Energetic Therapies in Mental Health Care: A Short Introduction
This blog post is intended as a short introduction to diverse ‘energetic’ therapies and their uses in mental health care. Future posts will review the evidence for individual energetic therapies in more depth.
Traditional healing methods based on postulated forms of ‘subtle’ energy include acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, Healing Touch, qigong, Reiki, and energy psychology. Beneficial effects of these modalities rest on the assumption that energetic fields or directed human intention that are challenging to investigate using contemporary scientific research methods and, in fact, may not be explainable by current science. Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and Tibetan medicine posit the existence of a subtle “energy” body and a gross physical body. All of the Asian healing traditions use a combination of physical, psychological, and spiritual approaches to treat energetic imbalances and restore optimal health. In Chinese medicine, “qi” is regarded as a fundamental kind of energy that cannot be explained by contemporary science but may have properties consistent with quantum mechanics. Ayurveda posits an analogous energetic principal called “prana.” In both healing traditions, a central goal of treatment is to restore “balance” in the energetic and physical body, thus enhancing the body’s capacity for self-healing.
Like Asian healing traditions, homeopathy posits that physical and emotional symptoms of distress result from imbalances in a fundamental vital force. Current science cannot explain the postulated curative mechanism of homeopathic remedies, which are typically diluted beyond the limit of possible biological action. Healing Touch is an “energy healing” method used to treat both physical and mental illness. Specific energetic techniques include “chakra spreading,” “magnetic unruffling,” “mind clearing,” and “stopping.” Healing Touch practitioners claim that “energetic” contact between the practitioner and the patient results in alleviation of symptoms. In Healing Touch, the practitioner positions his or her hands over specific areas of the body but does not physically touch the patient’s body.
Therapeutic Touch is similar to Healing Touch but uses gentle physical contact to promote healing. Reiki holds that a fundamental energetic principle, “ki,” promotes healing when guided by a skilled practitioner. Direct physical contact between the practitioner and the patient is not believed to be necessary for beneficial effects to take place. In contrast to Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch, the Reiki practitioner does not consciously direct healing intention to specific regions of the body but serves as a “conduit” for ki to flow into the patient to restore healthy energetic functioning.
Somatoemotional release is an energy therapy in which the practitioner “releases” pathological energetic states that accumulate in the body following physical injury. The technique involves gentle touch while guiding the patient to assume positions that stimulate body memories of past trauma. Energy psychology is an eclectic combination of Western psychological theory and Chinese medical theory that posits that energetic imbalances in the meridians (i.e., pathways through which qi flows) are associated with different physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. Thought field therapy (TFT) and emotional freedom technique (EFT) are specific energy psychology approaches used to treat anxiety and depression. In TFT, the patient is asked to invoke a “thought field” associated with depressed mood, a traumatic memory, or other principal symptom pattern. The TFT practitioner then reattunes energetic imbalances associated with the target symptom by tapping on specific acupuncture points in a specified manner in an effort to alleviate symptoms. EFT is a simplified version of TFT that involves only one routine for stimulating acupuncture points.
Positive research findings
12 of 18 studies examined in a systematic review of sham-controlled trials included of non-contact biofield therapies including Reiki, Healing Touch, Johrei and Therapeutic Touch reported statistically significant positive outcomes; however, findings were limited by the small sample size of most studies and methodological problems.