Healing Touch for Pediatric Oncology
By David Kiefer, MD, Editor
Source:Wong J, et al. The impact of healing touch on pediatric oncology patients. Integr Cancer Ther 2013;12:25-30.
Filling a need for non-pharmacologic solutions to symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments in children, healing touch may alleviate a variety of symptoms. Healing touch, defined as an energy therapy that works with a person's energy field to balance physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being (www.healingtouchinternational.org/), is also consider a mind-body therapy by some groups such as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Its purported mechanisms of action include an improvement in immune system function and the support of the mind and body's innate healing abilities. The researchers of this study followed up on this topic by randomizing nine pediatric oncology patients to either 30-minute healing touch sessions once daily at each inpatient or outpatient clinical encounter over 1 year (n = 6) or reading/play activities as the control group (n = 3). Via the Wong-Baker Faces Scale, the Feeling Thermometer Scale, and My Fatigue Meter, the children, parents, and health care providers rated pain, distress, and fatigue, respectively, pre-intervention and post-intervention. The healing touch group started with higher baseline scores on the above-mentioned scales, and accrued more sessions over the year (200 sessions vs 30 sessions in the control group). For each of the scales, patients, parents, and providers all reported an improvement in the patient's pain, distress, and fatigue when pre-intervention was compared to post-intervention (P < 0.001). No such improvement was seen in the control group. When the healing touch group was compared to the control group, the healing touch group had statistically significant differences in pain (children and parents) and distress (parents). Despite the fact that it was a very small study, the important differences between the healing touch and control enrollees, and that, of the nine enrollees, three dropped out during the year (two from complicated treatment regimens, one due to death, all in the healing touch group), it seems that healing touch is a viable treatment option for children undergoing treatment for cancer. On that note, there is little downside to the use of this modality as an adjunctive therapy provided that conventional therapies are not eliminated or delayed, and there is no significant out-of-pocket cost burden for the patient and their family. In a busy hospital or clinic environment, and during treatment for devastating illnesses such as childhood cancers, it may be easy to forget to incorporate any of a number of bioenergetic therapies into an integrative treatment plan. This study is a reminder for clinicians to keep healing touch in mind for one aspect of pediatric oncological care.