Table of Contents > Alternative Modalities > Therapeutic touch Print

Therapeutic touch


Related terms

Related Terms
  • Biofield therapies, energy healing, external Qigong, gentle touch, healing touch, Krieger-Kunz Therapeutic Touch, laying on of hands, off-body energy field healing, relaxation touch, Reiki, Slow Stroke Massage, spiritual healing, Touch Healing (TH) therapy, TT.

  • Delores Krieger, RN, PhD, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer, developed Therapeutic Touch (TT) in the early 1970s. TT is an adaptation of several religious and secular healing traditions and is commonly used in nursing practice for many different conditions.
  • TT practitioners hold their hands a short distance from the patient without actually making physical contact. The purpose of this technique is to detect the patient's energy field, allowing the TT practitioner to correct any perceived imbalances. Nurse Healers Professional Associates, Inc. is the primary training organization for Therapeutic Touch and teaches a standardized technique. TT treatment consists of four steps: centering (calming the mind and focusing attention on the patient), assessing the patient's energy field for irregularities, intervention to facilitate symmetrical flow of energy through the field, and evaluation/closure to verify the effects and conclude the treatment. Treatment sessions usually last from five to thirty minutes. Currently there is a lack of formal certification or competency-based assessment for this therapy.
  • The concept of "life energy" or "life force" has sometimes been compared to spiritual rather than scientific principles. Some critics argue that because of its religious roots, TT should be treated as a religion rather than as a healthcare therapy. Skeptics have sought to eliminate Therapeutic Touch as a nursing practice, due to questions surrounding the mechanism of action. However, suggestive results from several human studies, positive clinical experience, and case reports have led to increasing use of TT.
  • Several variations have emerged from the original treatment but aspects of centering and intent have remained the foundations of this technique. Janet Mentgen founded healing touch in the 1980s based on the principles of therapeutic touch. Healing touch adds patient empowerment, practitioner self care, and focuses on the impact of the practitioner-patient relationship.

  • The way therapeutic touch may affect the body is unknown. It is theorized that TT affects patients through the connection of energy fields within and outside of the body. Energy is thought to stimulate internal mechanisms to treat physical symptoms. The autonomic nervous system is felt to be particularly sensitive to TT, followed by the lymphatic, circulatory, and musculoskeletal systems. Female endocrine disorders are believed to be more sensitive than those affecting males. Manic and catatonic patients have been reported to respond to Therapeutic Touch. Most scientific studies of TT have examined the effects on pain and anxiety.
  • A controversial study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 reported that a group of TT practitioners were unable to sense energy fields. The study was widely publicized and hailed as a landmark article, but has been criticized by some TT providers because it did not measure improvements in patient symptoms or patient satisfaction.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *

Therapeutic touch may reduce pain and improve joint mobility in people with osteoarthritis, decrease pain and anxiety caused by burns, and improve chronic muscle and joint pain in elderly patients. Preliminary research reports that patients treated with therapeutic touch may need less pain medication after surgery. However, most studies of therapeutic touch have not been well designed and therapeutic touch has not been clearly compared to common pain treatments such as pain-relieving drugs. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.


There is some evidence that therapeutic touch may reduce anxiety in children with life-threatening illnesses, reduce stress in teenagers with psychiatric disease, and help relax premature infants. More research is needed before therapeutic touch can become a standard treatment for psychiatric disorders in children.


There is some evidence that therapeutic touch may reduce anxiety in chemically dependent pregnant women, reduce stress and anxiety in the work place, and reduce stress in teen-agers with psychiatric disease. Further study is needed to show that therapeutic touch is an effective way to reduce stress and promote relaxation.


Studies suggest that therapeutic touch may reduce behavioral symptoms of dementia such as searching and wandering, tapping and banging, anxiety, agitation, and vocalization in people with dementia. Well-designed studies are needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.


Therapeutic touch may provide limited benefit in carpal tunnel syndrome. More studies are needed to determine if therapeutic touch is an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.


There is some evidence that therapeutic touch may affect some properties of the central nervous system. However, further research is needed to examine whether therapeutic touch could have any effects on central nervous system disorders.


Therapeutic touch may offer some benefits when used with standard therapies to treat depression. More research is needed.


Therapeutic touch may not have any effects on blood sugar levels in diabetics. There is not enough evidence to recommend therapeutic touch as an effective treatment for diabetes.


