Comparing the Efficacy of Healing Touch and Chiropractic
Adjustment in Treating Chronic Low Back Pain: A Pilot Study

Kathryn F. Weymouth, BA, CHTP

Master’s Thesis
Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center
San Francisco, CA
Co-Investigator, Steven Sandberg Lewis, ND
National College of naturopathic Medicine
Portland, OR
Thesis committee: Jeannette Diaz Veizades, Ph.D., Chair
Ilene Serlin, Ph.D., Member

This study was undertaken to get an idea of the effectiveness of both Healing Touch (HT) and chiropractic treatment in treating chronic low back pain. Chronic pain was defined as lasting for six months or longer. There is some research on the efficacy of chiropractic treatment for chronic low back pain, but none prior to this study using Healing Touch. Ten chiropractors were recruited to give his or her assigned research participant eight treatments. Homogeneity of treatment was established in three ways. (1) Each of the chiropractors had been educated at the same college, (2) their standard treatment for low back pain was chiropractic adjustment, and (3) agreement was obtained prior to the study that chiropractic adjustment would be the primary intervention. Eight HT treatments were given to each of the ten participants in the HT group by the student researcher, Kathryn F. Weymouth, BA, Certified Healing Touch Practitioner (CHTP).

After a preliminary telephone screening, followed by a physical examination at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, twenty people were accepted into the study, ten of whom were placed in the HT group and ten in the chiropractic group. Four of the twenty people did not complete the study, one from the HT group and three from the chiropractic group. These low numbers on which final analyses were done provide a suggestion of the effectiveness of treatments rather than a robust conclusion.

A pre-treatment statistical analysis was done on each group to see if they were equivalent on the dependent variables of pain, quality of life scores, orthopedic measurements, and range of motion. The groups were equivalent on each of the four measurements at the p<.05 level. There were two important areas in which the groups were not equivalent: The number of years of pain suffered, and the types of jobs which individuals had. These confounding variables are discussed below, may have contributed to treatment outcomes, and need to be controlled for in future research.

The average number of years of pain for the HT group was 11.72 as compared to the average of the chiropractic broup at 3.45 years. This is, obviously, a very large difference. In regard to employment, each participant was given a rating for the degree of physical stress demanded by his or her job. Low stress was shown as +, moderate as ++, and high as +++. In the ht group there were three participants rated as +++ but none in the chiropractic group. The two leading causes of low back pain were automobile accidents (n=4) and falling (n=4), followed by lifting (n=2), sports injury (n=2), unknown etiology (n=2), stroke (n=1), and plane trip (n=1). Previous treatments received for low back pain were medical (n=15), physical therapy (n=10), massage therapy (n=10), chiropractic (n=7), naturopathic (n=3), Reiki (n=3), osteopathy (n=2), and reflexology/deep tissue (n=1).

Each research participant experienced some degree of improvement as a result of the treatments, from minimal to dramatic. Pretest-posttest difference scores were computed for each group and then analyzed using a one-tailed -test. The original intent had been to perform and ANOVA on the four dependent variables, but it proved impossible due to the fact that analysis had to be done on unequal numbers of participants. In analyzing the outcomes on the four measurements of pain, quality of life, orthopedic measurements, and range of motion, the groups were found to be statitistically equivalent on all measurements (p <.005). Since the other three measurements were equivalent, one can only speculate about the reasons which would explain the difference in the quality of life scores. It may be due to the number of years over which pain was suffered, with the result that there was more inherent fear about trying things which had previously caused pain, and a concommitant psychological anticipation that the pain would return. there may be a body/mind physiological and psychological learning curve commensurate with longevity of pain. Differences in these scores may also have been affected by the heavy manual labor to which three of the HT participants returned daily, thereby retarding the speed at which the body could integrate changes.

At the end of the study there were people in both groups who were still experiencing pain. The student researcher invited four people from the chiropractic group to receive four HT treatments each to see if a combination of treatments would bring further improvement. By the time of this invitation one participant, who had continued as a patient with her chiropractor, had achieved a pain rating of 1 on the analog scale of 0-10. The effects of HT were noticeable, primarily in the relaxation response, but not significantly measurable in pain reduction. One participant who had achieved 1.29 points of pain reduction with chiropractic achieved slightly less than 1 point of pain reduction with HT. The other two participants received further pain reduction of 1.71 points and 2.68 points. Had money been available to reimburse chiropractors, each of whom had donated his or her time for this study, interested participants from the HT group who had not achieved pain-free status would have been sent for chiropractic treatment to further research the effects of combined treatments.

The conclusions drawn by the student researcher are two-fold. First, Healing Touch stood up well as a treatment modality for chronic low back pain, especially considering the large difference in the length of time of pain suffered between the HT and chiropractic groups, and the difference in the physiological demands of the jobs. Second, it appears likely that for a percentage of chronic low back pain sufferers, a combination of treatments would be more beneficial than a single type of treatment. The results of this pilot study show that further research using HT as a treatment modality for low back pain, either by itself or in combination with other modalities, is warranted.

