It's not traditional medicine but patients love it: an unconventional therapy called the healing touch that is gaining acceptance in some U.S. hospitals.
The technique uses light touch and deep breathing to address energy imbalances, its advocates say. Though research on it is limited, the therapy is practiced at 30 U.S. hospitals and by nearly 2,000 certified therapists, according to Healing Touch International, based in Denver.
"Healing touch raised my awareness and brought me a deep state of relaxation, which is not something you can get just by taking pain medicine," said Sarla Santos, 40, a nurse who underwent lung surgery in October and receives healing touch therapy at New York University Medical Center.
"Pain medication takes the pain out but doesn't make you feel good or calm," she said.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health classifies healing touch as "energy medicine," in which practitioners believe illness results from disturbances of subtle energy fields, and calls it controversial.
The NIH says neither the external energy fields nor the therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly.
NYU Medical Center has approved it as a complement to traditional rehabilitation, offering patients and staff free sessions as part of the hospital's MindBody Patient Care Program.
The system incorporates ancient Asian healing techniques and was developed in the 1980s by Janet Mentgen, a nurse in Colorado.
A healing touch therapist will gently touch or glide his hands through the patient's energy points or affected areas, such as shoulders, feet and forehead. The practitioner concentrates on each point for a few minutes.
Lisa Anselme, executive director at the Denver organization, said the method was not meant to stand alone.
"Healing touch is not intended to replace standard treatment. It's a complementary therapy," said Anselme, a registered nurse and healing touch practitioner.
Jackie Levin, a nurse who coordinates the NYU program, said the treatment works well for people with anxiety, depression and stress associated with surgery and cancer treatments.
"It's very safe, very calming and in the end, almost everyone can benefit from it," said Levin.
Nancy Hauserman, 58, a college professor in Iowa City, sought healing touch therapy twice, first during a period of emotional distress and then after foot surgery.
"I would still see my doctor, but I wanted to make sure that there were no blockages between my mind and body at that time," Hauserman said. "In fact, my own doctor was extremely impressed with how fast my wound has healed."