Energy Medicine

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Energy medicine


Energy medicine is based upon the belief that changes in the "life force" of the body, including the electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields, affect human health and can promote healing.


The notion of a life force or energy is shared by people around the world. Since ancient times, traditional cultures have believed that a special energy vitalizes all life. This energy is known as chi, prana, pneuma, orgone, mana, ether, odyle, élan vital, bio-cosmic energy, and many other names.

Early Ayurvedic references to a life force, or prana, go back to the eighth century b.c. In the West, as early as the sixth century b.c., Pythagoras conceived of a life energy, or pneuma, visible in a luminous body. A century later, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recognized the body's natural capacity for healing, or Vis medicatrix naturae. He instructed physicians to find the blocking influences both within a patient and between them and the cosmos, in order to restore the healing life force. Nature, not the doctor, is the source of healing.

In the sixteenth century, the Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus reported "a healing energy that radiates within and around man like a luminous sphere." He believed this energy could cause and cure disease and could work from a distance. He also thought that magnets, planets, and stars could influence this energy. There are echoes of these beliefs in some theories and practices of contemporary energy medicine. However, the ideas of Francis Bacon and the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes have had a much greater impact on Western medicine as a whole.

Bacon applied logical mathematical concepts to analyze humans and the world. He believed that the laws of science should be used to "master rather than become harmonious with nature." Descartes proposed that the body, which was measurable, and the mind, which was immeasurable, were firmly separate. The body could influence the mind but the mind could not influence the body. These notions promoted the search for physical causes of human illness. They also led to a denial of the mind's ability to affect physical health. As a result, mainstream science came to devalue or reject any phenomenon that cannot be measured or objectively proved.

From the seventeenth century onward, Western medicine has focused primarily upon the physical aspects of disease. Scientists who studied forces within the body that were difficult to measure were often ignored or ridiculed. The Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, who had been a student and colleague of Sigmund Freud, was jailed and his books publicly burned because of his theories about "orgone" energy. His views, however, have influenced the development of many body-mind approaches, particularly bioenergetics.

The 1990s brought a new emerging scientific paradigm in relation to medicine and health care. According to biophysicist Beverly Rubik, this emerging paradigm " celebrates the creative, subtle, empowering, wise, and enduring features of life that were never acknowledged during the age of machines and mechanistic thought. Living systems are self-organizing systems that expend energy in order to maintain their coherence and integrityHealing is ultimately self-healing, a natural response to internal dynamic shifts or external challenges." This new paradigm also conveys that "very small or subtle stimuli applied to the body-mind can have profound effects and set a person on the road to recovery."


Caroline Myss graduated with a B.A. in Journalism in 1974 from St. Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. Working as a journalist in her native Chicago, Myss interviewed Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., who was devoted to the study of death and the dying. She credits Kubler-Ross with inspiring her to go on to Loyola-Mundelein University, a Jesuit school in Chicago, to get an M.A. in Theology in 1979. Myss then started a small New Age publishing company, consulted with holistic doctors, and gave individuals intuitive readings. It was her pairing with Dr. C. Norman Shealy, founder of the American Holistic Medical Association, in 1984, that began to thrust her into the limelight in energy medicine. With television appearances on such high-profile shows as Oprah, Myss is the best-known intuitive on the circuit of holistic practitioners. Her belief stems from a principle that the mind and body work together to contribute to a person's well-being. While the traditional medical community is skeptical of the scientific basis for her claims, her international popularity continues to rise.

Her first book, Anatomy of the Spirit, was published in 1996, followed in the fall of 1997 with Why People Don't Heal and How They Can. Those, along with an audiotape series called Energy Anatomy, are bestsellers. By 2000, Myss discontinued private readings and devoted herself to workshops and seminars worldwide.

Myss can be contacted at her office, at 7144 N Harlem Avenue, Chicago, IL 60631, or through her website: <>.

Jane Spear


In a 1990 review of more than 131 controlled scientific studies of healers from around the world, Dr. Daniel Benor found evidence of healing for a wide range of human conditions. These include changes in immune system functioning as well as improvement of skin-wound healing, blood pressure, nearsightedness, leukemia, anxiety, asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy , tension headache , neck and back pain , post-operative pain, self-esteem, heart disease , and relationships.

Patients have also reported spontaneous healing of a variety of conditions including cancer and paralysis. Spiritual awakenings or new attitudes and a fresh sense of meaning in life can also result from energy healing.


