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Does a Healing Procedure Referring to Theta Rhythms Also Generate Theta Rhythms in the Brain?

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Background/objectives: ThetaHealing® (Vianna Stibal, Kalispell, MT) is a spiritual healing method in which the practitioner and client engage in joint meditations during several healing sessions. It is claimed that these meditation periods are characterized by a "theta state" in which the presence of theta-waves in the electroencephalograph (EEG) frequency spectrum of both the healer and the client is supposed. This study sought to test this hypothesis as well as the presence of synchronicities in the two EEGs. Methods: Measurements were obtained with a dual EEG system with 2 × 32 channels, allowing for simultaneous EEG measurements of healer and client. Ten healers and 10 clients performed 10 ThetaHealing sessions while the EEG was measured. Results: Theta frequency band did not increase in healers or in clients. Rather, the contrary was found, with a significant decrease in theta-2 band during healing in healers. Small correlations were seen between the Fourier amplitudes of healer and client in the theta-2 band, as well as small phase synchronicities in theta frequencies. Conclusion: The hypothesis that ThetaHealing is associated with an enhanced generation of theta frequencies in the brain could not be confirmed. This finding makes no claim about whether ThetaHealing is beneficial from a clinical perspective.
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Does a Healing Procedure Referring to Theta Rhythms
Also Generate Theta Rhythms in the Brain?
Thilo Hinterberger, PhD,
1
Anna von Haugwitz, MD,
2
and Stefan Schmidt, PhD
2,3
Abstract
Background/Objectives: ThetaHealing (Vianna Stibal, Kalispell, MT) is a spiritual healing method in which
the practitioner and client engage in joint meditations during several healing sessions. It is claimed that these
meditation periods are characterized by a ‘theta state’ in which the presence of theta-waves in the electro-
encephalograph (EEG) frequency spectrum of both the healer and the client is supposed. This study sought to
test this hypothesis as well as the presence of synchronicities in the two EEGs.
Methods: Measurements were obtained with a dual EEG system with 2 · 32 channels, allowing for simulta-
neous EEG measurements of healer and client. Ten healers and 10 clients performed 10 ThetaHealing sessions
while the EEG was measured.
Results: Theta frequency band did not increase in healers or in clients. Rather, the contrary was found, with a
significant decrease in theta-2 band during healing in healers. Small correlations were seen between the Fourier
amplitudes of healer and client in the theta-2 band, as well as small phase synchronicities in theta frequencies.
Conclusion: The hypothesis that ThetaHealing is associated with an enhanced generation of theta frequencies in
the brain could not be confirmed. This finding makes no claim about whether ThetaHealing is beneficial from a
clinical perspective.
Introduction
A
new healing procedure termed ThetaHealing
(Vianna Stibal, Kalispell, MT) is making extraordinary
claims regarding healing effects and healing mechanism. The
method is propagating quickly, but to date no scientific eval-
uation has been conducted. One of the basic claims of Theta-
Healing is that an experienced theta healer enters a ‘theta
state’ via special meditation. According to ThetaHealing, al-
leged healing effects are taking place in this special state,
which is also induced in the client by the healer. The name
ThetaHealing originates from the claim that this ‘theta state’
is correlated with strong theta rhythmic activity patterns (4–
7 Hz) in the respective electroencephalogram (EEG) of healer
and client.
1
The theta rhythm is an oscillating EEG pattern in the fre-
quency range of 4–7 Hz. This theta band is often additionally
split into theta-1 (4–5 Hz) and theta-2 (5–7 Hz). On human
EEGs, theta is shown during resting state,
2
drowsiness, and
early slow-wave sleep.
3
In the waking state, theta has been
associated with both long-term and working memory tasks.
4,5
Theta power has also been found during meditation.
6,7
ThetaHealing is a healing procedure developed in the United
States by Vianna Stibal. According to descriptions on various
websites (see, for example, http://www.thetahealing.com),
Stibal discovered by chance that she was able to perform
‘instant healing.’ At that time she had cancer of the right
femur and reports that her leg was instantaneously healed.
