Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing • Volume 12, Number 1 • Does Therapeutic Touch Help Reduce Pain and Anxiety? 113
Emily Jackson, BSN, RN, Megan Kelley, BSN, RN,
Patrick McNeil, BSN, RN, Eileen Meyer, BSN, RN,
Lauren Schlegel, BSN, RN, and Melody Eaton, PhD, MBA, RN
With more than 10 million patients with cancer in the United States, pain and symptom management is an important topic
for oncology nurses. Complementary therapies, such as therapeutic touch, may offer nurses a nonpharmacologic method
to ease patients’ pain. Using 12 research studies, the authors examined the evidence concerning the effectiveness of this
type of treatment in reducing pain and anxiety.
of fear, pain, and anxiety. Billions of research dollars are spent
each year to find better, more effective, and curative treatment.
Treatment currently varies depending on the type of cancer,
with chemotherapy and radiation regimens being used along
with traditional pain-control medications. Traditional medi-
cal management of patients’ symptoms does not consider the
holistic nature of the disease and the human healing process.
Patients should have access to care that helps fight the cancer
and alleviates fear, anxiety, and pain. Many therapies have been
researched to determine the best methods for alleviating cancer
symptoms and the side effects of treatment. Therapeutic touch
has shown promise in helping patients with cancer find relief
from pain, anxiety, and fear (American Cancer Society, 2006).
This evidence-based study examines research regarding the ef-
fectiveness of therapeutic touch.
Does Therapeutic Touch Help Reduce
Pain and Anxiety in Patients With Cancer?
At a Glance
F In 2007, 1,444,920 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in
the United States.
F Therapeutic touch is a complementary therapy that is used to
help with the anxiety and pain related to cancer treatment.
F Therapeutic touch is an energy therapy involving hand
movements to equalize and balance energy flow. Healing is
promoted when body energy is balanced.
Emily Jackson, BSN, RN, Megan Kelley, BSN, RN, Patrick McNeil, BSN,
RN, Eileen Meyer, BSN, RN, and Lauren Schlegel, BSN, RN, all are senior
nursing students, and Melody Eaton, PhD, MBA, RN, is an undergraduate
program coordinator and associate professor, all in the Nursing Depart-
ment at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. No financial
relationships to disclose. (Submitted June 2007. Accepted for publication
August 6, 2007.)
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1188/08.CJON.113-120
ore than 10 million people in the United States
had some form of cancer in 2007, including
1,444,920 newly diagnosed cases. Prostate and
breast cancer rank among the highest incidenc-
es at 29 and 26 percent, respectively (American
Cancer Society, 2007). A cancer diagnosis brings about feelings
Therapeutic touch is a therapy in which the hands are used
to facilitate the healing process (Lafreniere et al., 1999). The
therapy was introduced in the early 1970s by Delores Krieger
and Dora Kuntz as a noninvasive nursing intervention derived
from ancient Eastern forms of healing (Kelly, Sullivan, Fawcett,
& Samarel, 2004).
Several studies link nursing care to positive cancer therapy
outcomes and suggest a need to explore nontraditional therapy
modalities, such as therapeutic touch, as viable options to
complement standard cancer therapy. A randomized, controlled
study by Given et al. (2002) evaluated symptom management
during chemotherapy and found that patients with cancer
experience pain and anxiety during chemotherapy. The 53
patients in the experimental group and 60 in the control group
were interviewed using a symptom experience scale, which
measured symptoms, physical impact, and social functioning.
The patients received standard care and chemotherapy, but the
experimental group received additional nursing interventions
for symptom management. Those interventions were tailored
to individual issues and categorized as teaching, counseling
114 February 2008 • Volume 12, Number 1 • Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing
and support, coordination, and communication (Given et al.).
Analysis of variance, chi square, and logistic regression were
used to analyze the results. The investigators found that admin-
istering drugs to patients was the extent of most treatment.
But the evidence suggested that nurses’ interventions with
the experimental group decreased the severity of the patients’
symptoms (Given et al.).