Energy medicine is a broad term that includes touch therapies, movement therapies, spiritual healing, meditation , magnetic field therapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, light therapy , and other innovative methods of healing. What these various approaches have in common is an energetic understanding of health and healing. These therapies may affect the patient's internal energy, external energy (aura, or other energy fields surrounding the body) or both. Many of these therapies fall into several different categories at once and their benefits may not be exclusively due to changes in life force. Energetic touch therapies include, but are not limited to, reiki, therapeutic touch (although the physical body is not touched), watsu, polarity therapy , Ayurvedic massage, zero balancing, reflexology , Jin Shin Jyutsu, lomilomi, breema bodywork, Thai massage, shiatsu , amma, Chi Nei Tsang, Jin Shin Do, Shen, and Chinese massage , and acupressure . Energetic movement therapies include qigong, t'ai chi chuan, aikido, karate, and yoga (there are many different forms of yoga). Spiritual healing includes distance healing, laying on of hands, meditation, ceremony, ritual, and other shamanic practices.

Some of the methods of energy medicine involve gentle physical touch, while others work with the energy around the body with the practitioner holding his or her hands several inches away. Some methods can be applied from a distance, others require attendance at a ceremony and may include family and friends. The movement modalities may require learning and practicing a particular movement or breath sequence. Other therapies may involve wearing magnets, being exposed to various kinds of light rays, or receiving energy stimulation with needles and heat.

The duration and cost of an energy medicine session vary greatly depending upon the method and the healer. Some methods are expensive while others are free or offered for a modest donation. These modalities are not covered by insurance unless administered by a licensed health care professional.


The amount and type of preparation vary. While some forms of energy medicine require no specific preparations, others do. These preparations may range from wearing loose clothing for yoga and other movement therapies, to an hour-long diagnostic interview with a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine prior to receiving certain types of Chinese massage. In general, people with heart problems, recent surgery, or back problems should consult a physician before attempting any of the movement therapies.


Other treatments besides, or instead of, energy medicine may be needed for a particular disease or condition. In addition, persons who have experienced physical violence or abuse may have strong emotional reactions to therapies that involve physical contact; they should consult a knowledgeable counselor before undertaking these forms of treatment.

Side effects

The side effects can vary depending upon the modality. It is not unusual for people to experience some soreness or stiffness after a session of bodywork or movement therapies, particularly if they have not been accustomed to regular physical exercise . Some people experience headaches after light therapy. Lastly, some people find that energy therapies bring up painful emotions and memories.

Research & general acceptance

Over the course of the past three decades, energy medicine has moved from being a marginal area of research to gaining a large measure of mainstream acceptance. The Human Potential movement of the 1960s and the counterculture of the early 1970s helped to stimulate popular interest in Eastern practices and belief systems, while the feminist movement of the same period led many women to explore mind/body connections and question the masculine assumptions and values of Western science and medicine. In recent years, the medical establishment has shown a new openness to research in the area of energy medicine, as was shown by the funding of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. At present, there are a number of clinical trials that have been designed to measure the effectiveness of alternatives to conventional treatment.

Despite over 300 studies during the past 40 years showing the efficacy of energy healing, however, these findings are still ignored or rejected by many scientists. Benor details many reasons for this rejection, including the fact that healers have not been able to produce results with reliability and consistency in a laboratory setting. Benor writes, "The time has come to accept that healing is the way it is. It appears to be influenced by multiple factorsso many, in fact, that it is virtually impossible to establish a repeatable experiment in which all would occur in the same combination more than onceWe will have to be content with our human limitations and settle for approximate results, measured in probabilities over large numbers of trials. No apologies are needed. These are the limitations of healing."

Training & certification

There is no course of training leading to certification or licensure for energy medicine as such. Various schools of touch and movement therapy , as well as energy healing, offer their own forms of certification. The requirements vary according to each modality and each school. Spiritual healers may be certified through a school of energy healing, recognized within a particular religious tradition for their healing aptitude, or initiated into healing by another means. Many healers develop their healing gifts on their own. The evidence suggests that any caring person can develop a certain amount of healing ability through meditation, prayer, study with other experienced healers, and practice.



Becker, Robert O., et al. The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1987.

Benford, Sue, et al. "Exploring the Concept of Energy in Touch-Based Healing" in Clinician's Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine, ed. Donald Novey. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 2000.

Collinge, William, PhD. Subtle Energy: Awakening to the Unseen Forces in Our Lives. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1998.

Dossey, Larry, M.D. Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Gerber, Richard. Vibrational Medicine for the 21st Century: The Complete Guide to Energy Healing and Spiritual Transformation. Eagle Books, 2000.

Rubik, Beverly. Life at the Edge of Science. Oakland, CA: The Institute of Frontier Science, 1996.


Barbara Brennan School of Healing. P.O. Box 2005. East Hampton, NY 11937. (516) 329-0951. Fax: (516) 324-9745. e-mail: [email protected].

Healing Light Center Church. 261 E. Alegria Ave. #12. Sierra Madre, CA 91024. (626) 306-2170. Fax: (626) 355-0996.

Institute for Frontier Science. 6114 LaSalle Ave. Oakland, CA 94611. (510) 531-5767. E-mail: [email protected]. <>

International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM). 356 Goldco Circle. Golden, CO 80401. (303) 278-2228. <>.

Linda Chrisman