Energy therapies are alternative therapies that aim to create a state of balance, health and peace in a person. An underlying theory to energy therapies involves energy blockages or imbalances that lead to illness and disease. The most popular forms of energy therapy are music therapy, Therapeutic Touch and Reiki.
All energy therapies are considered complements — not replacements — to traditional cancer treatment. Energy therapies cannot cure or directly treat cancer. These therapies can help people relax and may improve quality of life among people with mesothelioma and other cancers.
What Is Energy Medicine?
When people talk about energy in energy medicine, they are usually referring to an energy field or form of energy that hasn’t been proven to exist. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) distinguishes proven energy from the unproven. NCCAM uses two classifications:
- Verifiable energy is measurable and scientifically proven
- Unverifiable energy is not measurable with current technology and may not exist
Examples of verifiable energy include sound energy (vibration), electromagnetic energy (such as light), magnetism and monochromatic radiation (lasers).
Doctors regularly use verifiable energy to diagnose and treat cancer. Examples include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), lasers used during surgery, radiation therapy and photodynamic therapy. Less-researched therapies in this category include magnetic therapy and sound energy therapy.
Traditional doctors do not use unverifiable energy in medical practice. Energy therapies are primarily available through alternative medicine practitioners.
How Does It Work?
Therapies based on unverifiable energy, such as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch, reflect the belief that people possess a subtle form of life-force energy that isn’t measurable by modern science. This subtle, unproven energy is often called qi in traditional Chinese medicine, prana in ayurvedic medicine and spirit in Judeo-Christian traditions. Some people refer to it as vital life-force energy or the bioenergetic field (which often gets confused with bioenergetic exchanges, the transfer of verifiable energy among organisms and their environment).
Balancing this proposed life-force energy is the goal of energy therapies. The same goal is shared by more popular mind-body therapies (yoga, qigong and tai chi) and certain healing systems, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is also based on the belief of life-force energy. However, current research is finding plausible biological explanations for the health effects of acupuncture.
Some scientists propose that verifiable energy may be the only energy at play when therapeutic benefit is experienced through energy therapy.
Whether a subtle, separate energy exists does not change the fact that many people feel therapeutic benefits from energy therapies. The placebo effect may be at play. Since a placebo has a measurable effect in many scientific studies, many people believe that energy therapies can help people with cancer regardless of lacking evidence for life-force energy.
Various physiological actions might underlie the benefits of energy therapies. For example, acupuncture and acupressure points are often located at sites with a high density of nerve and blood vessels, commonly between or at the edges of muscle groups. Stimulation of these areas has physiological effects on the nervous system, musculoskeletal system and endocrine system. The effects of touch, which stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals, such as oxytocin in the brain, might also play a role.
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Music therapy and sound energy therapy are two types of sound therapy that may benefit people with cancer.
Music therapy is the use of music by trained professionals to encourage relaxation and enhance quality of life in people receiving health care. The hope is to relieve stress and promote well-being. Some people experience reduction of symptoms and improved healing. If you love listening to music, this therapy might be right for you.
Trained music therapists tailor sessions to individuals and groups based on their needs and musical preferences. A session may involve listening to music, making music, writing songs and discussing lyrics. Music therapy is given in various settings like hospitals, treatment centers, at home or outdoors. Patients do not need any musical ability to experience or benefit from music therapy.
Music therapy can ease nausea and vomiting following high-dose chemotherapy when combined with anti-nausea drugs. In people with cancer, music therapy can:
- Provide comfort and relaxation
- Reduce short-term pain
- Decrease intensity of pain when combined with pain-reducing drugs
- Minimize the need for pain medication in some patients
- Improve quality of life
Other studies on music therapy show that it may reduce breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, insomnia, depression and anxiety. Music therapy can also affect stress hormones and brain waves (which can induce relaxation). A handful of studies on neurologic music therapy report that it eases depression, improves stuttering, enhances brain plasticity, and improves function and emotional adjustment in people with traumatic brain injury.
This therapy is not based on unverifiable energy. The benefits of music therapy come from the psychological effects of listening to music you like and connecting with other people in a therapeutic setting.
If you are interested in music therapy, the American Music Therapy Association provides an online directory of music therapists.
Sound Energy Therapy
Sound energy therapy uses instruments or pre-recorded tones to produce sounds that soothe listeners into a state of relaxation. Instruments commonly used during sound energy therapy sessions include Tibetan singing bowls, crystal bowls and tuning forks.
Pre-recorded sounds are often designed to deliver two tones at a different frequency into each ear. This causes the listener to perceive a single tone that varies in amplitude at a frequency equal to the difference between the two tones. The single tone perceived by the brain is known as a binaural auditory beat.
These types of sound therapy haven’t been as thoroughly researched as music therapy. Though few clinical studies have scientifically investigated sound energy therapy, people say it promotes deep relaxation, enhances learning, improves sleep and reduces perception of stress. Studies on binaural auditory beat suggest it may improve sleep, memory task performance, attention, relaxation and mood.