A repeated measures study of chemotherapy symptoms by
Braud et al. (2003) showed that anxiety was one of the top side
effects reported by 49 patients. “Declared baseline anxiety
scores were relatively high, suggesting that emotional distress
prior to [treatment] is unrecognized by the medical team”
(Braud et al., p. 474). This suggests that the healthcare team may
not realize the emotional issues that patients are dealing with
during chemotherapy. The study emphasized the need for more
research to identify how patients feel and what the healthcare
team can do to assist (Braud et al.).
In 1999, Zaza, Sellick, Willan, Reyno, and Browman examined
214 healthcare providers and their knowledge and comfort
with the use of complementary methods of pain management.
Healthcare professionals were questioned about their percep-
tions of nonpharmacologic treatment strategies through a self-
report survey. The survey included a list of nonpharmacologic
pain-management methods developed through expert clinician
consultation. The list of options included meditation, music and
art therapy, guided imagery, acupuncture or acupressure, mas-
sage, prayer, and therapeutic touch. A four- and five-point Likert
scale was used to measure perceptions of pain and effectiveness
of nonpharmacologic treatment strategies, respectively. Most
of the healthcare professionals surveyed in the study reported
that chronic cancer pain differs from chronic noncancer pain.
In addition, nurses rated the effectiveness of therapeutic touch
much higher than other complementary therapies, yet physi-
cians rated it as the lowest (Zaza et al.). That finding—possible
physician resistance to therapeutic touch—is useful as research-
ers continue to explore this therapy. Nurses showed interest in
learning more about therapeutic touch and may be appropriate
providers of this therapy (Zaza et al.).
Nursing care is based on the holistic view of treating the
whole person as well as the disease, including psychological dis-
tress and traditional physical symptoms. Little research exists in
the area of nonpharmacologic pain and anxiety-relief therapies
that nurses can use to help patients with cancer.
Energy Field Theory
Therapeutic touch centers on the theory that the body, mind,
and emotions combine to form a complex energy field. Accord-
ing to that theory, being in good health indicates a balanced
energy field whereas illness represents imbalance (Bassett
Healthcare, 2002). Krieger and Kuntz based their theory of ther-
apeutic touch on the assertions of nursing theorist Martha Rog-
ers. Rogers emphasized that humans are surrounded by energy
fields that extend from the skin surface (Hutchinson, D’Alessio,
Forward, & Newshan, 1999). The theory states that energy fields
are symmetrical and balanced when a person is healthy, which
allows energy to flow evenly. Physical and psychological symp-
toms, such as pain and anxiety, cause imbalances in the fields.
Therapeutic touch is used to restore those imbalances (Gottlieb,
1995; Krieger, 1979) (see Figure 1).
Therapeutic touch, healing touch, and Reiki are closely
linked touch-energy or hand-mediated energetic healing
therapies that often are used interchangeably and have many
similarities but also some notable differences. As noted previ-
ously, therapeutic touch is a therapy in which the hands are
used to direct human energy to facilitate healing (Krieger,
1979) (see Figure 2). Healing touch uses the principle and
1. Centering: The process of using meditation to center on the pres-
ent to begin a tension-free focus on healing the client.
2. Assessment: Starting at the patient’s head and moving the hands
along and near the body (from head to toe), the process assesses
energy flow irregularities.
3. Unruffling: This long sweeping motion with the hands evens out
areas of the body that have uneven or dense energy flow.
4. Modulating: Energy is directed from the environment to the pa-
tient’s areas of uneven or dense energy.
5. Assessment: The client’s energy is assessed to be even with no dif-
Figure 2. Caregiving Steps in Providing Therapeutic
Note. Based on information from Krieger, 1979.
Figure 1. Therapeutic Touch Balancing Energy Field
Note. Photos courtesy of Teresa French. Used with permission.
