Written by Helen Cooke and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated January 20, 2017

Therapeutic Touch

What is it?


Therapeutic Touch (TT) is based on the belief that “energy fields” (also known as chi, qi, ki or prana) surround and penetrate the human body. Therapeutic touch practitioners are taught that disease or disorder can be detected in the energy system and affected therapeutically by smoothing or relieving congested energy 1. Energy or biofield practices are often considered controversial as they do not fit conceptually within scientific thinking.

Please also see our CAM-Cancer summaries on Qigong and Reiki.


TT practitioners are trained to work with the alleged energy fields to facilitate healing and relaxation. Usually healers conceive energy as something they receive, or channel, from an external universal energy source and transfer through their hands to the patients.

Application and dosage

TT is an individualised intervention guided by clues gained from assessing an individual’s alleged energy field 2. A TT session typically involves three phases. The initial phase involves a process whereby the practitioner adopts a meditative quiet state. The second phase is an assessment phase where the practitioner uses their hands to sense areas around the body that feel imbalanced. The practitioner then uses slow, symmetric movements of his/her hands over the energy field with the goal of ‘smoothing out’ or relieving energy congestion. Finally the practitioner evaluates the session. An intervention usually lasts between 10 and 20 minutes 2. Several sessions may be recommended.


TT was developed by an American nurse Dr Dolores Krieger (Professor of Nursing at New York University) and her colleague Dora Kunz (a healer) in the 1970s as a procedure for the assessment and treatment of the human biofield. Krieger and Kunz based their theory of TT on the assertions of nurse theorist Martha Rogers. Rogers claimed that humans are surrounded by energy fields that extend from the skin’s surface 3. The training was initially developed for nurses, but training is now also open to other health professionals. It has been estimated that 200,000 individuals have been trained to practise TT since the 1970s, about 60% of whom are nurses. It is not known how many nurses are currently practising TT 1.

Claims of efficacy/ alleged indication

It has been proposed that TT can be effective in decreasing anxiety, decreasing stress, evoking a relaxation response, decreasing pain and promoting wound healing 4. People with cancer who receive TT have described it as a fulfilling and multidimensional experience that facilitated personal growth 5.

Mechanism(s) of action

The underlying assumption of TT is based on the belief that energy fields (also known as chi, qi, ki or prana) surround and penetrate the human body and that when a person is ill or stressed the usual balanced flow of energy is interrupted and can become congested. This energy field is considered to extend a few inches beyond the skin’s surface 2. Energy healers have different beliefs about how and why the assumed energy healing works 6. An in-vitro study of TT was shown to significantly increase human osteoblast DNA synthesis, differentiation and mineralisation and decrease the differentiation and mineralisation in a human osteosarcoma-derived cell 7. Biofield practices are often considered controversial as they do not fit conceptually within scientific thinking.

Prevalence of use

A European Survey of cancer patients reported that 2.1% of respondents used some form of energy therapy after their cancer diagnosis and 2% of respondents were using some form of energy therapy before their diagnosis 8. The exact prevalence of the use of TT for cancer patients is unknown.

Legal issues

The Therapeutic Touch International Association offers a credentialing programme in the US 4. Therapeutic touch practitioners are not regulated healthcare professionals in most countries

Cost(s) and expenditures

Some TT practitioners do not charge for treatments, others charge around €40 - €60 per session.

Citation Helen Cooke, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Therapeutic Touch [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Therapeutic-Touch. January 20, 2017.


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