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9 Articles in Volume 15, Issue #5
Case History of Chronic Migraine: Update 2015
Chronic Pain Patients Who Fail Standard Treatment: Now What?
Diagnosing Fibromyalgia
Gabapentin Abuse
Microglial Modulators: A New Therapeutic Class
Myofascial Pain: What is the Best Treatment?
Pain and Aging
Spirituality & Healing Touch
Tables Turn on Pain Psychologist

Spirituality & Healing Touch

How incorporating these practices can help improve pain management

In this installment of our ongoing series on pain education1 in Practical Pain Management, we discuss the role of spirituality and healing touch.

Editor's Note: Previous installments have included hypnosis and biofeedback.

Spiritual Approach to Health

Health care systems in the United States have begun implementing a new medical care model that is more aligned with a biopsychosocial–spiritual approach to health.2 The original biopsychosocial model was posed in 1977 after practitioners noted “the need for a new medical model.”3 It proposed that a combination of biological, psychological (entailing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors), and social (economical, environmental, and cultural) factors play a significant role in disease. That model was in stark contrast to the traditional biomedical model of medicine, which suggested that every disease process could be explained in terms of an underlying biological deviation.4

The renewed biopsychosocial–spiritual approach emphasizes the patient’s responsibility for self-management and should include patient education, wellness principles, and sound interventions.5 In our opinion, such a comprehensive approach must be used in chronic pain management, and health professionals should serve their patients’ needs as a “whole,” including their mind, body, and spirit.

Chronic pain can be considered a disruption in biological relationships that in turn affects all the other relational aspects of a person, including the psychological, social, and spiritual. Spirituality concerns a person’s relationship with transcendence, or “whole”-ness. Scholars suggest that many patients would like health professionals to attend to their spiritual needs, but health care providers must be cautious and avoid preaching.6,7

The topic of “spiritual healing” or “spiritual acts” is riddled with controversy due to its religious implications. Certain religious groups may believe that these practices are condemned in the Holy Bible, New International Version.8 For example, Deuteronomy 18 (v. 10-11) states, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” Others shy away from these practices because they equate spirituality with religion.

Spiritual healing is largely non-denominational, and traditional religious faith is not a prerequisite for therapy. This tutorial explores spirituality and outlines the manner by which it can contribute to patients’ coping with chronic pain. The tutorial also introduces the practice of Healing Touch, a form of energy medicine.

What Does Spirituality Mean?

As noted, pain management should treat patients as a whole—their mind, body, and spirit. But how do you define spirit? In athletics, spirit may mean excitement or passion. In sacred texts it denotes the breath or life. In modern times, it connotes meaning (a sense of beliefs or values) or purpose (a sense of direction or aim). Thus, spirituality is the “aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”9

Spirituality is a framework, or an umbrella term, used to define a set of experiences (empiricist, humanist, atheistic, agnostic, theistic, religious, etc.) that are very personal to each individual.10 A chronic illness, however, can cause patients to question their purpose in life.6 The literature suggests that it is important to discuss spirituality because such efforts increase overall satisfaction with health care, improve quality of life, and increase clinical effectiveness in pain management.7,11

How Are Spirituality and Pain Related?

In 1946, Viktor Frankl described in “Man’s Search for Meaning” how concentration camp inmates’ pain and suffering eased once they found meaning and purpose in their lives.12 Spirituality matters to many people who experience pain. In addition, patients may struggle to make sense of their pain experience. Those who struggle with their spirituality are at risk for inadequate pain management.13 The relationship between spirituality and healing can be traced back into antiquity. Historically, the priest and the physician were the same person in some societies.

The advent of scientific medicine in the mid-19th century separated the body from the mind and spirit nearly completely. A century later, the direct interrelationship between the body and mind became firmly established. Over the past several decades, there has been a broad revival of interest in spiritual healing and health.14 Spirituality may have analgesic properties, inoculate against depression and suicide, add psychosocial support, decrease risky behaviors, provide a means for community integration, and give meaning, or “existential coherence.”14

Incorporating Spiritual Healing in Practice

There are several ways patients who suffer from chronic pain can integrate spiritual healing in their lives, including:

  • Reconciling with themselves and/or others
  • Joining spiritual support groups
  • Becoming one with nature
  • Reading sacred spiritual passages or performing rituals
  • Engaging in movement programs (yoga and Tai Chi)
  • Journaling or starting other reflective practices
  • Participating in the arts.

Chaplain services have been integrated in most health-care systems, and are available to facilitate spiritual healing by providing chapel worship, sacraments and rites, memorial services, inpatient hospitalization visits, and other types of spiritual care. At times, chaplain services may not provide exactly what the patient seeks; in such cases, the services may be able to direct patients to alternative choices via a network of other clergy and spiritual leaders within the community. Perhaps some of your patients may be interested in seeking spiritual healing from traditional healers, such as a “Curandero” or Native American “Medicine Man.” These are options to consider in your practice.

Prayer (a reverent petition made to an object of worship) is the simplest form of self-care and has been found to be the most common complementary and alternative medical intervention used in the United States.15 The three largest faith groups in this country are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Perhaps providers should encourage their patients from those faiths to use prayer as a form of pain management (Table 1).

Meditation (a devotional exercise of or leading to contemplation) is perhaps a more secular or neo-sacred approach and/or alternative to this process (see For Your Patient). Practicing short meditation exercises is a great way to break away from pain, and it may also reduce anxiety, depression, psoriasis, sleep trouble, and elevated blood pressure.16 A more simpler method of introspection may be for patients to read words of hope and inspiration from such resources as Our Daily Bread,17 Portals of Prayer,18 Mahatma Gandhi quotes,19 Guideposts,20 etc.

