Healing touch clinic “not ours” says university

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James Cook University has reiterated claims that it has nothing to do with a healing touch clinic located on its Townsville campus.

Professor Lee Stewart, Dean of the College of Healthcare Sciences, told Australian Skeptics that “We are very much aware of the concern raised about the Healing Touch Clinic, which has been conducted at a building owned by JCU but leased to various organisations.

“Unfortunately, as we have stated earlier, the Clinic has inadvertently been misrepresented as a JCU enterprise, which is incorrect.”

Healing (or therapeutic) touch is a particular example of pseudoscience in the medical field. It ‘works’ on the principle that practitioners place their hands on, or near, a patient, enabling them to detect and manipulate what they say is the patient’s ‘energy field’. There is a strong similarity to Reiki and the ‘laying on of hands’ practices of faith healers.

Videos of treatments show practitioners moving their hands gently over a patient, and then flicking away what are apparently bad energies.

“There is no good medical evidence for the effectiveness of therapeutic touch. A Cochrane systematic review found ‘[t]here is no robust evidence that TT promotes healing of acute wounds’ and the American Cancer Society has noted, ‘Available scientific evidence does not support any claims that TT can cure cancer or other diseases’.” (Wikipedia)

Theatre nurse and healing touch practitioner Tracey Jones told ABC North Queensland that treatments moved the body’s energy to promote healing.

“Healing touch practitioners are not faith healers, they don’t actually heal,” Jones said. “What it really does is it unsticks your energy so you can … heal yourself.”

In other words, healing touch doesn’t really touch and nor does it heal.

The Healing Touch Clinic was set up on the university grounds by a private company Healing Touch Townsville. But its presence has been supported by Dr Kristin Wicking, a Senior Lecturer within the JCU College of Healthcare Sciences, Centre for Nursing and Midwifery Research.

Wicking said several Australian hospitals have healing touch clinics and services, but JCU will be Australia’s first university to host a clinic.

Wicking, who completed her postdoctoral studies on healing touch, said the therapy was well-researched and proven to be effective on stress-related conditions.

“So having some stress relief and stress management literally at their doorstep we hope will be heavily utilised by both the hospital staff and the university staff.”

Stewart, who spoke to Australian Skeptics on behalf of herself and JCU Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Cocklin, said that “While a JCU staff member is associated with the clinic, she does this in a private capacity and not as a representative of JCU.”

“While this clinic is conducted for a few hours per fortnight in a building on JCU’s Townsville campus, JCU has no contractual or financial relationship with it. JCU staff are not employed to work at the clinic.”

While JCU may not have any direct contractual relationship with the clinic, as Stewart said it does own the building and leases it to “various organisations”. The question arises as to whether JCU can specify what sorts of organisations can use its facilities.

When asked whether the existence of a healing touch clinic on grounds within the university meant that JCU will be associated in the public mind with a pseudoscientific practice, thus giving that practice an undeserved imprimatur, Stewart said that “JCU’s reputation is one of solid science-based teaching and research and we will continue with this crucial endeavour as we have always done.”

“JCU does not promote nor teach healing touch in its science-based nursing programs.”

This last point is challenged by the fact that, in October last year, a course run by Wicking and taught by Dr Rosalie Van Aken RN*, titled the “Healing Touch Level One masterclass” was promoted on the university’s website. The course had the description: “During this Healing Touch Level 1 course you will be invited to explore bio energetic healing to enhance your own and others’ wellness. The course includes both theory and practical components with hands-on exercises to gain practical experience of the techniques.”

The masterclass course description said that it is “hosted by James Cook University”, it is run on the JCU Douglas campus (Building DB-043) by a Senior Lecturer within the JCU College of Healthcare Sciences, and with further information offered on a JCU Alumni site.

Stewart said that: “Reference to previous activities undertaken by the Healing Touch group have been misrepresented as being JCU activities. This will not occur in the future.”

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* Aken is an Australian Registered Nurse who has practiced mainly in the areas of mental health and drug and alcohol. She was also employed by Southern Cross University teaching in the areas of Natural Therapies, Stress Management, Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol.

She says she was awarded a PhD from Southern Cross University in 2004 for a study titled “Emerging from Depression: the experiential process of Healing Touch studied through grounded theory and case study”. She says that the area of energy work and emotional health are a major interest.

“I became a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner and Instructor in 1996 and continue to have a bioenergetic healing practice and teach all levels of the Healing Touch Certificate Program in the Asio Pacific Region. I developed the Way of the Healer series of workshops during 2005 to assist healers to develop their energy system.”

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