Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Has Therapeutic Touch Lost Its Way in Medicine? Or Is It Lawsuits?

The importance of physical touch has been established by research and in medical settings, yet there is a hesitancy to use it in many healthcare facilities.

Touch has become a subject of lawsuits and medical interventions. The MeToo movement pulled touch into an unexpected, negative spotlight in our culture. In this instance, it resulted in women’s marches and lawsuits, corporate firings, and new training from HR.

The question of inappropriate touching at work is spreading worldwide, and China has noted it, too. “Following the “Draft of the Civil Code” to stipulate that employers prevent and stop sexual harassment, on December 12, 2018, the Supreme People’s Court issued the ‘Notice on Increasing the Causes of Civil Cases,’ which included ‘sexual harassment liability disputes’ and ‘equal employment rights disputes’ as a new cause.”

Aside from unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate touching, there are other “touches.” Two types of touch, in a healing sense, exist; healing touch and therapeutic touch, and they are quite different. What is the difference?

Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch

Healing touch is an age-old technique in which there is usually no physical or limited physical touching of the person. The object is to manipulate what is believed to be the person’s energy fieldDo we have an external energy field?

This therapeutic intervention is based on the belief that there is such a field and that imbalances in energy in the person lead to physical or emotional problems. The patient’s belief in this energy field disruption is central in the treatments, but it may be a form of a placebo effect because of this strong belief by both patient and practitioner.

The status or existence of an energy field that can be affected by performing specific movements of the healer’s hands is questionable. Some might say it lives in the realm of science fiction, and we require research to provide the answer to a fundamental question: Does an external energy field exist or not?

The concept received support in the nursing field in the 1990s and was widely taught in nursing schools. First introduced to the discipline of nursing by nurse theorist Martha Rogers, the energy field was defined as the ‘fundamental unit of the living and the nonliving’,… adding that it is infinite, irreducible, indivisible, and in continuous motion. Rogers identified the human field and the environmental field as two energy fields of interest to nurses, emphasizing that while distinct, they are not separate.

The question of how to quantify such a field (or fields) remains an interesting theoretical concept that appears to be unproven by quantifiable measures up to this point.

Therapeutic touch is an essential practice in medicine where patients are touched, e.g., taking vitals. Still, it can have a therapeutic effect and act as a measurement of health.

Individual cases of the salutary effect of human touch in medical settings appear in the literature. Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “It has often appeared, while I have been soothing my patients, as if there was a singular property in my hands to pull and draw away from the affected parts aches and diverse impurities, by laying my hand upon the place, and extending my fingers toward it….”

The simple act of a comforting hand may have therapeutic qualities. Yet, it is inadequately understood unless we accept that touch is a necessary human interaction for mental and physical health. But is a hug or a hand on the back or stroking of a patient’s arm seen solely as therapeutic, or are we looking askance at each physical interaction now? Even artificial intelligence has explored the benefits of haptic interactions in designing projects dealing with humans.

How do we incorporate empathic vital touch in a decade of lawsuits aimed at inappropriate touch? As in so much of medical practice and psychotherapy, the jury is still out on this one. Hug a patient and forget the potential for a suit, or carefully consider the patient’s personality before engaging in any physical actions not required by a protocol?

Touch may be essential for health, but it can also be misunderstood and lead to a dreadful outcome.

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Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

DR PATRICIA FARRELL

Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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