Healing Touch Program, Research, and Literature Review

Kathryn F. Weymouth, MA, CHTP

Research Essay
Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center
San Francisco, CA
Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D., Essay Reader/Advisor

This research essay give (1) a brief historical overview of hands-on-energy healing; (2) discusses the controversy over the terms energy, energy healing, and human energy field; (3) describes the multiple uses of the terms energy, energy healing, and energy medicine in current literature; (4) covers the theoretical framework of hands-on-healing; and (5) describes the Therapeutic Touch and Healing Touch programs, including descriptions of selected interventions. The remainder of the essay is devoted to a presentation and discussion of Healing Touch research.

The research is divided into three categories. The first category pertains broadly to diagnostic categories and includes cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, mental health, post surgical infection, and spasticity in children. The second category covers groups, and includes the elderly, hospital inpatients, Healing Touch practitioners, and undefined populations. The third category includes a validation study and an attitude survey. The conclusions that were drawn from the research are as follows.

First, it is obvious that Healing Touch is a much more extensive system than Therapeutic Touch and, unlike Therapeutic Touch in which the entirety of the modality can be researched, only specified Healing Touch interventions can be studied.

Second, the words energy, energy medicine, and energy healing are entering our vocabulary, but they are being used in a much broader sense than to simply mean hands-on-healing. It may be that adopting the National Health Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NAAC)’s designation of biofield therapy will be the most appropriate terminology to use in order to delineate this work from acupuncture, homeopathy, prayer, biofeedback, and the numerous other practices which are now being labeled energy medicine.

Third, the existence of a human energy field, and the theory that biofield therapy can manipulate it for healing, still remains controversial, but laboratory studies using sophisticated machines are, in fact, measuring a magnetic field produced by the heart and brain, with ever-more sensitive machines being developed.

In the twenty-eight Healing Touch studies reviewed for this paper there is a tremendous variation in quality of design, execution, and reporting. As inconsistent as the research is, however, I believe we can draw some positive, albeit tentative conclusions about the efficacy of interventions. In the research summaries that included enough information to offer a degree of confidence in the reported outcomes, there were nine that showed stress and anxiety reduction, relaxation, a feeling of calmness, and an increased sense of wellbeing; seven that showed decreased pain; two that showed improved interpersonal relationships; two that showed improved range of motion and psychomotor functioning; two that showed accelerated post-operative healing; and one each that shoed an improved sense of control, an increased energy level, a reduction in depression, a decrease in need for psychotropic medication, and decreased side effects from cancer treatments. In the phenomenological studies Healing Touch interventions helped cancer patients get through the ordeal of intravenous chemotherapy treatments; recipients had a sense of being cared for; and recipients experienced a changed perception of time and a holistic experience with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. There were no negative outcomes reported in any of the studies.

Healing From A Personal Perspective:
Interviews with Certified Healing Touch Practitioners

Kathryn F. Weymouth, MA, CHTP

Ph.D. Dissertation
Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center
San Francisco, CA
Committee: Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D., Chair

Jeannette Diaz-Veizades, Ph.D., Member
Jay Wagener, Ph.D., Member

The purpose of this study was to find out about a specific group of hands-on-healers and Healing Touch (HT), the method in which each was trained. Little is known about people who choose to become healers versus those who are born with healing ability or designated as healers within their tribe or community. With complementary and alternative medicine a growing presence, but with hands-on-healing, often referred to as energy healing, underrepresented in the scientific literature, it is timely that research be done on healers and healing methods.

This study gathered qualitative data through face-to-face interviews with ten Certified Healing Touch Practitioners (CHTPs), and quantitative data through a questionnaire completed by 87 respondents, 77 of whom came from a group of randomly selected CHTPs. Qualitative data analysis showed a sense of being called to the work even if initially reluctant, a commitment to working on oneself, the transformational aspects of the work for both the practitioners and recipients, multiple applications with generally positive outcomes, meaningful relationships with patients or clients, spiritual aspects of healing rarely reported in the medical literature, a desire to integrate energy healing with other types of medicine, and a belief that the principles of energy healing have the potential to positively impact the whole world. Quantitative data analysis showed HT being used in multiple settings, with the most common uses and findings of highest efficacy of interventions to include stress and anxiety reduction, promote relaxation and relieve pain, promote and maintain wellness, accelerate healing, promote personal and spiritual growth, and ease the dying process.

The dedication of the healers, the type of practitioner-patient relationship, and the efficacy of the method have multiple implications for health care consumers who report dissatisfaction with allopathic medicine and inadequate relief for chronic conditions. The research is also valuable for people who may wish to seek energy healing or to become a healer. The HT program is explained, demographics on the research population are presented, and necessary healer characteristics are given. Most practitioners are highly trained professionals who sought certification in HT in addition to their other credentials. Out of the 87 CHTPs interviewed and surveyed, 61 are nurses, 9 are other types of medical personnel, and 9 are social workers or psychotherapists, accounting for 90% of the group. Other professions represented are science, education, and business.

The qualities and characteristics that a healer must have, according to the practitioners themselves, include but are not limited to, compassion; healing intention; persistence and patience; the ability to be fully present; the ability to create, embody, and hold sacred, safe space; the willingness to work on one’s own physical, mental, and spiritual health; and to continue to develop one’s healing skills.

The findings point to many areas for future research, much of which may be most fruitfully done cooperatively among HT practitioners and others in medicine and science.

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