DR. NANCY RUBIN IS AN ONCOLOGY SPECIALIST AT PACIFIC CANCER CARE IN MONTEREY. She was skeptical when she first learned about Healing Touch. The practice that claims to open up the energy centers of the human body – aka chakras – and align the energy that flows through the body’s energy system as a way to aid healing does have that element of “woo woo,” she concedes. But she couldn’t deny the results she was seeing after one of her nurses trained in the healing practice was helping patients to feel better during cancer treatments. One patient declared the nurse had “magic hands,” because his pain diminished whenever she worked on him.
Over the last several years, Rubin has referred more than 100 patients to the Stanford Healing Partners Program, an organization of volunteers who treat cancer patients for free. About 15 volunteers are operating on the Monterey Peninsula, connected to the program that got its start with two practitioners working at the Stanford Cancer Center in 2004. Rubin’s patients report that the several one-hour sessions weekly help them better tolerate cancer treatments and give them more energy.
Rubin herself went through Healing Touch treatments after surgery two years ago, and says her doctors were amazed at how fast she healed compared to similar patients.
The practice of Healing Touch was developed in 1989 by a registered nurse and Navy veteran in Denver, and has slowly been gaining acceptance in the U.S. medical community. It’s probably most akin to reiki therapy, although in reiki the hands are kept a certain distance from the body, whereas Healing Touch does incorporate some light touching.
Clients are fully clothed, and lie on their backs on a table that resembles a massage table in a spa-like setting.
“Through soft gentle touch we restore the flow of energy in the body, so that the body can access its innate capacity for self-healing,” says Margot Baker, the Carmel Valley woman who is credited with single-handedly organizing a new group of Healing Touch volunteers when she moved to the area in 2010 from Mountain View.
She points to recent scientific studies that confirm there is a correlation between Healing Touch treatments and patients of any ailment experiencing less pain, less depression – among other problems – as well as healing faster than patients who do not undergo treatments. “It just really makes my heart sing to know that science is coming around,” she says.
Science aside, just spending an hour relaxing on a table in a room that looks like many spa massage rooms – low lighting, soft colors and meditative music playing softly in the background – gives cancer patients a needed chance to lie down and relax for one hour a week over two to three months during one of the most chaotic periods of their lives.
“It puts them in a much better state,” says Debra Saxton of Carmel, a volunteer who is also a private practitioner. “They are better able to confront the stresses and work through them.”
Practitioners complete two levels of training before helping with Healing Partners; five total levels of training and an apprenticeship with 100 documented sessions and other tasks takes place before certification is possible with the national board. They focus their concentration on the specific needs of each client during the sessions, using their hands to either sense the patient’s energy – or lack thereof, in the case of blocked energy – and to direct their own energy toward realigning the patient’s energy flow. Some practitioners feel a heat or tingling in their own hands. When Saxton does an initial assessment of a patient’s surrounding energy field, she describes it as pushing against a balloon.
Rubin sees a direct correlation between areas blocked from energy flow and where cancer develops. “Anything that can bring energy to the area to increase blood flow helps the immune system,” she says.
The 15 local volunteers treat more than 100 patients a year through the free program, and there’s always a waiting list. The only requirements are an openness to trying the practice and that the patients be undergoing treatment with a doctor. The volunteers make it clear the program does not replace traditional treatments. When the program started it was only for breast cancer patients, but it’s since been expanded to all types of cancers. It grew mostly by word of mouth among women who attended breast cancer support groups and their oncologists. Increasingly more men are coming to appreciate the benefits as well, Saxton says.
Some of the volunteers in the program have gone on to start their own private Healing Touch practices, including Baker, Saxton, and Elizabeth Ashton Blackman, who coordinates practitioners in the Bay Area region. Blackman says Healing Touch can benefit any illness, including dementia and PTSD. It’s currently being used across the country in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics.
The three women say practitioners in private practice charge rates similar to what a massage therapy session might cost in the area, which on the Monterey Peninsula might range from $80 to $120. And most charge on a sliding scale to make it available to anyone.