The healing power of touch

By | 2022-02-14T18:06:02-05:00 September 12th, 2011|0 Comments

On a warm summer afternoon, a woman steps into the center of a room overlooking the gardens and landmark grounds at Techny Towers in Chicago’s northern suburbs. More than 40 registered and advance practice nurses and others, sit in a circle around a massage table. A colorful quilt is spread across the floor, topped with yellow mums, candles, a praying hands sculpture and affirmation cards.

As the group looks on, an instructor calls forth two volunteers who move to the massage table and gently place their hands above the woman who is lying there. The volunteers stand on each side of the table, slowly guiding their hands above her feet and legs, and then lightly touch her elbows, wrists, forehead and crown of her head, stopping briefly at each point.

The quilt altar used at Healing Touch training programs displays objects meant to symbolize “wholeness,” said Instructor, Barbara Starke, RN, MSN.

Instructor Barbara Starke, RN, MSN, from Coloma, Mich., a 20-year nursing veteran and holistic nurse practitioner, is coaching the group in the practice of Healing Touch, an energy therapy that is increasingly complementing conventional treatments at hospitals and healthcare offices throughout the world. “Healing Touch is the most heart-centered, affordable way to help patients lower their stress and anxiety levels and elicit a relaxation response within seconds,” Starke said. “It helps patients across the whole age span from babies to seniors heal, and it promotes restful sleep, a huge issue in hospitals.”

Long before modern medicine cleaved mind from body, the power of touch was a mainstay of ancient healing practices, and practitioners held a reverence for the virtue of restorative touch, explained Starke, who trains nurses in Healing Touch techniques to help patients find relief from pain and myriad conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center and Saginaw (Mich.) VA Medical Center.

Starke points to the quilt altar, saying the objects are meant to symbolize “wholeness,” and asks the volunteer practitioners to visualize healing energies flowing into themselves and the “patient” (the woman on the massage table).

What is Healing Touch?

Healing Touch is an energy therapy in which practitioners consciously use their hands in a heart-centered and intentional way to support and facilitate physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, said Cynthia Hutchison, RN, DNSc, HTCP/I, director of the Healing Touch program in Boulder, Col.

Hutchison, Starke and a team of Healing Touch practitioners, mentors and students gathered in July for four days at the Techny, Ill. retreat center to train level four and five practitioners, the final levels prior to certification, Hutchison explained. As Starke demonstrates, treatment typically is administered while the client lies on a massage table with their clothes on. Practitioners use their hands to assess a person’s biofield and proceed to clear and balance it as needed using either off-body touch (near body, but no direct contact) or a gentle (still) touch over various areas of the body.

Not everyone can “feel” the energy, said Ann O’Malley, RN, from Warrenville, Ill., a former ED and labor and delivery nurse. “I happen to be kinesthetic, but I explain it like this: ‘Have you ever smashed your thumb? How big does the pain feel? Much larger than your physical thumb?’ I am able to feel heat and a prickly sensation around areas of pain above the body. Even if I can’t ‘feel’ the energy field disruption, I can gauge where to begin clearing the biofield based on my client’s feedback.”

O’Malley said pain is congested or stuck energy flow. “Hands in motion is performed by passing my hands through their biofield above their body, so that I am re-establishing a flow or movement of energy that results in pain relief,” she said.

Participation in the Healing Touch program has no set time length and varies greatly for students taking levels one through five to receive their certification, O’Malley said. There also is a one-year mentorship required between levels four and five).

Cynthia Hutchinson, RN

Gaining new respect in hospitals

During the last 20-plus years, Healing Touch has been gaining new traction — and respect — in hospitals, doctor’s offices and among medical practitioners as evidence of its curative powers grows and because there are no safety issues with this non-invasive procedure, Hutchison said. The Healing Touch program is a leader in energy medicine education, offering a multilevel international certification program to individuals from all walks of life. “Hospitals are being motivated by patients looking for complements to traditional treatment,” Hutchison said. “They’re seeing it works.”