1
After this experience she developed several techniques and
started teaching them to others. On the basis of an EEG
assessment of this method that showed increased activity in
the theta frequency band, she called her technique Theta-
Healing.
1
Meanwhile, the practice of ThetaHealing ex-
panded in the Western hemisphere. ThetaHealing courses
and ‘healing treatments’ by ‘ThetaHealers’ are available
in all major cities and countries. Courses follow the basic
design by Vianna Stibal and build on each other.
ThetaHealing claims to heal, more or less instantaneously,
many conditions for which conventional medicine has no
cure or needs much more time. There are several reports, for
example, of the disappearance of bone fractures, but also
claims of success in hepatitis C, Epstein-Barr virus infection,
HIV infection, herpes, tumors, various types of cancers, and
genetic defects.
8
1
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University Medical Center Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.
2
Academic Section Evaluation of Complementary Medicine, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University
Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.
3
Institute of Transcultural Health Studies, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany.
THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE
Volume 22, Number 1, 2016, pp. 66–74
ª Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
DOI: 10.1089/acm.2014.0394
66
To practice this method, the healer instructed by this
method enters into a unique state by means of a special
meditation. This state, called the theta state, is assumed to
be physiologically indicated by the presence of strong theta
EEG activity. The healer then aims to mentally connect to a
client, who, it is supposed, will also enter into this associ-
ated theta rhythmic brain activity state. According to the
theory of ThetaHealing, a kind of ‘reprogramming’ takes
place by means of energy coming from an external
‘source’’: The roles of theta healer and client are intended
only to command and witness the change, which may take
place on several levels: physical, mental, emotional, or
spiritual.
1
The present study sought to investigate the claim of in-
duction of theta frequency on the EEG of the healer as well
as the client. A growing set of studies have investigated
coherence patterns between the neurophysiologic activity of
two related persons by the means of parallel and synchro-
nized EEG recordings (dual EEG). These studies have been
carried out in relation to interpersonal interaction paradigms
with both persons being in the same room
9,10
and also in
regard to anomalous information transfer between separated
participants.
11–13,*
In a recent dual EEG study, Ventura and
Persinger
14
assessed spontaneous EEG patterns of Reiki
practitioners and clients and found an increase in coherence
in the theta band between the two persons that was not
present in control participants.
The current study used dual EEG assessment in which the
EEG from experienced ThetaHealers and their clients was
simultaneously recorded in parallel. The study hypotheses
were that (1) the healers taught in this method would be able
to elicit voluntary theta rhythmic activity in their EEG, (2)
theta rhythm in the brain activity of the client would in-
crease once the ThetaHealers attempted to connect their
state to that of the client, and (3) there would be significantly
greater correlations in spectral EEG changes regarding the
theta bands between the healer’s and the client’s EEG once
healer and client had entered into the so-called theta state
compared to a control condition.
Materials and Methods
Design
This experimental study included pairs of healthy
participants—the experienced healer and the naive partici-
pant (client)—in whom the EEG was recorded simulta-
neously. The experimental session was broken down into
several epochs with different instructions. The hypotheses
were assessed by comparing different phases in an intrain-
dividual design as detailed below.
Participants
Ten experienced healers trained in ThetaHealing were
recruited: nine from Germany and one from Canada. Re-
cruitment of healers took place through the informal net-
work of German ThetaHealers. One of the healers brought
his own client with him. For the remaining nine healers, the
investigators recruited clients naive to ThetaHealing. All
participants were required to abstain from caffeine on the
day of the session. Participants who took medication known
to interfere with the EEG spectrum were excluded.
Set-up and materials
The experiment took place in the Neuroscience Labora-
tory at the Institute for Environmental Health Sciences at the
University Medical Center Freiburg, Germany. The labora-
tory is equipped with a sound-attenuating chamber with
electromagnetic shielding, providing a suitable environment
for conducting EEG studies.
Apparatus
The laboratory was equipped with a 72-channel QuickAmp
amplifier (bandpass, 0.01–100 Hz; sampling rate, 512 samples/s;
MES, Munich, Germany) and two 64-channel electrode caps
with active electrodes and active shielding (ActiCap, MES,
Munich). This 64-channel system was redesigned to record
a spontaneous EEG from 32 scalp positions (10–20 system)
with a common reference from two persons simultaneously.
