I left people hanging after the last post wondering what the possible reasons exist for the effectiveness or lack thereof for energy based massage and bodywork techniques. Let’s look at that now.
How Can We Know if Energy Based Techniques are Working?
That is a very good question. I remember reading an article many years ago[i] where the author claimed there was no way of determining if a person had a good massage. I remember thinking that to be a rather silly at the time and immediately wrote a rebuttal that no one wanted to publish. It may be better to change the question and ask if it is possible to demonstrate physically that physical changes have happened following an energy based treatment.
I believe it is possible to document many things before and after any type of treatment and see if there has been any change. I have been doing this for many years. Here are a few things that I have measured and that I believe could be applied before and after treatment to see if any change has occurred. I will limit my comments to things massage therapists can do within their scope of practice. There are a number of other ways to document. Here are a few that I use:
- ROM testing
- Neurological Testing (reflex, strength, sensation)
- Neurodynamic Testing
- Algometer readings
- Breath Changes
- Percentage of body surface pain
- Foot turn out
These are simple things that any massage therapist can easily learn and incorporate into their practice. Things used by others that I do not use are visual analog scales, Oswestry tests, and orthopedic tests. These are just off the top of my head – you may know of others.
The point is that we have ways of measuring if something is changing after using these techniques. We are not left to the whim of the therapist or the report of the client. These are not useless by any means. I just want to point out that we can measure the physical effects of therapy.
It Works – But How?
If we determine by some of the above tests that people are experiencing a change following therapy we then need to ask a really important question. Why? Why are they getting better? I can think of a few possible reasons. There may well be others.
If the practitioner is doing the centering and attunement practices they are plainly doing occult practices. If the person is doing this (centering and attunement) as a believer they are doing occult things in the name of Christ in a manner similar to the seven sons of Sceva and the others who performed exorcisms in the name of Jesus (Acts 19). They are like the people say to Jesus in Mt 7:22-23 “Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
There may indeed be changes that may happen after treating with an occult based therapy. Scripture is certainly full of instances where spiritual activity resulted in changes in the physical realm. The entrance of sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) introduced such changes (Rom. 8:19-25).
If someone who practices this way gets results we know that there is a strong likelihood the possibility that the results can be a result of supernatural activity. We need to stay clear of these activities.
Other people attempt energy types of healing with no discernible link to occult types of activity. They too claim results. Are there other reasons that these techniques may work? I believe that there are and they may fall into at least one and probably more of the following categories:
1) Placebo is a very good possibility. Placebo gets a bad name. It should not. It simply means that the person is expecting the intervention to work and so their brain believes it and creates the change. It is important that our medicine be investigated to make sure that it actually does what we think it does. How does placebo work in normal massage and possibly in energy work also? If the client expects to get better it is likely that the expectation alone is enough to trigger the body to deal with the problem.
When I walk into a room with confidence and I assure the client that I have helped people with similar issues before there is an immediate expectation of help. If I actually demonstrate by my demeanor, intonation, and actions that I care, then that expectation is further raised. If, in addition, my touch communicates a level of confidence I have already won a good deal of the battle. Now sprinkle in a small amount of a believable explanation and bake till done. In the end it will not matter much what I have done. I have done this many times and used different techniques to get great outcomes.
Experiments noted that EP can’t detect an energy field under test conditions.[ii] Researchers specifically ruled our radiant heat, air movement, noise from clothing, and on some occasions actually miscued the therapist. This may well relate to the patient as well. In the presence of these sensory cues coupled with expectation a potent placebo effect is certainly possible.
I do not believe that placebo is a reason to justify utilizing techniques that are indefensible. We should always have an understanding of what we are doing and why it should work. We should be able to communicate that. We should also understand the importance of the placebo effect and realize that pretty much everything in the presentation of the dish called therapy is important and that any element can change the outcome.
2. Neurology may very well explain aspects of energy based therapy. A good deal of the preceding argument in this as well as in the preceding post, have been in regard to Therapeutic Touch and Reiki. They have been evaluated on the basis of biblical considerations and in light of the detection of an energy field. There are a number of other therapies that also claim to work energetically. A number of these approaches incorporate eastern meridian based systems. These energy based treatment modalities actually touch the body and are performed by massage therapists.
