Although it is called therapeutic touch, nurses who practice the treatment keep their hands about two inches above their patients. To date, about 100,000 American nurses have been trained in therapeutic touch, and it is considered the fastest-growing alternative nursing practice--in part, because of its appeal as being noninvasive, nontoxic, and useful for pain reduction and the promotion of healing.

Yet, despite many testimonials and diverse applications, therapeutic touch has garnered an outspoken chorus of critics. Some researchers allege therapeutic touch is medical quackery, while others, including some conservative Christians, have labeled it a New Age religious practice inappropriate for use in health care.

Since the introduction of therapeutic touch 24 years ago, the method--in spite of the controversy--has gained support nationally from groups such as the National League for Nursing, a nursing school accreditation organization.

Many nurses are first introduced to therapeutic touch through continuing education seminars and professional meetings. Last August, at a routine nurses' meeting at Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, registered nurse Barbara Kinast was handed a pamphlet: "Introduction to Energetic Modalities. [A nurse] will address the use of energetic touch as a therapeutic modality. This presentation will teach participants how to incorporate touch in a nonthreatening and comforting way. She will explain the newly approved nursing diagnosis, 'Energy,' so that it can be effectively employed in your nursing practice. [She] will demonstrate how to engage and assess the energy field."

Kinast had just returned from a retreat of Christian nurses where speakers had described therapeutic touch, ...

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