Each of the two electrode sets had its own ground and ref-
erence electrode and its own independent active shielding
mechanism, but both were connected to the same amplifier
(QuickAmp 72). By this procedure, the EEG of both par-
ticipants was recorded identically and simultaneously. This
procedure was tested thoroughly in several pilot studies to
guarantee that the recordings were completely independent
of each other and that no cross-talk between the two EEG
units was taking place. In addition to the EEG, an electro-
oculogram and electrocardiogram were recorded. Electrode
impedances for EEG were kept to less than 5 kO.
Procedures
Participants arrived in pairs at the laboratory, and both
participants signed informed consent forms. Participants
completed a questionnaire on sociodemographic data, ex-
periences with ThetaHealing and meditation, and a mood
scale (Basler Befindlichkeitsskala
15
). While the client was
being connected to the respective EEG system, the experi-
menter explained the specific tasks of the different epochs to
the healer. The healer was then also connected to the EEG
system. Healer and client were seated next to each other,
face to face. Communication with the experimenter took
place via an intercom. Once it was confirmed that all the
equipment was working correctly, data recording started.
The experimental session was broken down into 10 phases
as shown below.
Phases 1 and 2: first baseline measurement. Both par-
ticipants sat quietly in the closed chamber of the laboratory.
Two minutes of resting-state EEG was recorded from both
participants with eyes open and another 2 minutes with eyes
closed.
Phase 3: theta induction in the healer. The healer was
asked to enter the theta state as usually done in a Theta-
Healing procedure.
*Wackermann J, Naranjo Murada
´
s JR, Pu
¨
tz P. Event-related
correlations between brain electrical activities of separated human
subjects: preliminary results of a replication study. The Para-
psychological Association, 47th Annual Convention, August, 5–8,
2004. Proceedings of Presented Papers (pp. 465–468).
THETA HEALING 67
Phases 4–8: theta elicitation in naive participant. In these
phases, the healer was asked to connect to the client and to
conduct four successive tasks from the ThetaHealing pro-
cedures. The start and end of the various phases were
communicated with the experimenter via the intercom, but
they were not named in order so that the client remained
blinded. At the end of phase 8, both healer and client left the
healing state and returned to their normal resting state.
Phases 9 and 10: second baseline measurement. Finally,
a second baseline measurement with eyes closed (2 minutes)
and eyes opened (2 minutes) was conducted.
Post-recording. At the end of the EEG recording, the
participants again completed the questionnaire on their mood
state (Basler Befindlichkeitsskala). All sessions were sched-
uled in the morning in order to avoid tiredness as a confounder
(tiredness is known to be correlated with theta activity).
On the basis of the study hypotheses, predictions for the
different experimental phases were made as outlined in
Table 1. Here, an 11th phase was defined as the composite
of phases 5–8, all healing phases in which theta was supposed
to be increased. For statistical analysis, phases 3–8 were
compared to the baseline phases 2 and 9 as described below.
Data preprocessing
EEG data were subjected to a quantitative analysis per-
formed using Matlab software, version 7.2 (MathWorks,
Natick, MA) and self-written scripts. Initially, the EEG was
scanned for high-amplitude artifacts, and eye-movement
artifacts were corrected on the EEG using a linear correction
algorithm, similar to that suggested by Gratton et al.
16
For
spectral decomposition, a fast Fourier transformation was
calculated each second with a moving window of 2 seconds,
resulting in 0.5-Hz resolution. Spectral amplitudes were
merged into eight frequency bands as follows: delta (0–
3.5 Hz), theta-1 (4.0–5.5 Hz), theta-2 (6–7.5 Hz), alpha-1
(8.0–10.0 Hz), alpha-2 (10.5–12.0 Hz), beta-1 (12.5–
15.0 Hz), beta-2 (15.5–25 Hz), and gamma (25.5–45.0 Hz).
For further statistical analysis, log-transformed band
power (logBP) was used. The data streams were separated
into 10 epochs according to the previously defined phases.
Epochs of phases 5–8 were added, forming the 11th phase.