Therapeutic touch is provided to the patient by a trained therapist.
are caused by
Balanced chakras or
energy centers are
restored because of
the reduction in can-
cer pain and anxiety,
which is a result of
Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing • Volume 12, Number 1 • Does Therapeutic Touch Help Reduce Pain and Anxiety? 115
practice of therapeutic touch, touch-energy methods, or a
group of therapies. Developed by Janet Mentgen and several
other nursing practitioners in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
healing touch uses the hands to equalize energy with differ-
ent treatment modalities (e.g., magnetic clearing, pain drain,
mind clearing, wound sealing) (Gastright, 1997; Healing Touch
International, 2007). Reiki, a Japanese method that uses the
hands to vitalize the life energy flow, relaxes and promotes
healing. The goal is a high life force energy level that maintains
wellness (International Center for Reiki Training, 2007). The
three levels of Reiki training increase practitioners’ vibrations
and allow for the flow of higher healing frequencies (Potter,
2003). Students first practice Reiki on themselves and then,
upon reaching higher levels of instruction, are prepared to
use it on others. This is a process of attunement that is passed
down from Reiki master to student (Potter).
The purpose of the current study was to examine existing
research on the effectiveness of therapeutic touch and to de-
termine whether it decreases pain and anxiety in patients with
Data collection consisted of an in-depth search of sources
that investigated the use of therapeutic touch as a method for
decreasing pain and anxiety in patients with cancer. Keywords
such as healing touch and therapeutic touch were paired with
other terms such as cancer, pain, and anxiety. The compre-
hensive search did not focus on a specific cancer diagnosis,
gender, or age group. Previous research on therapeutic touch
is limited; therefore, the inclusion criteria allowed for studies
that researched any type of cancer, used therapeutic touch as
an independent variable, and used pain and/or anxiety as the
dependent variable(s). The articles researched pain and anxiety
in patients with cancer but did not have to evaluate both depen-
dent variables. An initial literature review included articles vali-
dating that patients with cancer experienced pain and anxiety;
however, those articles were eliminated to better address the re-
search question. Sources that did not conduct a research study,
such as articles discussing opinions about therapeutic touch as
a valid therapeutic method and patient-written narratives, were
excluded. Those criteria were applied to identify higher-level
evidence-based research (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005)
(see Table 1). The Cochrane Library, PubMed®, and CINAHL®
were used to retrieve ideal information sources. Five sources
were found using the Cochrane Library, four using PubMed,
and three using CINAHL. This article reports on the 12 studies
identified through the databases.
Analysis and Synthesis
Studies were organized according to level of evidence to best
structure the analysis. The seven levels of evidence were used
to rate the strength of each study (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt,
2005). Each study provided information on sample size, level of
evidence, purpose, factors examined, method and instruments,
and outcomes (see Table 2).
Pain and anxiety were the two factors initially addressed
in the research; however, after the researchers examined the
evidence, pain was studied in conjunction with other physical
symptoms, such as nausea, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
Similarly, several psychological symptoms were studied with
anxiety, including mood, relaxation, and quality of life. The
focus of the research then was expanded into two broad cat-
egories: physical and psychological.
The best sources of evidence, level I, are from “evidence from
a systematic review or meta-analysis of all relevant randomized
controlled trials or evidence-based clinical practice guidelines
based on systematic reviews of [randomized controlled tri-
als]” (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005, p. 10). Research from
Bardia, Barton, Prokop, Bauer, and Moynihan (2006) fell in this
category. The authors concluded that therapeutic touch is a
promising therapy but could not determine how effective the
therapy is in alleviating cancer pain.
Sources assigned level II have evidence that was “obtained from
at least one well-designed randomized controlled trial” (Melnyk
& Fineout-Overholt, 2005, p. 10). The four studies assigned level
II indicate and affirm that therapeutic touch does improve physi-
cal and psychological symptoms. Giasson and Bouchard’s (1998)
findings showed that therapeutic touch increased the sense of
well-being in patients with terminal cancer. Categories showing
improvement were pain, nausea, depression, anxiety, shortness of
breath, activity, appetite, relaxation, and inner peace (p < 0.002).
Lafreniere et al. (1999) found that patients receiving therapeutic
touch showed increased vigor (p < 0.05) and a reduction in mood
disturbance (p < 0.01), tension (p < 0.05), confusion (p < 0.01),
and anxiety (p < 0.01) compared to the control group. Post-White
et al.’s (2003) study showed that healing touch was effective in
reducing total mood disturbance (p = 0.06) and fatigue (p =
0.03) in adult patients undergoing chemotherapy. Healing touch
also reduced respiratory rate (p < 0.001), heart rate (p < 0.001),
and systolic (p < 0.001) and diastolic blood pressure (p < 0.001).
