Thoughts on Therapeutic Touch and Chronic Pain

By Barbara Janelle M.A.

First Published In Touch, Vol. IX, no. 1, March 1997

During my Level 2 Therapeutic Touch Class this fall, one of the students, Joanne, reported about an experience of treating a woman in severe pain. The woman had been in a serious accident some months previously and had been in constant pain ever since. In addition to allopathic treatment, she had tried a wide range of alternative approaches to relieve the pain, with little success.

Joanne gave the woman a TT treatment and the pain was significantly alleviated–so much so that she slept well that night. However, when she woke the next morning, the pain was back. A friend of the woman reported to Joanne that the pain was even more severe than before (Joanne was not able to speak to the woman directly). Of course, Joanne was dismayed at this report and wondered if TT had increased the pain.

I spoke from my experience of using TT with a variety of high pain situations. Pain causes great tension in the body, which in turn increases the pain–a terrible circle. When we do Therapeutic Touch, the body relaxes and energy flows better. Often after a TT treatment, the receiver will find that there is a reduction or elimination of pain.

For some, this relief comes too suddenly, and they will wriggle and tense the body until some pain reappears. Others may feel so good, that they do not allow the body to fully process the treatment. Instead, they overwork and stress the body too soon after the treatment and end up in worse shape than they were in before.

In cases of severe, long-term pain, there are underlying causes that must have time to heal. In these situations, it is expected that pain will reoccur within hours or days of the first treatment. Sometimes, if the pain has been so great, and the relief so profound, the body forgets how bad the original pain was, and when it reappears the pain feels worse than before.

Over the past many years, I have learned to treat people with severe, chronic pain in short sessions that reduce pain in increments the body can accept, while giving the underlying healing time to occur. If I see people trying to find the pain again after the treatment, I ask them to allow themselves a period of freedom from pain so that the body can process the work. I warn people to go slow and not overdo after a treatment.

In beginning to work with someone with severe, long-term pain, I try to set up the initial three sessions within a ten-day period so that a level of response from the field is developed quickly and the body has a gradual but increasing relief from pain. For some individuals who may unconsciously be wedded to pain, to the special treatment from others that it brings, a gradual dissipation of discomfort over many sessions can help them return to their own inner strength and self-reliance.

In cases like this, the support of professional psychological counseling for the receiver may be very helpful. Pain also causes fear in the body-mind and this pain-fear is locked into the physical cells. Time is needed for the release of this pattern.

After the pain is gone and the body is healing well, movement retraining like Feldenkrais, Alexander or Trager Work or Tai Chi is often advisable. These approaches replace old patterns of stiff movement that came out of tension and pain with more fluid, balanced and coordinated motion that supports well-being.

Therapeutic Touch is very effective in relieving pain. In severe, chronic cases, alleviation that comes over many sessions allows the field, the body, the mind and the emotions to accept this work while maintaining and increasing the level of comfort. Work in short, frequent sessions over a period of time is more effective than trying to make big changes in a few, longer sessions.