An epoch of 2 minutes would thus contain 120 time sam-
ples. The phases were averaged over time by calculating the
median rather than the mean of the logBP because the
median is known to be more robust with respect to outliers.
For the same reason, the standard deviation was calculated
through the interquartile range. This resulted in a data ma-
trix of 32 channels · 8 frequency bands · 11 phases for each
of the 10 healers and 10 clients.
Statistical analysis
Band power comparisons.
For the statistical comparison
of the changes in EEG band power during healing phases
compared with the nonhealing baseline phases, nonpara-
metric Wilcoxon rank-sum tests were carried out. Table 2
lists five different comparisons of interest together with the
hypotheses. The first comparison (3 versus 2) compared
phase 3 (healer entering into ThetaHealing) with phase 2
(baseline, eyes closed). Here, according to our hypothesis,
an increase in theta activity would be expected for the data
of the healer but not for the client. The second comparison
(4 versus 2) compared phase 4 (the client also entered theta
state) with phase 2 (baseline, eyes closed). According to
Tables 1 and 2, an increase in theta activity would be ex-
pected in both client and healer. The same applies to the
comparison (11 versus 2) comparing all healing epochs (i.e.,
phases 5–8) with baseline. The last two comparisons com-
pare the two baselines at the beginning and the end of the
Table 1. Overview of Experimental Tasks and Respective Hypotheses of Changes in Theta Power
Phase Task Hypothesis: healer Hypothesis: client
1 and 2 Resting state baseline Normal theta Normal theta
3 Centering healer Theta increasing Normal theta
4 Centering client Increased theta Theta increasing
5 Exercise 1 (‘‘baby in the womb’’) Increased theta Increased theta
6 Exercise 2 (‘‘healing of the heart’’) Increased theta Increased theta
7 Exercise 3 (‘‘healing of the soul’’) Increased theta Increased theta
8 Exercise 4 (‘‘genetic healing’’) Increased theta Increased theta
9 and 10 Resting state baseline Normal theta Normal theta
11
a
Healing (composite of phases 5–8) Increased theta Increased theta
a
This phase was defined for the analysis as a composite of phases 5–8.
Table 2. Predefined Comparisons and Expected Outcome According to Hypotheses
Comparison Tasks Hypothesis: client Hypothesis: healer
3 vs. 2 Centering healer vs BL No change Theta increase
4 vs. 2 Centering client vs BL Theta increase Theta increase
11 vs. 2 Healing vs BL Theta increase Theta increase
9 vs. 2 BL end-begin (eyes closed) Trend? Trend?
10 vs. 1 BL end-begin (eyes opened) Trend? Trend?
BL, baseline.
68 HINTERBERGER ET AL.
session (eyes closed: 9 versus 2; eyes open: 10 versus 1).
Here, a potential overall trend in the power spectrum over
the entire session may be seen.
Intersubject correlations. EEG correlations were also
calculated between healer and client. Therefore, the Fourier
spectral amplitudes calculated for each second, each elec-
trode, each frequency band, and each participant served as
the basis for cross-correlating the time series of the healing
period (phase 11) of the healer data with the client data.
Zero-lag correlations were calculated for each electrode
separately to find area-specific correlations. Global corre-
lations calculated from averaged electrodes were analyzed
as well. To test whether such correlations occurred with a
time delay in the clients, a lag/lead analysis was performed.
Therefore, the band-pass filtered time series signals were
correlated after shifting of the client data samplewise up to a
delay of 250 samples. This corresponds to nonzero lag
cross-correlations from 0 to 1 second.
Intersubject phase synchronicity. The phase coherence
of band-pass filtered signals between healers and clients in
various theta frequency bands was calculated to examine
whether brain oscillations at corresponding EEG locations
had significant phase synchronicity. Therefore, the signal
was filtered in four bands from 4 to 7 Hz, and each time
series was wavelet transformed using a Morlet wavelet with
the same frequency and a length of six cycles that was
shifted sample by sample through the time series. This re-
sulted in a time series of amplitudes and phase angles for
each electrode. Using the phase angle time series data of
healers and corresponding clients, correlation coefficients
(r) and their p-values between healer and client were cal-
culated. The calculation was done for the series of all
healing conditions and all baseline conditions. This resulted
in a set of r-values and p-values of the dimension 10 par-
ticipants · 32 electrodes · 4 theta bands · 2 conditions. The
set of p-values was then corrected for multiple testing to
account for random significances using the false discovery
rate (FDR) adjustment method.