Levels of pain lowered with healing touch (p < 0.01). Cook, Guer-
Table 1. Rating System for Levels of Evidence
Note. From Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare
(p. 10), by B. Melnyk and E. Fineout-Overholt, 2005, Philadelphia:
Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Copyright 2005 by Lippincott Williams
and Wilkins. Adapted with permission.
Evidence from a systematic review of randomized, controlled
trials or evidence-based clinical practice guidelines based on
systematic reviews of randomized, controlled trials
Evidence from at least one well-designed randomized, con-
Evidence from well-designed controlled trials without ran-
Evidence from well-designed case control and cohort studies
Evidence from systematic reviews of descriptive and qualita-
Evidence from a single descriptive or qualitative study
Evidence from authorities’ opinions and/or expert committee
116 February 2008 • Volume 12, Number 1 • Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing
Table 2. Research Evidence Sources for Therapeutic interventions
Kelly et al.,
et al., 2003
ative care. Par-
were not pre-
9 men, mean
age of 59.5
years, and 15
age of 56
the effect of
on feelings of
ment plus rest
To obtain pre-
ness of breath,
inner peace in
the effects of
or quiet rest
levels that regu-
amine, and nitric
as opioids, Reiki,
and rest period,
pain level and
Heart rate, re-
pain, and nausea
levels in patients
in the control
variables such as
quiet time, and
music, and de-
such as mood,
anxiety, and pain
Patients were divided into a control
group that did not receive thera-
peutic touch and an experimental
group that received 15–20 minutes
of therapeutic touch several times
per week. Patients then completed
an assessment tool evaluating
comfort, pain, nausea, anxiety,
shortness of breath, appetite, re-
laxation, and inner peace and any
changes in their condition.
Telephone interviews were
completed after experimental
or controlled nursing interven-
tions were administered in the
Participants were randomly as-
signed to an experimental group
that received therapeutic touch or
to a control group that completed
questionnaires but did not receive
therapeutic touch. Experimental
group patients listened to music
while a trained practitioner admin-
istered therapeutic touch. Patients
then rested for 5–10 minutes be-
fore completing a questionnaire.
Patients from an inpatient pal-
liative unit, a hospice, and an
outpatient symptom management
clinic were randomly assigned to
a group. Patients completed pain
and quality-of-life assessments
on the first and last days of study.
Patients also kept diaries rating
and describing the pain at different
times of the day. Patients assessed
the pain before and after the rest
period or the Reiki session.
Patients received four 45-minute
sessions of intervention per week
and were assessed before and
after each session. Heart rate, re-
spiratory rate, and blood pressure
were recorded. Pain and nausea
were measured with the Brief Pain
Index and rated on a 0–10 linear
Patients were tested using the
State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Af-
fects Balance Scale, and Visual
Analog Pain Scale. Testing was
done seven days before surgery
and 24 hours after. Treatment was
10 minutes of therapeutic touch
and 20 minutes of dialogue.
Therapeutic touch treatments
increase sensation of well-being
in patients with terminal cancer
(p < 0.0015). The experimental
group showed a mean increase
of 1.70 (on the well-being scale)
with a standard deviation of 1.28,
and the control group showed a
decrease of 0.31 with a standard
deviation of 1.12.
Content analysis revealed few dif-
ferences in patients’ perceptions of
experimental and controlled inter-
ventions. Patients expressed feelings
of calmness, relaxation, security,
comfort, and a sense of awareness
regardless of the intervention.
Patients in the therapeutic touch
group showed a significant reduc-
tion in mood disturbance com-
pared to the control group (p <
0.01). Therapeutic touch reduced
tension (p < 0.05) and confusion
(p < 0.01) and increased vigor
(p < 0.05). Anxiety significantly
declined (p < 0.01), as did nitric
oxide levels (p < 0.05).
