Healing | Cancer Research UK
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What healing is

The practice of healing is thousands of years old. Healers believe that healing energy exists all around us, and that they can channel this energy and use it to heal you. 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 is where the healer touches your body and is also known as the laying on of hands. 

In 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 means that you don’t have to be face to face with your healer – they send healing energy to you from a distance.

In 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 and that 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.

For more information, look at our section about why people with cancer use complementary therapies.


Research into healing

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. 

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

In 2000 a systematic review looked at 23 trials using different types of healing, including prayer, mental healing, therapeutic touch, and spiritual healing. Most of the trials involved people who had heart and skin conditions. There was one study of children with leukaemia. The review pulled together the published results of all these trials to draw its conclusions. It was difficult for the researchers to draw firm conclusions because the designs of the studies were so different. But over half of the studies showed that healing had a positive effect. These effects included lowering anxiety, pain and blood pressure, and helping people to sleep better. In light of this the researchers felt that more studies were needed. 

You can read the published results of the review of types of healing.

A UK study in 2012 looked at whether spiritual healing could help women taking long term hormone therapy for breast cancer. Long term hormone therapy can cause side effects that make some women stop taking it. The researchers wanted to find out whether spiritual healing could support patients having side effects from this treatment. 12 patients took part and had healing therapy every week for 10 weeks. The researchers found that patients having healing therapy 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. 

In 2012 researchers reviewed 4 trials that looked at whether therapeutic touch can help with wound healing. 2 trials seemed to show better wound healing but 1 showed no difference and 1 showed worse wound healing. The reviewers stated that the trials do not show therapeutic touch to be helpful in healing wounds from minor surgery. There are no studies looking at healing of wounds in people with cancer. 

You can see the review into therapeutic touch for wound healing on the Cochrane Library website.


What healing involves

You may 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. During the healing session the healer usually stays silent. They may play some relaxing music in the background. Sessions usually lasts between 20 to 30 minutes but can vary.

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 who use healing say that they feel very sleepy and relaxed during and after the treatment. The next day you may feel full of energy. Sometimes you can feel some effect in one session. Far more often, 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.


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, in some people, could cause a seizure (fit).

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. And always tell your healer if you are using any other type of complementary or alternative therapy.

Remember too that if you don’t feel any benefit from the healing you could feel let down and disappointed.


The cost of healing

Many healers work within the NHS, or for charities, and they 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

If you decide to have some healing, it’s important to find someone properly trained and qualified to do it. The best way to find a reliable healer is to

  • Contact one of the healing organisations below and ask for a list of reputable healers in your area
  • Ask the healer how many years of training they did and how long they've been practicing
  • Ask the healer if they have treated cancer patients before
  • Ask if they have indemnity insurance (in case of negligence)
  • Avoid healers who tell you that they can cure you – no reputable healer should make this claim

At the moment there is no single professional organisation that regulates healers in the UK. Healers can join several associations, but they are not legally required to join these associations or finish any specific training. However, most reputable healers will belong to one of the healing organisations.


Healing organisations

There are a number of healing organisations. UK Healers is a group of these organisations who are working together to develop standards of training and practice in healing. UK Healers also aim to have one professional body holding a register of UK healers. They have a full list of healing organisations that are part of this group on their website.

UK Healers
Email: admin@ukhealers.info
Website: www.ukhealers.info

UK Healers Regulatory Body aims to create standards of good practice for healers, so that all healing organisations work along the same lines to benefit the general public.

The Healing Trust
Phone: 01604 603247
Website: www.nfsh.org.uk

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

You can also look in our help and support section for a list of complementary and alternative therapy organisations.

Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)
CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners and covers healers. Its key function is to improve public protection by giving the general public access to a list of practitioners who meet national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners are able to use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials.

Phone: 0207 653 1971
Email: info@cnhc.org.uk
Website: www.cnhc.org.uk

The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)
18 Shakespeare Business Centre
Hathaway Close
SO50 4SR
Website: findatherapist.fht.org.uk
Phone: 023 8062 4350
Email: info@fht.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.

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Updated: 5 February 2015