17,18
Ethical considerations
The University Medical Center’s ethic committee ap-
proved the study. All participants gave written informed
consent before the start of the data collection.
Results
The study comprised 20 participants: 10 healers (7 wo-
men and 3 men) and 10 clients (7 women and 3 men).
Participants had an average age of 38.7 years (range 27–54
years). Healers had a mean of 3 years of experience in
ThetaHealing, with an average of 253 healing sessions.
Individual global theta band power contrasts
An overall result was first calculated to average the
spectral values of all electrodes. This global band power was
calculated for all five comparisons and all eight frequency
bands. Before showing statistical results, the analysis
FIG. 1. Individual theta band power differences between healing and baseline tasks in healers (A) and clients (B) .
Negative effect sizes (Cohen d) indicate decreases of theta power during the healing phases and are marked in black.
Positive values are marked in white. BL, baseline.
THETA HEALING 69
remained on the level of single subjects and shows the
standardized differences (Cohen d) of the theta band activ-
ities between the phases of interest. Figure 1A and B il-
lustrate the individual effects for healers and clients of the
five contrasts according to the comparisons of Table 2.
Figure 1A demonstrates that most healers showed reduced
theta-1 and theta-2 activities during healing. Similarly, most
clients also showed reduced theta activities during healing,
as shown in Figure 1B. Regarding the trend in comparing
baselines at the end (phases 9 and 10) with those at the
beginning (phases 1 and 2), most healers showed decreases
in theta power over the course of the whole session.
Global contrasts for all spectral bands
For statistical comparison of the phases, nonparametric
Wilcoxon rank-sum tests were calculated (n = 10). To ac-
count for false-positive results in the statistical significance
test due to multiple electrodes, the surface maps were
corrected using the FDR adjustment.
17,18
Tables 3 and 4
provide the z-values; the significant values after FDR ad-
justment are noted with a superscript ‘a.’ There was no
significant increase in any comparison among clients or
healers. However, there were significant decreases in healers
in a broad spectrum, including theta-1 and theta-2, for the
comparison of the healing phases with the initial baseline.
Most comparisons contrasting healing phases with baseline
result in significant decreases in or tendencies toward de-
creasing spectral power in healers and clients. The most sig-
nificant effects could be observed in the alpha-1 and the beta-1
or beta-2 band in healers and clients.
Topographical contrasts for all spectral bands
Figures 2 and 3 also show topographical differences in
band power between different phases of the experiment for
all 10 sessions. Generally, most comparisons showed neg-
ative trends, and negative significance was predominantly
seen in theta-2, alpha-1, and beta bands, indicating a de-
crease in power during healing. The two graphs clearly in-
dicate that hypotheses 1 and 2 (that theta activity would
increase in the healer and, later, accordingly in the client)
could not be confirmed by the empirical data. None of the
comparisons significantly increased for the clients. The
healers showed a significant decrease in the theta-2 band
(phase 3) when entering into the so-called theta state. They
furthermore showed a significant decrease in theta-1 and
theta-2 when connecting with the client (phase 4).
In the comparison of all healing epochs (phases 5–8) with
the baseline phase 2, there was also a significant decrease in
theta activity in both bands. Regarding the overall trend,
which can be seen by comparing the initial and the final
baseline of the 30-minute session, a significant decrease in
theta-2 activity was seen in healers in the eyes-closed con-
ditions. The baselines, however (with open eyes), did not
lead to significant trends in the power spectral densities.
Zero-lag correlation patterns between healer and client
For all participants and in all frequency bands, correlations
of Fourier amplitudes (averaged across all electrodes) between
healers and clients remained below r = 0.1. Highest correla-
tions could be observed in the gamma band. For the two theta
bands, correlations remained in a range of -0.015 < r < 0.013,
which is very small. Individual values for each healer-client
pair are displayed in Figure 4A.
