When Helen Davies underwent treatment for her breast cancer two years ago, she combined chemotherapy with medicine that originated thousands of years ago.
Darcy Richards, a healing touch practitioner, balanced Davies' energy field - as practitioners put it - while she received chemotherapy through infusion.
"It might sound silly but I could feel the air among my body," Davies, a 38-year-old accountant, said. "It was very relaxing. A lot of times, I fell asleep."
Like Davies, more and more Americans are seeking alternative medicine to complement conventional treatments.
Although the American Medical Association said there is little evidence to confirm the safety or efficacy of most alternative medicine, 62 percent of adults in the United States use some form of it, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The forms include prayer, yoga and hypnosis.
Among the wide varieties of alternative medicine, healing touch is perhaps one of the most mysterious approaches.
Although developed in the 1980s, healing touch is based on the ancient belief that the balance of one's energy, as practitioners put it, can affect one's physical, emotional and spiritual health.
"It takes a holistic approach," said Mary Szczepanski, a registered nurse who has done healing touch since 1986.
"When people are sick, injured or upset, their energy field is disturbed," Szczepanski said. "Healing touch works by balancing the energy field and clearing the disturbance."
A cellular biologist and physiologist, James Oschman said in his book "Energy Medicine" that one's energy comes from the electrical waves flowing through the body.
Oschman said healing energy is energy of a particular frequency that stimulates the repair of one or more tissues.
Bob Urata, a doctor at Valley Medical Center, said he isn't sure if there is such a thing as an energy field, but he has seen some of his patients feel better after receiving healing touch.
"It doesn't seem to harm them," Urata said.
Despite the name, healing touch practitioners don't always stimulate their patients' energy by touching them.
When practitioners assess a patient's energy field, they move their hands about 2 or 4 inches above a person's body with their palms facing down.
"There is no manipulation of the body," Szczepanski, owner of Healing Touch Alaska, said. "You work with the energy."
According to Janet Mentgen, founder of healing touch, the practice can reduce pain, decrease anxiety, enhance spiritual development, facilitate wound healing and provide support for the terminally ill. Healing touch can be used on people, animals and plants.
Marsha Buck, 63, credited healing touch with helping her recover from a serious car accident five years ago.
For months, Szczepanski did healing touch on Buck, who had a broken neck and pelvis, several broken ribs and punctured lungs.
"Healing touch reduced my pain and calmed me down," Buck said.
Because Buck couldn't sleep at night, Szczepanski performed healing touch at bedtime to help her sleep.
Richards said performing healing touch is nurturing for both her and her patients.
"As a practitioner, you have to be totally present with another person," Richards said. "It speaks to our basic need to be connected to other people to heal ourselves."
In Juneau, many volunteers at Bartlett Regional Hospital and Hospice and Home Care of Juneau learn healing touch to help their clients.
On Tuesday, a group of four hospice volunteers took a class from Szczepanski. For almost an hour, they learned how to meditate. With their eyes closed, they breathed deeply and relaxed.
"Visualize yourself as a clear 0skeptical but it seems more than just chance," Winker said.
After the meditation, the group took turns working on one another.
Steve Winker, a volunteer, said he still doesn't know how healing touch works, but he said he could feel the energy field of another volunteer when he worked on her body. The volunteer said she felt Winker's hand press on her stomach although his hands were inches away.
"I am skeptical but it seems more than just chance," Winker said.
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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