Overall, patients receiving Reiki
experienced improved pain con-
trol and a more positive quality of
life. Patients receiving opioids plus
Reiki on the first day of treatment
reported a significant drop in pain
level (p = 0.035). A significant
drop also was recorded by the
fourth day (p = 0.002). Patients’
psychological state during that
time improved as well (p = 0.002).
Patients in the healing touch and
massage therapy groups reported
a more relaxed feeling and a
reduction in short-term pain,
mood disturbance, and fatigue
compared to patients in the pres-
More research is needed, but anx-
iety decreased moderately when
therapeutic touch was combined
with quiet time and guided imag-
ery. Several limitations, including
length of treatment time, could
have been improved (p = 0.03).
therapy (n =
touch (n = 56),
(n = 45)
in the experi-
17 in the con-
(Continued on next page)
Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing • Volume 12, Number 1 • Does Therapeutic Touch Help Reduce Pain and Anxiety? 117
Table 2. Research Evidence Sources for Therapeutic interventions (Continued)
et al., 2002
Cook et al.,
in a conve-
22 patients in
62 women at
least 17 years
old with new-
breast or gy-
touch (n = 34)
therapy (n =
the use of
the safety and
by gentle touch
as a treatment
the clinical ef-
are related to
quality of life
beliefs, and com-
stress ratings, and
ic and medical
and beliefs about
ment, and sub-
of quality of life
Patients were interviewed with a
standardized, 99-item question-
naire assessing the use of CAM
therapies before and after cancer
Patients received a questionnaire
with visual analog scales to rate
their symptoms and quality of
life. The patients were treated to
four one-hour healing sessions
in a four- to six-week period.
Researchers monitored patients’
assessments of their physical and
psychological function before and
Patients were evaluated by
naturalistic and quasiexperimental
methods. Data were analyzed
with nomothetic and idiographic
models. Qualitative data were
collected by asking open-ended
questions about healing touch.
Conditions were no healing touch,
healing touch, and healing touch
with music and guided imagery.
Patients were evaluated with
a standard sociodemographic
interview to determine baseline
information; a four-item, five-
point Likert scale to assess beliefs
about healing touch; and the
Short Form-36 instrument from
the Medical Outcomes Study.
Each group received six 30-min-
ute treatment sessions conducted
immediately after radiation ther-
apy. Patients could not see what
the practitioner was doing. All
healing touch practitioners had
at least level II certification. Mas-
sage therapy providers did not
perform therapy on the patients.
63% of patients used at least one
CAM therapy, with an average us-
ing two. Women were more likely
to use numerous therapies (p =
0.003). The type of cancer diag-
nosed had little influence over the
frequency of CAM use. CAM was
used to treat physical conditions
as well as depression, anxiety,
and insomnia. Patients said their
quality of life improved after they
learned how to cope with stress
and decrease the discomforts of
treatment and illness. CAM gave
them a sense of control.
Patients reported improvements in
psychological and physical func-
tion and quality of life. Pronounced
improvements were seen in stress
and relaxation, severe pain and dis-
comfort, and depression and anxi-
ety. Stress, rated the most severe
symptom, fell by 3 points following
treatment (p < 0.0004). Pain and
fear were reduced by 2 points (p <
0.019 and p < 0.012, respectively),
and levels of relaxation and coping
ability increased by 3 points and 1
point (p = 0.001 and p < 0.0004,
respectively). Severe depression or
anxiety levels fell from 5 to 3 points
(p = 0.005)
Significant increases in immuno-
globin A levels were achieved by
more experienced practitioners.
Patients reported decreased stress,
with 59% reporting better overall
health and 55% reporting pain re-
lief. The overall p value was 0.109.
Nothing significant was found
characteristics or patients’ beliefs
in healing touch, but differences
were found between massage
therapy and healing touch in
three subscales: pain, vitality, and
physical function. Healing touch
had better outcomes in all quality-
of-life domains, with the most
distinctive changes occurring in
emotional role function, mental
health, and health transition.