The results from one-sample t tests across n = 10 are de-
picted in Table 5. Significant positive correlations could be
observed in the theta-2 band (t[n = 10] = 2.94; p = 0.017) as
well as in the beta-2 band (t[n = 10] = 2.33; p = 0.045). Re-
garding the theta band only, theta-2 yields a significant cor-
relation. An FDR adjustment of the p-values across all eight
bands leads to only nonsignificant results. Figure 4B and C
shows the t-test results of the theta-1 and theta-2 correlations
topographically. Red or dark blue areas would be significant
Table 3. z-Values Resulting from Wilcoxon Rank-Sum Tests for Comparisons as per Table 2
in Various Bands of Power Spectrum Densities in All 10 Healers
Healers Delta Theta-1 Theta-2 Alpha-1 Alpha-2 Beta-1 Beta-2 Gamma-1
3 vs. 2 -1.68 -2.29 -2.80
a
-2.70
a
-1.07 -2.40
a
-1.89 1.17
4 vs. 2 -2.09 -2.29 -1.89 -2.50
a
0.15 -2.50
a
-2.09 2.29
11 vs. 2 -2.80
a
-2.70
a
-2.40
a
-2.60
a
0.36 -2.60
a
-1.99 0.05
9 vs. 2 -1.48 -1.99 -2.60
a
-2.09 1.38 -1.78 -1.89 -1.17
10 vs. 1 1.78 -1.07 -0.97 -0.56 0.05 -1.07 -1.99 -0.66
a
p-values less than a = 0.05 after false discovery rate adjustment across all 5 · 8 values.
Table 4. z-Values Resulting from Wilcoxon Rank-Sum Tests for Comparisons as per Table 2
in Various Bands of Power Spectrum Densities in All 10 Clients
Clients Delta Theta-1 Theta-2 Alpha-1 Alpha-2 Beta-1 Beta-2 Gamma-1
3 vs. 2 0.87 0.36 -1.99 -2.80
a
-2.70
a
-1.68 -2.60
a
-1.07
4 vs. 2 -1.07 -0.66 -1.58 -2.19 -1.89 -1.48 -2.60
a
-1.78
11 vs. 2 -1.89 -1.38 -1.58 -2.60
a
-1.99 -0.66 -2.19 -0.25
9 vs. 2 -0.25 0.25 -0.87 -1.48 -1.48 -0.25 -1.48 -1.17
10 vs. 1 1.27 -0.56 -0.76 0.25 -0.05 -0.05 -0.97 -1.07
a
p-values less than a = 0.05 after false discovery rate adjustment across all 5 · 8 values.
70 HINTERBERGER ET AL.
FIG. 2. Healers: topographical views of the comparisons of band power values between healing and baseline phases (rows
1–3) for all frequency bands and the changes in the baseline with eyes closed and opened (rows 4 and 5). Data from all
healers were used. False discovery rate–adjusted p-values are shown resulting from Wilcoxon rank-sum tests. The p-values
from positive z-scores are shown in light gray and when significant in white, while negative z-scores are shown in dark gray
and when significant in black.
FIG. 3. Clients: topographical views of the comparisons of band power values between healing and baseline phases (rows
1–3) for all frequency bands and the changes in the baseline with eyes closed and opened (rows 4 and 5). Data from all
clients were used. False discovery rate–adjusted p-values are shown resulting from Wilcoxon rank-sum tests. The p-values
from positive z-scores are shown in light gray and when significant in white, while negative z-scores are shown in dark gray
and when significant in black.
THETA HEALING 71
without correction for multiple testing. After FDR adjustment
across 32 electrodes, no significant locations were visible.
Therefore, it is concluded that hypothesis 3 was not con-
firmed when the whole spectrum was considered.
As shown in Table 6, all absolute correlation values (r)at
any lag-time are less than r = 0.03 for theta-1 and less than
r = 0.02 for theta-2, which are both very small correlations.
The localized lag/lead analysis for all 32 electrode sites
revealed correlations less than r = 0.07 for theta-1 and less
than r = 0.06 for theta-2.