In the massage profession these come in the form of Polarity Therapy, Qua Sha, and Shiatsu to name a few. Skeptics dismiss these modalities as quackery and assume that they work simply due to placebo. I have no doubt that placebo is part of the explanation but it is highly likely that there are neurological mechanisms at work here also. (I critique the theological foundations of these systems in a previous post [iii] regarding the Creator Creature Distinction.)
Meridians are said to be channels where the energy travels through the body. They are named for organ systems that they are believed to be connected with. These systems use touch and because of this they must of necessity activate the cutaneous receptors of the nervous system. The acupuncture points along these meridians are generally located in the intramuscular septums where the peripheral nerves travel. Activation of the receptors of these nerves make for a much more reasonable explanation for the supposed energetic effects of meridian based therapies.
3. Ideomotor Activity is movement that is secondary to thought. When a peripheral nerve is not getting enough blood a sense of discomfort or even pain is felt. It is natural to move into a position where the blood returns and the discomfort is relieved. This is an example of ideomotor movement. A very through explanation is available at: http://barrettdorko.com/articles/analgesia_of_movement.htm.
Myofascial Release[iv] and CranioSacral Therapy[v] are two very prominent systems that purport to be energy based systems. Network Spinal Analysis[vi] is yet another. In the absence of any documentation of a human energy field that can be identified under controlled conditions it is more plausible to view ideomotor activity as the origin of the therapeutic effects of these modalities when they are practiced in the absence of occult ideology. The problem is that MFR and CST are described by their chief proponents in conjunction with occult practices. This is aptly demonstrated by the books referenced above.
I watched a demonstration of Network Spinal Analysis. I had an immediate sense of evil when I walked into the room. I had no idea of what I would be experiencing before I arrived. I am not aware of any preconceptions that I might have had. There was a brief lecture before the demonstration.
In the first phase the doctor did a neck manipulation. The 3 models began to twitch on the tiny chiropractic adjusting tables. The DC explained that they were self adjusting. I have seen a number of seizures and that was what it looked like to me. The doctor explained that the patients were in full control and could stop this activity at will, if they so desired. This continued for 15-20 minutes.
The second phase began with the doctor reaching toward the navel and lifting his hand high. He then opened his hand and explained that he was lifting the aura. The patients began moving into spontaneous yoga positions (the doctor said this). None of them fell off of the table. This too lasted 15 -20 minutes.
Finally we came to phase 3. The doctor once again reached down and dramatically lifted the aura. I could not believe that I was watching what appeared to be an orgasm. The pelvis began to move and the patients began to moan in apparent ecstasy. The doctor explained that the patients were having an emotional release.
At the end the 3 patients came before us as a group. We were allowed to ask questions about what we had seen. I had none. I was in a state of shock and in prayer for protection. One of the participants did explain to us that she was thankful for the doctor. She usually had to travel to India to see her guru to get this type of help.
I have seen each of these therapies practiced in an occult manner. I have also seen them practiced apart from these occult foundations. These other instances appeared to me to be examples of ideomotor activity that resulted in pain relief. They were given by practitioners who had no occult foundation and do not deserve to be labeled as such. We need to be very clear that just because a doctor or therapist practices one of these techniques that we do not paint them all with the same brush. We may be talking about our brother or sister in Christ. On the other hand, if the practitioner holds to these occult teachings we need to take them at their word.
4. There is the possibility that there is a possible energy field (EF) that we have as yet been unable to detect with our current science but which our hands can sense and manipulate for purposes of healing. Given the sophistication of our current science I have my doubts as to this one – but I can’t demonstrate that this is wrong. I do not have all of the facts and history demonstrates many instances of new information being discovered. We can’t dismiss this as a possibility. This is important. We need to have a creaturely humility here. If a practice does not fall into an occult category we need to hold open this possibility.
There is more that could be said. These 2 posts have dealt with a number of issues that both massage therapists and their clients need to be aware of. It is of primary importance that we pay attention to what the scriptures teach regarding the reality of the spiritual world. I hope these posts have helped you to evaluate energy medicine in a biblical manner.
[ii] Long et al. Perception of Conventional Sensory Cues as an alternative to the Postulated “Human Energy Field” of Therapeutic Touch. Review of Alternative Medicine 3, no. 2 (fall/winter) 1999 © Prometheus Books
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