Why is Energy Medicine and Other New Age Quackery Getting into So Many Hospitals?

MM asks: “If energy medicine and other alternatives are scientifically unsubstantiated, why are so many of them showing up in U.S. hospitals?”

Great question!

There are a variety of reasons why alternatives such as “energy work” are creeping into our medical centers – none of which are due to the fact that the practices have gained scientific prominence.

A major reason is similar to what happens in the areas of abortion and homosexuality when proponents of these practices come into positions of authority and are able to use their influence to open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

Probably the best example of this is Therapeutic Touch. This is a type of energy massage that uses very light or near-body touch to “help clear, balance and energize the human energy system, thus promoting healing for the mind, body and/or spirit” according to the Healing Touch International website.

The founder of this utter quackery was Dolores Krieger, R.N., Ph.D., a very influential and former head of the Nursing Department at New York University’s School of Medicine. Krieger is credited as being the person most responsible for the inclusion of this scientifically unfounded practice in the U.S. health care field because she used her influence to successfully promote it into the nursing profession.

Krieger was introduced to the concept by a 1960’s faith healer named Oskar Estabany, a man who claimed he could manipulate the healing energies of Jesus Christ. She became impressed with Estabany after claiming she could feel the “energetic intensity” left over in rooms where he had been healing. She was further awed by the fact that he had been able to accelerate the wound healing in mice and speed the growth of barley seeds by the mere laying on of hands.

This led her to conclude that healing by the laying on of hands is based not on the power of God but in the Sanskrit concept of a human life energy known as prana, with illness being a deficiency in prana. The healer merely transfers their excess healing energy to the sick person.

Her position at NYU gave her the ability to promote this practice which received its official “imprimatur” in 1994 when the North American Nursing Diagnosis Associates added the diagnosis of “energy field disturbance” to its list of accepted nursing diagnoses. Therapeutic Touch is now promoted by the American Nursing Association, the National League of Nursing, the Nurse Healers and Professional Associates Cooperative and the American Holistic Nursing Association. It is also taught in over 100 universities and many schools of nursing. Krieger claims to have personally instructed 43,000 nurses in the technique.

But there are other reasons why alternatives such as yoga, Reiki, herbal medicine, acupuncture and homeopathy are getting into the U.S. healthcare network.

According to Avery Comarow of U.S. News and World Report, money has become another big door-opener to alternatives. Federal and national foundation research funds are now pumping $250 million a year into exploring the potential of alternatives, to ascertain if any of them work, how they interact with other medical treatments, etc.  This has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of hospitals now offering some form of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). The most recent I found cited an eight percent increase in the number of hospitals offering CAM between 1998 and 2005.

Another reason is that hospital staff often feel obligated to provide these services to patients in order to be sure the public is using them in a responsible fashion. Although the use of alternatives has increased, it is not certain how much they have done so because most surveys usually include things like prayer and diet schemes that most people don’t really identify as an alternative. This may be skewing the number higher than it actually is, but the number of Americans who claim to have used alternatives at some time hovers around the 60 percent range.

Interestingly, in spite of this infiltration into serious medical establishments, very few alternatives have shown even modest effects in unbiased testing.  Acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, Reiki, naturopathy, all continue to come up lacking.

Barrie Cassileth, chief of integrative medicine services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and coauthor of the Alternative Medicine Handbook for physicians and other caregivers is unimpressed with CAM even after her extensive research. She told Comarow homeopathy is “absurd” and said energy medicine is “nonsense.” And even though acupuncture is offered at Sloan-Kettering, “we don’t do it thinking we’re stimulating a vital force,” she said. “We know we are releasing substances from the brain that make people feel better.”

It’s important to note that Catholic health care facilities are not immune from the infiltration of these practices, but steps are being taken by the Church hierarchy to rid their facilities from especially those that are occult-based. The U.S. bishops declared Reiki to be unscientific and “inappropriate” for use in Catholic hospitals and the Catholic Medical Association issued a position statement on Therapeutic Touch, saying it is not a Catholic pastoral practice.

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