This is the first of a two-part question from AR: “I have been helping out an elderly women that mentioned that she has used, and would like to use again, something called Bowen Therapy. I looked it up and on one of the sites, I did see some link to meridian/accupuncture and it had a ying/yang symbol, but it really seems like simple stimulations and trying to move toxins out of the body…like what would happen if one simply had a massage. Anyway, do you have any info on this therapy and any concerns? Some of this new age stuff is obviously problematic, but I can’t help but think that some “alternative” medicine is much better than the ‘treat the symptom’ form of western medicine.”
Although there are a wide variety of definitions of Bowen Therapy (BT), it is an alternative medicine technique that combines massage with what some describe as “vibrational energy healing.” It was developed by an Australian engineer with no medical training named Tom Bowen (1916-1982) and was introduced into the U.S. in 1990.
It is described as being “a holistic approach to pain relief and healing that is based on the recognition that the underlying cause or source of many musculoskeletal, neurological, neuromuscular and other health or pain problems can be found in the form of an imbalance of the energetic and facial systems of the body.”
These “energetic” systems are described as being associated with “chi” – a universal life force energy that is part of a pantheistic belief system.
During a typical treatment, which lasts about 30-45 minutes, the practitioner uses his/her fingers to make a gentle rolling type of motion on different muscles in the body. The practitioner then pauses, sometimes even leaving the room for a few minutes, to allow the body to “make its own adjustments” or, in a sense, to heal itself.
The Bowen Therapists Federation of Australia says that the actual origins of this type of treatment are unknown but admits “there do appear to be links with traditional Chinese medicine,” which is based on the alleged existence of a universal life force energy, which could explain why AR saw yin-yang symbols displayed on their websites.
However, many practitioners of BT are typically vague about the type of energy involved, which can lead unsuspecting consumers to believe the Bowen therapist will be working with the legitimate natural energy systems of the body rather than a universal life force energy that science says does not exist (see this blog for more detailed information on this subject).
For instance, here’s how one practitioner explains it: “The Bowen Technique affects the body primarily through two of its main regulatory systems (the nervous system and the energetic system) to bring it back to a state of balance or homeostasis.”
Only after reading much further into the description does one learn that this “energetic system” is actually chi. “The Bowen Technique stimulates circulation of energy (Chi or Life Force) and clears energetic blocks. Most moves overlap with acupuncture points and some actually cross over 2 or 3 acupuncture meridians at once.”
Another rather serious problem is that independent scientific testing of BT has been largely inconclusive and there is no regulation in this field, which means it is open to just about anyone who wants to hang out a shingle.
This led the Australian government to conduct its own analysis and determine that Bowen Therapy, along with 15 other practices, lacked clear evidence to support their claims of efficacy and will no longer receive health insurance rebates.
AR is correct in saying that some “alternative” medicine techniques are much better than those that “’treat the symptom’ form of western medicine” but those that have any association with the false god known as a “universal life force” should be strictly avoided by Christians.
Because of the vastly differing interpretations of Bowen Therapy that are in practice today, it is possible that some practitioners may not incorporate a belief in “chi” into their practice. However, the prevalence of these beliefs among Bowen Therapy practitioners makes it imperative that Christians either avoid this therapy altogether or exercise extreme caution when choosing a therapist.
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NOTE: This blog was updated in November, 2018 to reflect updated research.