TITLE: A Close Look At Therapeutic Touch
AUTHORS: 11-year-old Emily Rosa broke a Guinness World Record for the youngest person ever to research and be published. She was assisted by her mother, Linda Rosa, an RN and member of the Questionable Nurse Practice Task Force. Also participating in this study was Larry Sarner and Dr. Steven Barrett of Quackwatch.com.
THE STUDY Therapeutic touch involves the practitioner placing his or her hands about 5 to 10 cm (about 1 to 5 inches approximately) over a patients body to detect "energy fields" which they claim can be manipulated and can be used to treat medical conditions, including acute pain, nausea, thyroid imbalances and others that the study touches on briefly. Emily designed this study herself and originally presented it as a science fair project. She wanted to know if therapeutic touch practitioners could detect her energy field. She had 21 practitioners place their hands through holes at the bottom of an opaque screen. She flipped a coin to decide which side she was to start. She then hovered her hand over the practitioners hand on the side in which the coin toss determined. The hypothesis was that if the TT practitioners could detect an energy field via Emily's hand, then they should be able to determine which of their hands was able to indicate/pick up Emily's energy fiend and correctly identify the placement of Emily's hand about 60 to 75 percent of the time.
THE RESULTS The Rosa Study showed a score of 44 percent correct answers by 21 practitioners which is very close to random chance. One most likely would get similar results if one were guessing.
WHY I THINK THIS STUDY IS IMPORTANT FOR NURSING AND SKEPTICISM There was a collective giggle from skeptics nationwide when this study appeared in the April 1st 1998 issue of JAMA: The Journal of The American Medical Association. The fact that a 9 year old kid could debunk what appeared to be vaild research of an alternative therapy with one very simple study was, in my opinion as a then-nursing student, awesome. Therapeutic touch is a questionable nursing practice. Its validity has been challenged multiple times, and the research to support it has flaws. Despite studies like this one, Therapeutic Touch has been given support by national nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Association. In fact, in this month's issue of Alternative Therapies in Health And Medicine has a research study on healing touch for post op coronary artery bypass (my review of that to follow later). I could wax poetic about the numerous atrocities that occur with questionable nursing practice, but for now, I'd like to give credit where credit is due- to Emily Rosa, the designer of the study. I'll end with a quote by JAMA Editor George Lundberg:
"[JAMA's statisticians] were amazed by its simplicity and by the clarity of its results...Age doesn't matter. All we care about is good science. This was good science."
Emily and Dr Barrett have both appeared on a recent episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit! Emily is just as adorable now as she was then. Dr Barrett has gotten much more adorable with time. He's like a fine wine, you see.
References for this blog entry:
Courency, Kevin R.N. Further Notes on Therapeutic Touch http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/tt2.html.
Rosa, L, Rosa E, Sarner L, Barrett S, A Close Look At Therapeutic Touch. JAMA 279:1005-1010, 1998.