Analysis of intersubject theta-phase synchronicities
A further question was whether theta waves were phase
locked between healer and client. Therefore, a calculation of
phase angle correlation using wavelet transformed time series
for each pair of participants, each condition (healing or base-
line), each electrode, and each frequency between 4 and 7 Hz
was performed, resulting in a set of 10 · 2 · 32 · 4 = 2560
values. The FDR-adjusted p-values are displayed in Figure 5.
The corresponding set of correlation coefficients was subject
to a four-way analysis of variance. Significant main effects
were found for the factor participants with F(df = 9) = 8.92
( p < 0.001), as well as for the factor tasks with F(df = 1) = 4.18
( p = 0.04), and the factor electrodes with F(df = 31) = 2.64
( p < 0.001). No significant main effect could be observed in the
factor frequency. The mean surface map over all sessions re-
vealed only nonsignificant results. The mean absolute theta
phase coherence [abs(R)] over all sessions and electrodes was
0.0048 in the healing phases and 0.0042 in the baseline phases.
Discussion
This dual EEG study was performed to investigate one of
the basic claims of a new healing technique called Theta-
Healing. These claims were evaluated by three objectives
hypothesizing (1) a theta increase in the healer, (2) a theta
increase in the client, and (3) an increase in correlations of
EEG patterns between healer and client during healing
phases. The data did not support the hypotheses in any case.
No increase in theta activity occurred during the theta pro-
cedure. Theta activity remained more or less unchanged in
clients and even decreased in the healers. All these findings
conflict with the proposed hypotheses, and the claims for
this method, which are also responsible for the specific
name of ‘Theta’’-Healing, could not be supported.
The decrease of global alpha power, especially in phases 3
and 4 compared with phase 2, can be explained by a fre-
quently observed alpha behavior in which shortly after the
eyes are closed, alpha power increases more than in the sub-
sequent time of continuously closed eyes. A global decrease in
theta and delta power during healing compared with baseline
accompanied by a decrease in central beta power matches the
authors’ findings in meditation research. A similar pattern was
found in comparing idiosyncratic meditation practices to a
baseline recording or in comparing the intention for reaching a
state of thoughtless emptiness to a baseline condition similar
to that in this study.
19
This pattern was present only in the
healers and not the clients, suggesting that the healers entered
such a meditative state during their practice. To the authors’
knowledge, ThetaHealing asks for a state of thoughtless
emptiness in the healer so that he or she is open for receiving
relevant information from the client. This would support the
findings of this study.
A limitation of the current study may be the statistical
power. Ten participants is a rather small sample. However,
because the study found no tendency in the hypothesized
direction, the assumption that the study may have lacked the
statistical power to detect some effect of increased theta ac-
tivity power is unlikely. A positive outcome with respect to
the hypotheses in a larger sample would be possible only if
the additional participants provided data completely different
from those found in this study. On the other hand, in other
similar studies, a sample of 10 pairs was sufficient to detect
relevant effects (e.g., Ventura and Persinger
14
).
FIG. 4. (a) Global correla-
tion values of each healer-
client pair for the theta-1
and theta-2 bands for healing
conditions. (b) Shows the
t-test results across partici-
pants of the theta-1 correla-
tions topographically. After
FDR adjustment across elec-
trodes no significant loca-
tions were visible. Color
images available online at
www.liebertpub.com/acm
Table 5. t-Test Results and Related p-Values of Correlations of 10 Participant Pairs
Variable Delta Theta-1 Theta-2 Alpha-1 Alpha-2 Beta-1 Beta-2 Gamma-1
t (n = 10) 2.32 -0.10 2.94
a
1.30 0.69 -0.15 2.33
a
1.50
p-Value 0.045 0.920 0.017
a,b
0.225 0.505 0.884 0.045
a,b
0.168
a
Significant ( p < .05) values without correction for multiple testing.
b
False discovery rate adjustment yields no significant values.