Since 1989 Healing Touch has been taught to more than 110,000 participants worldwide in 32 countries. About 1,000 nurses take classes each year, and it is practiced in hospitals including Stanford Hospital & Clinics, UC San Diego Medical Center and San Diego Hospice, along with numerous long-term care facilities.

Among Healing Touch’s greatest fans are nurses, who are always looking for ways to promote healing, decrease stress and anxiety and provide pain relief for patients, said Lisa Mentgen-Gordon, CEO of the San Antonio-based program.

“Healing Touch gives nurses a way to get back to the roots of bedside nursing, giving them a way to touch their patients without taking much time out of their normal routine,” said Mentgen-Gordon, daughter of Janet Mentgen, who founded Healing Touch. “We often hear patients say they feel at peace and have a renewed sense of hope after receiving Healing Touch. Nurses want to provide that for their patients.”

Lois Coldeway, RN

The practice also requires no equipment — just a few minutes of focus, is non-invasive and is appropriate for every level of care including in the ICU, ED, OR, labor and delivery and pediatrics, Starke said. It’s also commonly used by nurses to treat their peers and other hospital staff members to relieve their headaches, stomach upset and fatigue.

Nurses like O’Malley are taking notice. O’Malley opened her own Chrysalis Healing Center, and also is a healing touch instructor. She said she embraced Healing Touch “because I saw how powerfully it works, especially in cases in which conventional medicine just can’t ease the stress and anxiety of patients.”

O’Malley also makes “house calls” to hospital bedsides for patients who have just undergone surgery. She participated in the training session in Techny, as teacher and volunteer “patient” on the massage table.

“I was studying the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ in church, and I asked God ‘I’m a nurse, am I a healer?” O’Malley said. “Then I heard about Healing Touch from three different resources, so I went to my first class and left there remembering why I am a nurse.”

The burden of proof

Increasingly, studies are proving that Healing Touch is a valuable complement to traditional medicine for treating patients. This mounting evidence shows Healing Touch’s effectiveness can be explained in reducing pain for hospitalized patients and patients being treated for cancer, and in reducing anxiety levels, according to a 2009 study published by The International Journal of Behavioral Medicine (

Certified Healing Touch practitioners are pointing to the positive overall results that touch has on the body as researchers have investigated using Healing Touch as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions from cancer and cardiovascular disease to endocrine and immune function, Hutchison said.

One of Healing Touch’s biggest obstacles is acceptance, which has been slow to come by some physicians since “energy” hasn’t been widely taught in medical schools, O’Malley said.

But Starke and other enthusiasts say the trend toward evidence-based medical practices will help Healing Touch gain credibility and acceptance. “Our standard curriculum lends itself well to research,” Starke said.

The power to heal

Practitioners such as Lois Coldewey, RN, MA, a long-term community health nurse who opened her own practice in Arlington Heights, Ill., say their commitment to Healing Touch is strong, because they are discovering more evidence that the mind-body connection works and can be a powerful adjunct to conventional medical treatments.

Coldewey stumbled on Healing Touch by accident when she was exploring ways to help a friend find relief and healing from cancer. She admits to being skeptical at first, but after giving this unconventional treatment a chance, she received a letter from her friend who wrote and said: “I don’t know what happened or what you did, but whatever happened was very powerful and has had an incredible impact on my healing.”

Coldewey was hooked. “I found it to be a heart-centered, spiritual practice that embodies science and the spiritual and humanities in a way that creates a bridge to wholeness,” she said. “A good nurse finds the way to put the patient in the best possible environment for nature to work on his or her healing. Healing Touch works in a clinical hospital setting to help the body heal holistically and with the best of medicine.”

For more information, go to


Discover how can help you find your next dream job.
Just sign up and wait to be paired with your perfect match.

About the Author:


Leave A Comment