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Healing

Healers believe that healing energy exists all around us, and that they can channel this energy and use it to heal you.

The practice of healing is thousands of years old. Some spiritual healers claim that the energy comes from a divine source. Other healers see it as a universal energy.

There are different types of healing.

Contact healing

This is where the healer touches your body and is also known as the laying on of hands.

Therapeutic touch

Practitioners go into a meditative state and pass their hands above your body to find and correct any imbalances in the energy.

Absent healing

You don’t have to be face to face with your healer for this as they send healing energy to you from a distance.

Faith healing

The healer uses prayer.

Scientific evidence does not support healing as a treatment for cancer. But many people say that it can increase peace of mind, reduce stress, relieve pain and anxiety, and may strengthen the will to live. Some studies support this.

Some people say that it helps them to feel better and helps them to cope with cancer symptoms.

How healing works

Nobody really knows how healing works, and there are conflicting beliefs about whether it works at all.

Some healers claim that healing triggers a natural process that restores your body, mind and soul to a state of harmony and balance. This in turn helps your immune system to heal itself.

For example, these healers say that your body already knows how to deal with illness, cuts and injuries. Healing just helps stimulate your body to heal itself.

Another theory is that the energy created by love and care can encourage your spirit to physically change the process of your disease, for example, by shrinking a tumour.

There is some evidence to suggest that seeing a healer can help people with cancer to feel better. But there have been no large scale clinical trials to find out whether or not healing works when used alongside conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Why people with cancer use healing

Healing is one of the most common types of complementary therapy that people with cancer use. As with most types of complementary therapy, it is popular because it helps people feel more in control of their situation.

Healers promote this type of therapy as a natural way to help you relax and cope with:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression

They also hope that it might control other symptoms and side effects of cancer, such as:

  • pain
  • sickness
  • tiredness (fatigue)

Many people with cancer who use healing say that it helps them feel better. This can be because a therapist spends time with them and comforts them. Having someone devote time to you, in a calm environment, can be very relaxing after the rush and stress of hospitals and treatment.

What healing involves

You might see a healer on your own or as part of a group. If you see the healer in private, they will probably ask you about your medical history and how you are feeling emotionally.

For the treatment you’ll need to wear loose or comfortable clothing, and either sit in a chair or lie down on a couch. You can take your shoes off.

Sessions usually lasts between 20 to 30 minutes but can vary. The healer usually stays silent during the sessions. They may play some relaxing music in the background.

During treatment, the healer will pass their hands just over the top of your body. They may use light touch in places.

Both you and the healer might feel a variety of sensations, including:

  • changes in the temperature of your body
  • tingling
  • pressure
  • gentle throbbing of parts of your body

However, some people don’t feel anything. You may find that some very strong emotions come to the surface during a session of healing. Your healer will not be surprised by this and will be there to support you.

Many people say that they feel very sleepy and relaxed during and after the treatment. The next day you might feel full of energy. Sometimes you can feel some effect in one session. But more often than not, any improvement is gradual.

You can have distant healing even when you are far away from the healer and without you knowing that the healer is thinking of you.

Research into healing

There is no scientific evidence that proves healing can prevent or cure any disease, including cancer. But it may help to lower stress, relieve symptoms and promote relaxation. It is completely safe to use healing alongside your cancer treatment.

Many doctors accept healing as a useful complementary therapy for some conditions. A study in 2007 in the USA found that up to 42% of people with cancer used some type of spiritual healing.

In 2000 a review looked at 23 trials using different types of healing including:

  • prayer
  • mental healing
  • therapeutic touch
  • spiritual healing

Most of the trials involved people who had heart and skin conditions, but there was one study of children with leukaemia.

It was difficult for the researchers to draw firm conclusions because the designs of the studies were so different. But, over half the studies showed that healing had a positive effect, including lowered anxiety, pain and blood pressure. It also seemed to help people to sleep better.

The researchers felt that more studies were needed. You can read the results of the review on the American College of Physicians website.

