I live in Sedona, Arizona, a somewhat new-age community where there is an "energy healer" on every block. But in the off-chance that you may not have this luxury, let me describe what I'm talking about. There's a new study just published in a respected scientific journal that reviews the science behind a growing, worldwide interest in what the authors call "biofield therapies." These therapies are often practiced under common names such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch and Healing Touch.
Biofield therapies, which claim to use subtle energy to stimulate the body's healing process, are promising complementary interventions for pain reduction in a number of conditions, reducing anxiety for hospitalized patients and reducing agitated behaviors in dementia, over and above what standard treatments can achieve. However, longer-term effects are less clear. Dr. Shamini Jain (UCLA) and Dr. Paul Mills (University of California, San Diego) published their review of the science behind biofield therapies in this week's Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
A significant number of patients use Reiki, Therapeutic Touch or Healing Touch despite very little which proves that they work. These techniques have been used over millennia in various cultural communities to heal physical and mental disorders. They have only recently been under the scrutiny of current Western scientific methods.
Jain and Mills did a detailed review of 66 clinical studies looking at biofield therapies in different patient populations with a range of ailments. They examine the strength of the evidence for the efficacy of these complementary therapies. While they consider the published work on this science to be of average quality, in scientific terms, they do indeed find strong evidence that biofield therapies reduce pain intensity in free-living populations, and moderate evidence that they are effective at lowering pain in hospitalized patients as well as in patients with cancer.
There is also moderate evidence that these therapies ease agitated behaviors in dementia and moderate evidence that they reduce anxiety in hospitalized patients. The authors found inconclusive evidence for biofield therapies on symptoms of fatigue and quality of life in cancer patients, as well as for overall pain reduction, and anxiety management in cardiovascular patients. It is clear from this analysis of the data that something is going on with Biofield therapy work, and that some people can benefit greatly from the practice.