When Alice Davison, a linguistics professor at the University of Iowa, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, she received up-to-date medical treatments at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa Hospital. At Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City, Iowa, she also received what may be the world’s oldest healing technique, the laying on of hands with prayer.
More specifically, Davison received Healing Touch, a form of complementary medicine that practitioners say assists the body’s natural healing process by redirecting and rebalancing its energy fields. During the five-week period when Davison underwent chemotherapy and radiation, members of Trinity’s Healing Ministries Team gave her an HT treatment each weekday.
“There was such a contrast between the hospital and my Healing Touch sessions at Trinity,” says Davison. “The medical professionals were skilled and caring, but the medical treatments themselves — which involved things like intravenous infusions and radiation done by large machines — often weren’t very pleasant. The Healing Touch sessions at Trinity brought me back to myself again. They were warm, leisurely and relaxing, and they helped me release the tension and stress of my hospital treatments.”
Davison is one of many who have found comfort through the gentle touch of those involved in healing ministries at Trinity Church. The church’s programs include a Healing Touch Clinic for the public and HT treatments for Trinity members in their homes or in the church’s healing room. Since 2003, the 25 ministry team members have given nearly 600 HT treatments.
“I regularly give thanks for the Healing Touch ministry at Trinity,” says the Rev. Mel Schlachter, rector. “It has awakened us to the power of the church's ancient but neglected healing ministry.”
Healing Touch is a modern technique with ancient roots. Many cultures have recognized that a gentle touch soothes those who are ill. More recently, research studies at places including the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute have shown that touch is essential for human health.
Skin is the human body’s largest organ, containing millions of receptors that send messages through nerve fibers to the brain. A simple touch can reduce a person’s heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Nurse Janet Mentgen developed Healing Touch, offering the first official course in 1989. About 1,800 people have become certified practitioners, many working in medical centers, hospitals and hospices. (While Healing Touch and another type of “energy” work called Reiki have similarities, the two developed independently and use different techniques.)
Healing Touch is attracting increasing attention from medical researchers, including Dr. Sharon McDonough-Means, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. She is analyzing data from a four-year research project on Healing Touch funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. The study was designed to examine whether Healing Touch would improve babies’ response to stress in the neonatology intensive care unit.
“Healing Touch -- along with other energy healing disciplines — is attracting increasing attention in the medical community,” says McDonough-Means. “While more research is certainly needed, I think the strongest factor in doctors’ greater acceptance of these modalities is their own personal experience. If they have had Healing Touch themselves, they are likely to be more open to its potential benefits for patients.”
In the 1990s, HT practitioner Linda Smith began to realize the many connections between Healing Touch and Christian healing traditions. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus healing the sick, and Jesus commanded his followers to go and do likewise. The early church made healing a central part of its mission.
In 1997, Smith founded Healing Touch Spiritual Ministry as a way to reclaim the church’s early commitment to healing. HTSM offers workshops integrating the teaching and practice of HT techniques with a study of Judeo-Christian Scriptures and healing traditions.
“As practitioners of Healing Touch, we are instruments through which God’s healing energy flows,” says Smith, whose books include Called Into Healing: Reclaiming our Judeo-Christian Legacy of Healing Touch. “Healing Touch addresses the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions of a person. The word ‘heal’ comes from the Old English word haelen, which means to make whole. Healing involves restoring balance to a person’s mind, body and soul. An abatement of symptoms may be part of a healing, but healing can occur even if the illness isn’t cured in the physical sense.”
Trinity members were introduced to Healing Touch in 2003, when certified practitioner Jacquelyn Phillips joined and began offering treatments.
HTSM training followed. Since 2003, more than 60 people have attended four workshops co-sponsored by the church, New Song Episcopal Church in Coralville and the Episcopal chaplaincy at the University of Iowa.
A Commitment to Healing
Trinity has changed as a result of its members’ deepening commitment to healing ministries. Each week, trained lay members offer laying-on-of-hands for healing at each of Trinity’s three Sunday Eucharists.
The HT clinic is offered every three weeks. Typically, more than a dozen practitioners arrive with their massage tables. The parish hall is soon transformed into a sacred healing space with soft lighting and meditative music. Clients sign up in advance, with six to 10 typically receiving treatments each evening. The clinic is free, with goodwill donations supporting further training for practitioners.
Clients come for various reasons. Some have chronic ailments like arthritis and diabetes, others are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, and some seek stress relief. One or two practitioners work on each client, gently placing their hands on or above the person’s fully clothed body. Many clients report a feeling of deep relaxation and peace, often accompanied by warmth. The techniques vary depending on the client’s condition, but sessions typically last about 45 minutes.
While a treatment often relieves physical symptoms, many say the emotional and spiritual benefits of HT keep them returning to the clinic. Such is the case for Evan Clemmons, who serves as the primary caregiver for his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease.
“It can be very stressful taking care of someone with a chronic illness,” says Clemmons. “The clinics give me the chance to deeply relax, which is something I very much need. Here I get the chance to receive care, instead of give it.”
Phillips, who serves as a mentor and teacher for the healing team, is delighted with how the ministry has developed. At 87, she continues to give HT treatments at Trinity (more than 200 in 2004).
“We certainly help our clients, but as practitioners we also benefit from this work,” says Phillips. “I don’t think you can do Healing Touch without growing spiritually and becoming more aware of divine power. Most satisfying of all is the feeling of having obeyed the commandment, ‘Love one another.’ This work is done from the heart.”
For more information on Healing Touch Spiritual Ministries, visit http://www.htspiritualministry.com/.