found no statistically significant difference on chronic pain between distance healers and "simulated healers".[4] A 2003 review by Ernst updating previous work concluded that more recent research had shifted the weight of evidence "against the notion that distant healing is more than a placebo." and that "distant healing can be associated with adverse effects."[5]

Contact healingEdit

A selective review of only positive results published in 1995 recommended on the basis of personal testimony and anecdote that healing as a concept be incorporated into health care programs.[19] A 2001 randomized clinical trial, randomly assigned 120 patients with chronic pain to either healers or "simulated healers", but could not demonstrate efficacy for either distance or face-to-face healing.[4] A Cochrane collaboration systematic review[9] of the use of touch therapies published in 2008 analysed the results of 24 trials and concluded that the attempted review suffered from "a major limitation: the small number of studies and insufficient data. As a result of inadequate data, the effects of touch therapies cannot be clearly declared." A systematic review in 2008 concluded that the evidence for a specific effect of spiritual healing on relieving neuropathic or neuralgic pain was not convincing[7] and in their 2008 book Trick or Treatment, Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst concluded that "spiritual healing is biologically implausible and its effects rely on a placebo response. At best it may offer comfort; at worst it can result in charlatans taking money from patients with serious conditions who require urgent conventional medicine."[8]

Energy medicine devicesEdit

A 2007 investigation by the Seattle Times found that thousands of devices claiming to heal via putative or veritable energy, many of them illegal or dangerous, were used in hundreds of venues across the United States. The newspaper described energy medicine as modern-day snake oil, pointing to a lack of regulation and the widespread use of false or unproven marketing claims.[14] Following this investigation, two such devices, the QXCI or EPFX and the PAP-IMI, were banned in January 2008 by authorities in the USA.[34]

In February 2009, following a CBC expose featuring an interview with now-fugitive EPFX inventor, Bill Nelson, as his female alter-ego Desiré Dubounet,[35] the EPFX device was banned by Health Canada from sale in Canada.[36]


There are many, primarily psychological, explanations for positive outcomes after energy therapy such as the placebo effect or cognitive dissonance, and many possible explanations for positive research findings such as experimenter bias or publication bias, all of which must be considered when evaluating claims.

Critics of healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural.[37] The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient genuinely has been helped by the healer, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed.[38][39] In both cases the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body's natural abilities.

Alternative medicine researcher Edzard Ernst has argued that although an initial review of pre-1999 distant healing trials[2] had highlighted 57% of trials as showing positive results,[3] later reviews of non-randomised and randomised clinical trials conducted between 2000 and 2002,[5] led to the conclusion that "the majority of the rigorous trials do not support the hypothesis that distant healing has specific therapeutic effects". Ernst described the evidence base for healing practices to be "increasingly negative".[6] Ernst also warned that many of the reviews were under suspicion for fabricated data, lack of transparency and scientific misconduct. He concluded that "Spiritual healing continues to be promoted despite the absence of biological plausibility or convincing clinical evidence ... that these methods work therapeutically and plenty to demonstrate that they do not."[6]

See also Edit


  1. 1.0 1.1 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2005). Energy Medicine: An Overview.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Astin, J., et. al (2000). The Efficacy of "Distant Healing: A Systematic Review of Randomized Trials. Ann. Internal Medicine 132 (11): 903–910.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ernst, Edzard (2001). A primer of complementary and alternative medicine commonly used by cancer patients. Medical Journal of Australia 174 (2): 88–92.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 (2001). Spiritual healing as a therapy for chronic pain: a randomized, clinical trial. Pain 91 (1-2): 79–89.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Ernst E. (2003). Distant healing—an update of a systematic review.. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 115 (7-8): 241–245.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Ernst E. (Nov 2006). Spiritual healing: more than meets the eye. J Pain Symptom Manage. 32 (5): 393–5.
  7. 7.0 7.1 (2008). Complementary Therapies for Neuropathic and Neuralgic Pain: Systematic Review.. Clinical Journal of Pain. 24 (8): 731–733.
  8. 8.0 8.1 (2008) Trick or Treatment, Corgi.
  9. 9.0 9.1 So PS, Jiang Y, Qin Y (2008). Touch therapies for pain relief in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Online) (4): CD006535.
  10. 10.0 10.1 (1999) Response to disaster: psychosocial, community, and ecological approaches in clinical and community psychology, Psychology Press.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Stephen Barrett. Some Notes on the American Academy of Quantum Medicine (AAQM).
  12. 12.0 12.1 Stenger, Victor J. (1999). The Physics of 'Alternative Medicine': Bioenergetic Fields.. 'The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine' (1).
  13. 13.0 13.1 Eduard Kruglyakov (2004-09-30). What threat does pseudoscience pose to society?. Social Sciences 3: 74–88.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 includeonly>Michael J. Berens and Christine Willmsen. "Miracle Machines:The 21st-Century Snake Oil", 'Seattle Times'. Retrieved on 2007-11-18.
  15. Eden, D. (1998). Energy Medicine.
  16. Oschman, J. (2000). Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis.
  17. Warber, S. L., Straughn, J., Kile, G. (December 2004). Biofield Energy Healing from the Inside. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 10 (6): 1107–1113.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Benor, Daniel J. Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution (Wholistic Healing Publications, 2006) pp. 139-149.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Hodges, RD and Scofield, AM (1995). Is spiritual healing a valid and effective therapy?. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 88 (4): 203–207.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 includeonly>Jules Evans. "Spiritual healing on the NHS?", The Times, July 14, 2008.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Daulby, Martin (1996). Guide to Spiritual Healing, Brockhampton Press.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Network newsletter, MD Anderson Cancer Center (2007). Energy Medicines: Will East Meet West?.
  23. Edzard Ernst (2001). A primer of complementary and alternative medicine commonly used by cancer patients. Medical Journal of Australia (174): 88–92.
  24. Therapeutic Touch. URL accessed on 2010-09-20.
  25. Reiki Practice. URL accessed on 2010-09-20.
  26. What is healing? ("The Healing Trust).
  27. Sarah Glazer (2000). Postmodern nursing.
  28. Hammer, Owen, James Underdown (November/December 2009). State-Sponsored Quackery: Feng Shui and Snake Oil for California Nurses. Skeptical Inquirer 33 (6): 53–56.
  29. Junkfood Science Special: Trusting nurses with our lives by Sandy Szwarc, BSN, RN, CCP. July 6, 2007.
  30. (2005). "Spooky actions at a distance": physics, psi, and distant healing.. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine 11 (5): 923–30.
  31. (2002). The Biofield Hypothesis: Its Biophysical Basis and Role in Medicine. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 8.
  32. (1997). What is healing energy? Part 3: silent pulses. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 1: 179.
  33. includeonly>Michael J. Berens and Christine Willmsen. "Fraudulent medical devices targeted", Seattle Times, 2008-01-30. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
  34. includeonly>"Miracle Makers or Money Takers?", CBC News: Marketplace.
  35. includeonly>CBC Marketplace. "Is the EPFX still allowed to be sold in Canada?", 'CBC'. Retrieved on 2009-02-27.
  36. includeonly>"Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients: Faith Healing", Moores UCSD Cancer Center. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. "Benefits may result because of the natural progression of the illness, rarely but regularly occurring spontaneous remission or through the placebo effect."
  37. Park, Robert L. (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, 50–51, New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  38. includeonly>"Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients: Faith Healing", Moores UCSD Cancer Center. Retrieved on 2008-01-17. "Patients who seek the assistance of a faith healer must believe strongly in the healer’s divine gifts and ability to focus them on the ill."

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