Massage therapy is about more than simple relaxation. When performed by a licensed professional, massage can improve circulation, stimulate the lymphatic system, reduce stress, and improve joint mobility and flexibility. In fact, massage is one of the oldest healing traditions, practiced by the Ancient Greeks, Indians, Chinese, and Egyptians.
Though massage therapy is well-known and commonly practiced, there is a related practice called touch therapy that doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention. Touch therapy incorporates aspects of massage but also involves energy work to stimulate the body’s natural healing ability. Here’s what you need to know about touch therapy and what benefits it provides.
What is Touch Therapy?
Touch therapy falls under the broader categories of energy healing which includes other practices like reiki, tai chi, and acupuncture. These forms of therapy are based on the principles of mind-body wellness and the idea that the body has a natural energy field that ties into that mind-body connection.
The foundational principle of energy healing suggests that imbalances in the mind-body connection or the flow of energy in the body can contribute to pain, illness, and mental health issues. Touch therapy practitioners use the healing power of touch to manipulate the flow of energy in the body to restore balance and promote healing.
Before getting into the details of how touch therapy works and what benefits it provides, it’s important to make a distinction between healing touch and therapeutic touch.
Therapeutic touch (TT) is a practice developed by Dolores Krieger and Dora Kunz in the 1970s and it is sometimes known as non-contact therapeutic touch (NCTT). This is a form of energy therapy in which the practitioner may not actually touch the client but holds their hands a few inches above the body to direct the flow of energy.
Healing touch (HT) was developed by Janet Mentgen in the late 1980s. This therapy may involve some level of physical contact with the client, though it depends on the specific technique being used. Practitioners of healing touch often use a combination of energy healing therapies to balance the client’s energy field and support the body’s ability to heal itself. Healing touch can be particularly beneficial for relieving anxiety and depression, reducing pain, and strengthening the immune system.
What Are the Benefits?
The human body is designed to heal itself, but it is a process that takes time. The goal of touch therapy is to balance the body’s energy field to support this natural healing process. Though there is limited research to support the clinical effects of touch therapy, people who receive the treatment report numerous physical, mental, and emotional effects.
Touch therapy may provide the following benefits:
- Relief from anxiety and stress
- Improved wound healing
- Pain relief
- Reduced side effects of chemotherapy
- Improved immune function
- Relief from symptoms of fibromyalgia and lupus
- Improved sleep, relief from fatigue
Touch therapy isn’t aimed at curing disease but focuses on stimulating the body’s natural healing process. This form of therapy is generally very safe and has no known side effects, though some recipients report feeling lightheaded, thirsty, or increasingly emotional after completing a touch therapy session.
What Does a Touch Therapy Session Look Like?
Touch therapy sessions typically last between 15 and 30 minutes. The session often begins with a discussion of the client’s goals for healing followed by light touch or hand motions over the skin as the practitioner assesses and balances the client’s energy flow.
Practitioners of touch therapy typically follow these stages:
- Centering – At the start of a session, the touch therapy practitioner takes a few minutes to focus themselves using deep breathing and other grounding exercises. By entering a semi-meditative state, the practitioner can better focus on the client and the treatment itself.
- Assessment – Next, the practitioner will hold their hands a few inches over the client’s body, making sweeping hand gestures to get a sense of the energy field. During assessment, the practitioner seeks to identify areas where the flow of energy has been disrupted.
- Intervention – Having identified the areas of blocked energy, the practitioner will then address the blockage using rhythmic hand motions over the area. Some practitioners may also guide the client through visualization techniques to direct the flow of positive energy to the area.
- Evaluation – After any energy blockages have been cleared, the practitioner may perform a second assessment to look for additional areas of concern before ending the session.
The jury is still out on whether touch therapy works or not. Several small studies suggest touch therapy may provide some benefit for relieving pain, stress, and anxiety and others show it may be beneficial for the treatment of eating disorders. Some research shows touch therapy may reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and improve quality of life for cancer patients, and numerous studies support the use of touch therapy for pain relief and wound healing.
While the results of these studies are promising, more research is needed to ascertain the clinical viability of touch therapy. Whether or not this form of therapy is supported by science, however, many who undergo this treatment report improvements in pain, fatigue, and anxiety.
Though touch therapy may not be a cure in and of itself, it may help your clients feel better and, at the very least, may provide a calming and relaxing treatment to add to your spa menu.