A glimpse at therapeutic touch in action

(Homecare Education Management editor Melinda Young saw therapeutic touch in action in late December, when her father-in-law was brought home to spend his remaining days in hospice care. He had been diagnosed as having inoperable intestinal cancer. This story is based on what she witnessed as therapeutic touch was being practiced on several family members, as well as on interviews with hospice nurse Mike Marsh both before and after the healing session.)

Hospice nurse Mike Marsh, RN, BSN, CETN, of The Hospice of the Florida Suncoast in Largo, recently offered a therapeutic touch session to the wife, sons, and daughter of a hospice patient.

The patient’s two sons, wife, and daughter all reported feeling tense. The daughter said she had chronic neck and upper back pain. Marsh asked the family if they would like to experience and learn about therapeutic touch. Everyone assented.

The patient was in bed and did not participate in this session, but he listened to it and later agreed to have Marsh use therapeutic touch with him.

Marsh began by pairing up the family members so he could teach them how to do some basic therapeutic touch techniques.

"What we’re doing with this is trying to get the body into the best shape to heal itself," Marsh says by way of introducing the process.

"To do this, you must first be in a meditative state, reflective, and relaxed," Marsh says in a low, soothing voice. "The more you can maintain this quietude, and the more quiet and still your mind is, then 100% of your attention will be directed to your being a conduit of loving, healing energy, and the better you are as a healer."

Therapeutic touch is based on a principle that there is a human energy field that extends beyond the skin, and that a practitioner may serve as a conduit for universal energy. Various religions have different terms for this energy. Christians may see this energy as another way of describing the Holy Spirit. In Chinese medicine, this energy is called "chi." The Hindu science that deals with physical healing, called Ayurveda, calls this vital energy "prana."1

Marsh asks the woman with neck and back pain to sit in a chair, and he stands and places his hands on her shoulders. The woman remarks, "I feel incredible warmth coming from his hands. I feel a current coming down my left arm."

Marsh then kneels on his right knee and moves his left hand to the woman’s left elbow and keeps his right hand on her left shoulder. He keeps his hands in this position for two minutes. Then he moves his right hand to her neck.

A family member inquires about whether therapeutic touch mainly involved this type of touching or the non-touching that Marsh had described earlier. During his explanation of therapeutic touch, Marsh had told the family that therapeutic touch often did not involve actual touching but rather holding the hands a few inches away from the body.

"You can touch with therapeutic touch whenever you feel it’s appropriate," Marsh replies.

He returns to a standing position and holds his hands on the woman’s shoulders for one minute. Then he again kneels on his right knee, and he moves his hands with the palms facing and about two inches from the sides of her head. He slowly moves his hands down in a sweeping motion, holding them parallel to her head, neck, and shoulders. When his hands reach her shoulders, he moves them away from her body in an abrupt pulling motion, as though he is pulling cotton candy off of her.

Marsh repeats the motions, only this time moving his outstretched palms from her head to her feet. After several minutes of this activity, Marsh kneels in front of the woman and announces that he is sending her loving, healing energy.

Then he moves his palms, facing the front of the woman, and again sweeps them down from her head to her toes, repeating the motions four times. Marsh does the same thing to the woman’s back.

After this, he moves his hands as though he’s brushing something away from her, using a quick sweeping motion and ending it by shaking his hands away from himself.

Finally, he is finished. The woman smiles and says she feels much better, adding, "I felt like my hands were floating."


1. Collinge W. The American Holistic Health Association Complete Guide to Alternative Medicine. New York: Warner Books; 1996, pp. 15, 55-57, 282-283.