72 HINTERBERGER ET AL.
Although positive correlations for the Fourier amplitudes
were found between healers and clients in the theta-2 band
in 8 of 10 sessions, those correlations were very small
(r < 0.015) and therefore may be regarded as irrelevant from
a functional perspective. Furthermore, the result of the to-
pographically resolved correlation map was nonsignificant
after FDR adjustment. In the non-zero lag correlation, small
but sometimes significant correlations were again found for
single sessions. In a third approach, these intersubject cor-
relations were investigated by calculating the intersubject
phase coherence for four theta frequencies. Again, very
small but, after FDR adjustment, still significant phase
synchronicities were found. However, averaging those data
across sessions (i.e., across participant pairs) resulted in
nonsignificant coherences. This shows that even if pairs of
participants had nonrandom phase synchronicities during a
session, the topography and frequency structure of these
synchronicities had no similarities between sessions.
The correlations found are not mysterious but can most
likely be explained by the fact that both subjects were sitting
close to each other in the same measurement chamber
during the sessions. Thus, they were exposed to the same
acoustic surrounding and also shared some visual stimuli
caused by each other. Because it is well known that any
stimulation causes evoked brain responses, which are phase-
locked to the event, it can be assumed that this environ-
mental connectedness causes intersubject correlations. A
closer analysis of this hypothesis would require the time-
series of the acoustic events and perhaps visual perceptions
(if participants did not have their eyes entirely closed). Since
these data were not recorded, such an analysis is not pos-
sible. Another option would have been a sensory separation
of the participants. However, the interconnectedness of
brains beyond a common sensory environment was not the
research question of the present study.
Another limitation might be that the somewhat artificial
setting, which was used to record simultaneous EEGs from
client and healer. Several constraints had to be introduced; for
example, client and healer were not allowed to talk to each
other during several phases of the experiment. Furthermore,
Table 6. Non-Zero Lag Correlations Averaged Across Lag Times (0–250 Samples)
and 32 Electrodes of 10 Participant Pairs
Participant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Theta-1 max(abs(r)) 0.020 0.017 0.023 0.022 0.015 0.018 0.024 0.018 0.024 0.013
Theta-1 mean(abs(r)) 0.016 0.015 0.019 0.015 0.013 0.015 0.019 0.015 0.018 0.009
Theta-2 max(abs(r)) 0.012 0.017 0.016 0.013 0.011 0.017 0.016 0.011 0.017 0.010
Theta-2 mean(abs(r)) 0.009 0.011 0.013 0.009 0.009 0.010 0.011 0.009 0.013 0.008
Mean and maximum correlation values are reported.
FIG. 5. False discovery rate (FDR)–adjusted p-values of the intersubject phase coherence for each participant pair and
condition (healing and baseline) in separate images. Each image contains p-values of 32 electrodes and 4 frequencies from 4
to 7 Hz. Blue p-values represent significant differences at a 0.05 level after correction for false discoveries. Color images
available online at www.liebertpub.com/acm
THETA HEALING 73
both the laboratory situation and the time-consuming prepa-
ration of the EEG introduced crucial differences compared to
a normal healing session. Before the start of the healing
session, several tests had to be conducted. Moreover, stimu-
lated by the more technical research context, healer and client
may have felt some pressure to ‘‘prove’’ their abilities. These
atypical circumstances may have resulted in some tension or
relaxation problems in the healer and the client. However,
none of the healers complained about the circumstances.
Overall, the findings indicate that ThetaHealing most likely
does not generate an increase in theta band power activity.
This does not mean that ThetaHealing is not effective as a
healing method. This study did not investigate any clinical
aspect of this approach. Thus, even in light of the preceding
findings, further studies should evaluate ThetaHealing.
Acknowledgments
The authors thank the BIAL Foundation for the support of
this project within grant no. 42/10. They also thank Mi-
chaela Peternell, Claudia Orellana Rios, Jose
´
Raul Naranjo,
and Dennis Centeno for their valuable help in data recording
and Majella Horan for assistance in manuscript preparation.
Author Disclosure Statement
No competing financial interests exist.
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Address correspondence to:
Stefan Schmidt, PhD
Academic Section Evaluation of Complementary Medicine
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine
and Psychotherapy
University Medical Center Freiburg
Hauptstr. 8, 79104 Freiburg
Germany
E-mail: stefan.schmidt@uniklinik-freiburg.de
74 HINTERBERGER ET AL.
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