Long term hormone therapy can cause side effects that make some women stop taking it. In 2012, UK researchers tried to find out if spiritual healing could support women having side effects from this treatment.

12 women had healing therapy every week for 10 weeks. The researchers found they had fewer treatment side effects, higher energy levels, better well being, and more emotional relaxation. They also started to take part in activities that they had given up since their cancer diagnosis.

The researchers suggested that spiritual healing has the potential to support patients with breast cancer having long term cancer treatments. But we need bigger studies to see how much it can help.

There are no studies looking at healing of wounds in people with cancer.

But in 2012 researchers reviewed 4 trials that looked at whether therapeutic touch could help wounds from minor surgery heal. Two trials seemed to show better wound healing, one showed no difference, and the other showed worse wound healing.

The reviewers said the trials did not show therapeutic touch was helpful for healing wounds from minor surgery. You can read the review on the Cochrane Library website.

Possible side effects

There are no reports of any side effects from people who use healing. Overall, it is a safe therapy to use.

But, some experts say you should use it with caution if you have uncontrolled epilepsy. In theory, the deep relaxation it can bring on, could cause a seizure (fit) in some people.

It is important to tell your doctor about any complementary or alternative therapy you are using. That way, your doctor will always have the full picture about your care and treatment.

Most healers will advise you not to do any hard physical exercise soon after your treatment. Tell your healer about your cancer treatment and if you are using any other type of complementary or alternative therapy.

Remember that you might also feel disappointed if you don’t feel any benefit from the healing.

The cost of healing

Many healers work within the NHS or for charities, and usually offer free treatment. Some healers may ask for a small donation to their charity.

Healers working privately may charge anywhere between £15 and £60 per session.

It is very important that you have your treatments with a qualified healer.

Finding a healer

It’s important to find a properly trained and qualified healer if you decide you want to have healing.

At the moment there is no single professional organisation that regulates healers in the UK. Healers can join several associations, but they are not required to by law, nor do they need to finish any specific training.

However, most reputable healers will belong to a healing organisation. So we recommend that you contact one of the organisations listed below to ask for a list of healers in your area.

Avoid healers who tell you that they can cure you. No reputable healer should make this claim.

Questions to ask your CAM therapist

Questions you might ask

  • How many years of training have you had?
  • How long have you been practising?
  • Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
  • Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)

Useful organisations

UK Healers aims to develop standards of training and good practice for all healers. They aim to become the professional regulatory body for healers in the UK with a register of qualified healers. There is a full list of healing organisations on their website.

Email: admin@ukhealers.info

The Healing Trust provides training for healers and a qualification in healing which takes 2 years to complete. You can also use their website to find a healer near you.

Phone: 01604 603247

CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners. It protects the public by giving them access to a list of practitioners who have met national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners can use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials. Most NHS services only use CNHC registered practitioners.

46-48 East Smithfield
London
E1W 1AW

Phone: 0203 668 0406
Email: info@cnhc.org.uk

The Federation of Holistic Therapists is the leading professional association for complementary therapists. They have a register of therapists who are qualified, insured, and who follow the FHT strict Code of Conduct and Professional Practice.

18 Shakespeare Business Centre
Hathaway Close
Eastleigh
SO50 4SR

Phone: 023 8062 4350
Email: info@fht.org.uk

Last reviewed: 
05 Feb 2015
  • American Cancer Society
    Accessed January 2013

  • MD Anderson Integrative Medicine Centre
    Accessed January 2013

  • A population-based study of prevalence of complementary methods use by cancer survivors: a report from the American Cancer Society's studies of cancer survivors.
    T Gansler and others, 2008
    Cancer, Volume 113, Issue 5

  • Therapeutic touch for healing acute wounds.
    DP O'Mathúna and RL Ashford 2012.
    Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews.

  • Effects of Spiritual Healing for Women Undergoing Long-Term Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer: A Qualitative Investigation
    F Barlow and others, 2013
    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 3

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