In some energy therapies, practitioners use gentle touch or hover their hands over the patient with the intention of sending energy into the body or balancing energy within the body. Proponents say the benefits of these therapies are a result of enhancing or balancing life-force energy. Others suggest the benefits are a result of factors surrounding the experience, such as the biological effects of touch and the psychological effects of the health care experience.
Reiki is a therapeutic practice based on the idea that a person’s life-force energy can be cleansed, rejuvenated and balanced by transferring energy through the hands of a trained practitioner. A Reiki practitioner places their hands in more than a dozen positions on or over a patient’s body to transfer energy. Proponents say the energy can be sent from a distance as well.
The exact history of Reiki is unclear. It likely originated in Japan, possibly with a man named Dr. Mikao Usui around the early 1900s. Hawayo Takata, a female student of Usui’s style of Reiki, brought the teachings to the United States in the late 1930s. Today, roughly one million Americans receive Reiki every year.
Limited clinical research has been conducted on Reiki. Most of the research is anecdotal or qualitative rather than quantitative, meaning the studies are usually based upon participants’ reports and rarely on randomized, controlled scientific studies. Anecdotal reports show that people who receive Reiki often feel more relaxed, with reduced stress and increased well-being. One small, controlled pilot study found Reiki helped to reduce cancer patients’ self-reports of pain, but did not reduce their need for pain-reducing medication.
Even though clinical studies cannot find strong evidence to support Reiki, many people who receive Reiki tout the relaxing and healing effects of the therapy.
Therapeutic Touch (TT) is similar to Reiki in that a trained practitioner uses his or her hands to send healing energy to a person. This therapy was developed in the early 1970s by Delores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., a professor of nursing at New York University, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer. Proponents of TT claim the therapy can reduce anxiety, improve healing and treat numerous ailments, from headaches to nausea to cancer.
Thousands of nurses throughout the United States and Canada are trained in Therapeutic Touch. During a TT session, a practitioner senses blockages in a patient’s life-force energy field and sends healing energy through his or her hands to clear blockages or harmful energy.
A scientific review of 83 studies on TT found only one study that may have independently confirmed a positive effect.
The review also included a study to determine whether trained TT practitioners could identify which of their hands was closest to an investigator’s hand under blinded conditions to prove they could sense another person’s energy. Out of 21 practitioners with experience ranging from one to 27 years, none could correctly and repeatedly identify the location of an investigator’s hand. Overall, the practitioners identified the correct hand in 123 of 280 trials. The investigators state this 44 percent success rate is consistent with random chance.
The investigators concluded that the experienced TT practitioners could not detect an investigator’s energy field. They stated that the “failure to substantiate TT’s most fundamental claim is unrefuted evidence that the claims of TT are groundless.”
Regardless of the lack of scientific evidence for Therapeutic Touch, many nurses use the therapy, and patients continue to report benefits from TT sessions.
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Spiritual healing is similar to touch therapies in that spiritual healers believe they can channel energy into a client’s body to promote healing. However, spiritual healing doesn’t necessarily involve touch and practitioners say it can be performed from a great distance. Spiritual healing is also called intercessory prayer or faith, psychic or distant healing.
Reviews of more than 20 randomized clinical trials of spiritual healing have found no evidence that it helps people recover from cancer or any other ailment.
Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Electromagnetic field therapy uses electromagnetic energy generated by an electric current to treat pain or illness. Types of electromagnetic energy used in this category of alternative medicine include low-voltage electricity, radio waves and magnetic fields.
In contrast to proven types of electromagnetic energy that help to diagnose and treat disease — such as MRI, lasers, ionizing radiation and infrared rays — alternative electromagnetic therapies are not clinically proven to work against cancer or other diseases.
Although it is proven that electrical and magnetic energy exist in the human body, no studies have proven that electromagnetic therapy or any magnet have an effect on pain or any human ailment.
Chakra balancing is a technique that aims to cleanse and balance the life-force energy in a person’s body. Chakra balancing is offered by a variety of alternative energy healers, such as shamans or Reiki practitioners. Healers use several different methods to balance chakras. Some might involve the use of crystals, stones, essential oils and meditation. No clinical studies have been conducted on chakra balancing and little to no scientific research has investigated the theory of chakras.
The concept of chakras originated in India. Chakras are described as energy centers throughout the body that channel and store life-force energy. Approximately seven major chakras are defined, though some systems describe eight chakras and even microchakras within each energy center.
Anecdotal reports of chakra balancing say the therapy helps people to relax, reduce stress and increase well-being. Chakra balancing cannot treat or diagnose cancer. Like all complementary and alternative mesothelioma treatments, the therapy is meant to be a helpful addition to traditional cancer treatment, not a replacement for it.
Check with Your Oncologist
Make sure to speak to your oncologist before trying any complementary or alternative therapy. Let your doctor know about the therapies you are considering and your intention for using them. If you plan to use energy therapies in addition to traditional cancer treatment, your oncologist will likely approve if no potential harm or serious risk is involved.
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Last Modified September 24, 2018
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