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Therapeutic Touch

By Steven Novella, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine

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Patient Education

Therapeutic touch, sometimes referred to as laying on of hands, is a type of energy medicine. It claims to use the therapist’s healing energy to identify and repair imbalances in a patient’s biofield. Usually, practitioners do not touch the patient; instead, they move their hands back and forth over the patient. Therapeutic touch has been used to lessen anxiety and improve the sense of well-being in patients with cancer, but these effects have not been rigorously studied. In the US, nurses have introduced therapeutic touch into ICUs and other hospital settings.

Existing evidence does not support the claim that therapeutic touch practitioners can detect a human biofield nor that a human biofield even exists. For example, a 1998 study1 found that therapeutic touch practitioners could not detect the presence of a biofield. High-quality clinical studies are lacking, but systematic reviews2 of existing studies have not found sufficient evidence to support therapeutic touch's effectiveness for treating for any disorder.


Reiki, which originated in Japan, is similar to therapeutic touch; in Reiki, practitioners channel energy through their hands and transfer it into the patient’s body to promote healing. Practitioners are thought to have special healing powers, which are required for these treatments.

High-quality clinical trials of Reiki are lacking. Preliminary evidence is mixed. A blinded controlled trial1 of Reiki for fibromyalgia found no benefit.