Preliminary research suggests that therapeutic touch may be an effective treatment option in relieving pain in patients with fibromyalgia. Further research is needed before a recommendation can be made.


Therapeutic touch may reduce pain in patients with tension headache. Further study is necessary in order to make a recommendation.


There is currently not enough evidence that therapeutic touch can benefit immunity or emotional well-being in AIDS patients. More research is needed.


Therapeutic touch has been suggested to relieve anxiety and stress, which may help to lower blood pressure. However, there is currently insufficient evidence that therapeutic touch is effective in treating hypertension. More research is needed.


Therapeutic touch may affect physical and emotional outcomes in women who have had mastectomies. However, there is not enough evidence for or against using therapeutic touch in patients undergoing mastectomies.


There is very little evidence that therapeutic touch can relieve phantom limb pain after amputation. More research is needed before therapeutic touch can be recommended as a treatment for phantom limb pain.


Early research suggests that therapeutic touch may improve well-being in advanced cancer patients. Pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue have been reported as improved in patients receiving therapeutic massage and healing touch. More studies are necessary to confirm these results.


Although some studies report an improvement in wound healing with therapeutic touch, others show no benefits.

* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)

Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Arthritis, bone fractures, bone healing, cancer, cardiovascular disease, childbirth preparation, chronic fatigue syndrome, dystonia, epilepsy, grief, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, palliative care, Parkinson's disease, postpartum care, promoting flow of breast milk, rehabilitation, sarcoidosis, sinusitis, sleep enhancement, trauma (recovery), well-being during pregnancy.


Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

  • Therapeutic touch is believed to be safe for most people. Treatment sessions may be briefer for children than adults. Therapeutic touch should not be used for potentially serious conditions in place of more proven therapies. Restlessness, anxiety, dizziness, nausea, and irritability may occur. Tension headache and crying have also been associated with therapeutic touch. Some TT providers believe that this therapy should not be practiced on people with fever or inflammation and should be avoided on body areas with cancer. Some believe that if the TT provider is experiencing emotional difficulties, these feelings may be displaced onto the patient.

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. Blankfield RP, Sulzmann C, Fradley LG, et al. Therapeutic touch in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. J Am Board Fam Pract 2001;14(5):335-342.
  2. Denison B. Touch the pain away: new research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome. Holist Nurs Pract 2004;18(3):142-151.
  3. Frank LS, Frank JL, March D, et al. Does therapeutic touch ease the discomfort or distress of patients undergoing stereotactic core breast biopsy? A randomized clinical trial. Pain Med 2007 Jul-Aug;8(5):419-24.
  4. Giasson M, Bouchard L. Effect of therapeutic touch on the well-being of persons with terminal cancer. J Holist Nurs 1998;16(3):383-398.
  5. Gordon A, Merenstein JH, D'Amico F, et al. The effects of therapeutic touch on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. J Fam Pract. 1998;47(4):271-277.
  6. Gregory S, Verdouw J. Therapeutic touch: its application for residents in aged care. Aust Nurs J 2005 Feb;12(7):23-5.
  7. Ireland M. Therapeutic touch with HIV-infected children: a pilot study. J Assoc Nurses AIDS Care 1998;9(4):68-77.
  8. Larden CN, Palmer ML, Janssen P. Efficacy of therapeutic touch in treating pregnant inpatients who have a chemical dependency. J Holist Nurs 2004;22(4):320-332.
  9. Lin Y-S, Taylor AG. Effects of therapeutic touch in reducing pain and anxiety in an elderly population. Integrative Medicine 1998;1(4):155-162.
  10. Müller-Oerlinghausen B, Berg C, Droll W. [The efficacy of Slow Stroke Massage in depression] Psychiatr Prax 2007 Sep;34 Suppl 3:S305-8.
  11. Peters RM. The effectiveness of therapeutic touch: a meta-analytic review. Nursing Science Quarterly 1999;12(1):52-61.
  12. Post-White J, Kinney ME, Savik K, et al. Therapeutic massage and healing touch improve symptoms in cancer. IntegrCancer Ther 2003;2(4):332-344.
  13. Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, et al. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA 4-1-1998;279(13):1005-1010.
  14. Turner JG, Clark AJ, Gauthier DK, et al. The effect of on pain and anxiety in burn patients. J Adv Nurs 1998;28(1):10-20.
  15. Woods DL, Craven RF, Whitney J. The effect of on behavioral symptoms of persons with dementia. Altern Ther Health Med 2005;11(1):66-74.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

Search Site