(Continued on next page)
118 February 2008 • Volume 12, Number 1 • Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing
Table 2. Research Evidence Sources for Therapeutic interventions (Continued)
et al., 2006
from 18 arti-
in a literature
To evaluate the
lated to cancer
was used and
CAM and percep-
tion of results
All clinical trials with randomiza-
tion that had an alternative medi-
cine intervention were included
and appraised with the Jadad
scale. The Jadad scale was used
to evaluate trials based on their
level of randomization.
Patients were surveyed via ques-
tionnaire and the use of logistic
regression to determine the best
predictors of CAM use. Selected
participants were interviewed
and responses to questions were
coded and clustered to determine
perceptions of CAM results.
Therapeutic touch seems to be a
promising therapy in alleviating
cancer pain, but there is inad-
equate evidence to really recom-
mend therapeutic touch as an
effective remedy for cancer pain.
34% of patients reportedly tried
CAM. Most common were herbs
(n = 13), vitamins (n = 11), and
massage (n = 5). On a scale of
1–10 rating satisfaction, patients
gave a mean score of 8.7 (n = 17).
CAM appeared to meet symptom
control and psychological support
needs. Age (p = 0.022), religion
(p = 0.044), and education (p =
0.012) were predictors of use.
rerio, and Slater (2004) found statistically significant differences
for pain, vitality, and physical functioning. The most distinctive
changes occurred in emotional role functioning, mental health,
and health transition.
The studies all had experimental and control groups. In Gias-
son and Bouchard’s (1998) study, 20 participants were randomly
assigned to receive either rest or 15–20 minutes of therapeutic
touch several times per week. In Lafreniere et al.’s (1999) study,
41 participants were randomly assigned to an experimental
group receiving therapeutic touch or to a control group that
completed questionnaires. In Post-White et al.’s (2003) study,
164 participants were randomized into massage therapy, heal-
ing touch, or presence groups (participants rested on the same
table and listened to the same relaxing music but did not receive
massage therapy or healing touch). The Cook et al. (2004) study
selected 34 women with breast or gynecologic cancer being
treated with radiation for the experimental group and 28 for the
control group. Anxiety, mood, and fatigue symptoms improved
in the studies’ experimental groups. The studies by Cook et
al., Giasson and Bouchard, and Post-White et al. also showed
improvements in relaxed state and pain symptoms.
Sources assigned level III have evidence that was “obtained
from well-designed controlled trials without randomization”
(Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005, p. 10). In Samarel, Fawcett,
Davis, and Ryan’s (1998) study, 14 patients were placed in the
experimental group and 17 in the control group. The State-Trait
Anxiety Inventory, the Affects Balance Scale, and the Visual Ana-
log Pain Scale were used to evaluate patients seven days prior
to surgery and 24 hours after surgery. Treatment consisted of
10 minutes of therapeutic touch and 20 minutes of dialogue. A
decrease in anxiety—also found in the Giasson and Bouchard
(1998) and Lafreniere et al. (1999) studies—was found in those
receiving therapeutic touch (p = 0.03).
Polit and Beck (2006) reported that many clinically important
nursing questions can be answered from the rich descriptive and
qualitative data discovered in level IV and V studies. Three of
the sources that were reviewed—Olson, Hanson, and Michaud,
2003; Weze, Leathard, Grange, Tiplady, and Stevens 2004; and
Wilkinson et al., 2002—were assigned level IV, which is evidence
that is obtained from well-designed case control and cohort
studies. The three sources support touch-energy therapies after
finding significant improvement in physical (p = 0.002) and psy-
chological health (p = 0.005) (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2005;
Polit & Beck). Weze et al. and Olson et al. conducted studies in
which patients with cancer rated their levels of pain and quality
of life at two different points in the experiment. This allowed
researchers to establish a baseline level of pain and some aspect
of psychological disturbance, mainly focused on stress. Olson et
al. searched for patients who had not received Reiki, chemother-
apy, or radiation for the past month; required two to five doses
of analgesic the day prior to recruitment; and were receiving
palliative care for advanced cancer. The criteria raised further
questions about what types of therapy are best. Weze et al. and
Wilkinson et al. supported the effectiveness of healing and gentle
touch in increasing health and providing pain relief. Wilkinson
et al. also found that more experienced practitioners achieved
more significant results.
