Along with massage, Therapeutic Touch and healing touch are dozens of other forms of touch therapies. The distinctions between many are often blurred, with some practitioners coining their own terminology or offering their own homemade variations. To make matters more confusing, the terms are often ill-defined and used interchangeably, to the consternation of certification organizations seeking better standardization of the industry. Here’s an overview of major touch therapies.
These practices focus mainly on structures and systems of the body, including bones, joints, soft tissues and the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Some practices arose from traditional medicine in China, India and Egypt.
> Massage. Sometimes called therapeutic massage, this is the physical manipulation of soft tissue—muscle and connective tissue—through the use of pressure and movement. There are various types of massage, such as Swedish massage, which uses light to heavy kneading and stroking; craniosacral, which focuses on the head and neck; shiatsu, which uses finger pressure on particular points of the body; and manual lymph drainage, sometimes used for lymphedema. Benefits may include reduced pain, nausea, anxiety and stress; enhanced circulation; removal of metabolic waste products; better sleep; and improved overall sense of well-being and relaxation.
> Reflexology. This is massage of areas of the feet that some practitioners believe correspond to specific organs or tissues in the body. Massaging these areas is thought to eliminate the blockage of energy responsible for pain or illness in the corresponding areas. It may also include massage of the hands. Reflexology is sometimes categorized as an energy-based practice. Benefits may include relaxation, increased circulation, pain relief and reduced stress.
These practices are based on the belief that a vital energy field (a biofield) exists in and around the body.Practitioners believe that illness results from imbalances or disruptions in the flow of this energy. Biofields can be affected by hands-on pressure or manipulation or by passing hands over and around the body without touching it. These practices trace their roots back to traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine and other Eastern influences.
> Healing touch. This technique uses gentle touch on the body to identify and correct energy imbalances. Its aim is to restore harmony and balance to the mind, body and spirit and to encourage the body to heal itself by realigning energy flow and eliminating disruptions. The technique was developed by Janet Mentgen, RN, who began practicing energy-based care in the 1980s in the Denver area. In 1996, Healing Touch International became the certifying authority for healing touch, and its certificate program is now taught around the world. Benefits may include increased vitality, decreased pain and improvement in physical functioning.
> Therapeutic Touch. This practice is based on the belief that the practitioner’s energy force can help heal the patient. Although it’s sometimes called “laying on of hands,” practitioners don’t actually touch the patient. Rather, they pass their hands a few inches over the patient’s body to identify and correct energy imbalances. Dolores Krieger, RN, PhD, and a colleague, Dora Kunz, developed the technique in 1972. Benefits may include improved wound healing, better pain control and reduced fatigue, anxiety, nausea and vomiting.
> Reiki. This is based on the belief that a practitioner channels “universal life energy” from their hands into the patient. The energy enters the patient through various points and travels to areas experiencing disease or discomfort. Reiki can be performed with or without touch. Some practitioners believe that reiki can even work across great distances. Not all practitioners subscribe to the energy field theory, though, and practice reiki as simply another form of hands-on therapeutic massage. Benefits may include better pain control, increased clarity, deep relaxation and an improved quality of life.