Patients may be resistant to practicing these methods on a daily basis. The reluctance may be due to sedation from medications, relaxation wariness, unwillingness to look beyond the self, and difficulties in setting boundaries. It can be a difficult path.

Consider, as an example, “The Wall,” by Gloria J. Evans, a modern parable that details the consequences of surrounding ourselves with protective walls that isolate us from love and fellowship. A simple measure of privacy can gradually become more complex and fortified due to fear, anger, jealousy, resentment, self-pity, and indifference.21

These stressful experiences can lead to patients being unable to live their lives and becoming deconditioned, which will lead to more pain. In order to move forward, the wall needs to be deconstructed by encouraging patients to seek meaning, pride, joy, love, forgiveness, and healthy relationships.

Another alternative to explore is in the realm of energy medicine and is known as “Healing Touch.”

What is Healing Touch?

Healing Touch is a bio-field therapy that arose in the nursing field in the late 1980’s, and is being used in a variety of settings (including pain centers) with reported benefits such as decreased pain.22 It is an energy-based therapeutic approach to healing that can be used in conjunction with more traditional therapies (such as acupressure, massage, imagery, biofeedback, and psychotherapy) or as a stand-alone treatment.

It is a contemporary interpretation of several ancient laying-on-of-hands healing practices. The practitioner utilizes noninvasive techniques with their hands to clear, energize, and balance the human and environmental energy fields in order to facilitate healing at the physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual levels. It is based on a heart-centered caring relationship in which the practitioner and patient come together energetically to facilitate the patient’s health and healing. The goal is to restore balance and harmony in the energy system, placing the patient in a position to self-heal.23

How Does Healing Touch Work?

Healing Touch is based on the assumption that all human beings have the natural ability to heal themselves and enhance healing in others. It is believed that human beings are an open energy system composed of layers of energy that are in constant interaction with self, others, and the environment. Therefore, illness is considered an imbalance in the patient’s energy field (aura).

Auras have 4 layers of elements, including the etheric (physical double), emotional (lower emotional aspects), mental (thought processes and mental ideas), and intuitive and spiritual (higher levels of consciousness).

Energy therapies focus on removing energy congestion that forms in the energy tracts and energy centers (chakras). There are 7 main chakras, including the crown, brow, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral, and root (Figure 1). Chakras are linked together and govern the endocrine system that in turn regulates the aging process. The tracts create a system of energy channels within individuals through which all energy moves throughout the body.

Once these imbalances and disturbances are cleared, the energy channels resume their task of integrating the body, mind, and spirit to restore health and promote healing. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) notes that the existence of such energy fields has not yet been definitively proven, although scientists are studying these phenomena. Although studies support the potential clinical effectiveness of Healing Touch in improving health-related quality of life in chronic disease management, more studies are required given the limitations of the current research literature.22

Most patients will inquire about how the treatment will unfold. The first session usually involves a consultation with a practitioner in addition to an energy session. The patient will then be asked to remain in their hospital bed, sit in a chair, or lie down fully clothed on a massage table in a clinic setting while the practitioner centers him or herself. With the patient’s permission, the practitioner will then gently place his or her hands slightly above or on the individual and begin assessing the person’senergy field.

The practitioner will use his or her hands to clear and mobilize the patient’s energy, direct energy to achieve “wholeness,” and balance the field. Practitioners may use a number of techniques, including making a chakra connection (to stimulate movement of energy through the body), mind clearing (to stimulate mental relaxation), magnetic clearing (to cleanse and clear the complete field by removing congested energy and emotional debris), and magnetic passes (provides own personal magnetic fluids through the irradiation of personal energy).

The session may be implemented at the bedside (in-house) in 10 minutes, or may be provided in a clinic setting over 30 minutes (follow-up) or 60 to 90 minutes (intake plus session). People frequently report feeling deeply relaxed and peaceful during and after the session. The practitioner will then evaluate the patient, ask for feedback, and close the session. There is a cumulative effect of using Healing Touch over time and regular sessions are recommended. Practitioners say that Healing Touch is a life-changing gift that can be experienced over and over again.

How does Healing Touch help patients cope with chronic pain?

Healing Touch can influence a person’s response to pain in the many ways in which it is interpreted by the body—the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. In spite of the diverse quality of research studies available in the literature, the overall outcomes indicate encouraging results for the use of Healing Touch for pain management.24 Healing Touch has been found to decrease pain in both acute,25 chronic,26,27 post-surgical,28 and centralized sensitization29 pain conditions.

A major question about healing touch is whether or not it lends itself to conventional scientific analysis.30 Some proponents consider it to be an art form rather than a science, and question the applicability of strict empirical measures.31 There are no contraindications for using energy work to relieve pain, and it can be valuable in supplementing traditional approaches or used when other approaches are not successful.

There are several benefits to using Healing Touch, including:

  • Non-invasive
  • Effective
  • Non-toxic
  • Economical.

It is done without the use of invasive procedures such as injections, medication, or surgery. Healing Touch restores balance and harmony without the use of pharmaceuticals. Past research also has shown that it facilitates the relaxation response and enhances the healing process. The practice also can reduce the need for pain medicine, help prevent illness, enhance a patient’s spiritual development, aid in preparation for/follow up after medical treatments and procedures, increase energy/relief for chronic fatigue, and support the dying process. Healing Touch does not require the use of equipment or substances and can be done in any setting. An open heart, a set of hands, and a willing spirit is all that is needed.23

Last updated on: June 16, 2015
Continue Reading:
Hypnosis: Tool for Pain Management

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