Studies assigned to level VI have “evidence from a single
descriptive or qualitative study as one of its weakest traits,
or evidence levels [implying] that conclusions for practice
are not as significant” but still valuable (Melnyk & Fineout-
Overholt, 2005, p. 10). Kelly et al. (2004) conducted phone
interviews with women with early-stage breast cancer follow-
ing therapeutic touch treatment and dialogue or the control
method of quiet rest. The women reported positive feelings
of calmness, relaxation, comfort, and security, regardless of
Nurses can help patients with cancer by facilitating quiet time
and dialogue without offering therapeutic touch. Furthermore,
before nurses can consider therapeutic touch or other similar
Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing • Volume 12, Number 1 • Does Therapeutic Touch Help Reduce Pain and Anxiety? 119
modalities, they must understand the patient’s openness to
such treatment. Sparber et al. (2000) examined this question
by administering a standardized questionnaire about the use
of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies
prior to and following a cancer diagnosis to 100 adult patients
with cancer. Sixty-three percent of the patients used at least one
CAM therapy; of that group, each patient used an average of two
CAM therapies. The study also found that women were more
likely to use multiple CAM treatments. Gotay (1999) surveyed
343 patients with cancer. Based on responses from a mailed
questionnaire, 24 were asked to participate in an interview
about their CAM experience. On a satisfaction scale of 1–10,
most patients were satisfied, giving a mean score of 8.7 (n =
17). CAM appeared to meet symptom control and psychological
support needs, such as stress management, spiritual concerns,
and control over one’s health.
The studies reviewed provide evidence that pain and anxi-
ety in patients with cancer were reduced through therapeutic
touch and other touch therapies. Presumed restoration of the
energy field balanced out the cancer disruption. Therapeu-
tic touch allows caregivers to manipulate a patient’s energy
fields on the skin surface and restore the balance of energy to
promote wellness (Bassett Healthcare, 2002; Gottlieb, 1995;
The research relating to therapeutic touch’s effect on pain
and anxiety in patients with cancer indicates that the therapy
does help reduce pain and anxiety. Nurses have a responsibility
to educate and care for patients by promoting optimal well-
ness and health. Evidence clearly indicates the effectiveness of
therapeutic touch and other touch-energy therapies in relieving
physical and psychological symptoms in patients with cancer.
Pain management often is limited to prescribing drugs and
abandoning the psychosocial aspects of nursing care. Evidence
demonstrates that, with therapeutic touch, the body and mind
may experience increased health.
This study had several limitations. Therapeutic touch termi-
nology was very narrow, and research was expanded to articles
that included healing touch, Reiki, and CAM. In addition, the
terms healing touch and therapeutic touch often are inter-
changed, so distinguishing which therapy was used was difficult
in some studies. Nonspecific to this project is the need for more
research in this area. According to Polit and Beck (2006), rela-
tively few randomized clinical trials, studies in the nursing dis-
cipline, and published meta-analyses of randomized clinical trial
nursing studies have been conducted. Research is simply not as
advanced as it needs to be within the realm of nursing. Nursing
research, along with non-nursing research, in nontraditional
treatments is even more scarce, which limited the evidence on
therapeutic touch. Future research should focus on higher-level
evidence studies investigating cancer outcomes when incorpo-
rating therapeutic touch as a treatment modality.
Within the scope of nursing practice, patients’ psychosocial
issues are predominant, and patients’ subjective experiences of
anxiety, stress, and overall quality of life need to be addressed.
More research is needed on this topic, but the current evidence-
based practice research puts great value on therapeutic touch.
The research provides education about the importance of
therapeutic touch as an alternative or complement to traditional
Western treatments. The research also suggests that therapeutic
touch would be a relevant continuing education topic for health-
care providers. Including curricular content on therapeutic
touch theory and skills within nursing undergraduate programs
should be considered. The holistic role of nurses necessitates
emphasis on patients’ physical and psychological care. Thera-
peutic touch may be one method of doing just that.
Author Contact: Melody Eaton, PhD, MBA, RN, can be reached at
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