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The use of natural healing in mainstream healthcare

Sonia Grover
Complementary Therapist and Teacher
Letchworth Hertfordshire

Edin Lakasing
GP and GP Tutor Chorleywood Health Centre
Chorleywood
Hertfordshire

Natural healing is a non-invasive complementary treatment that assists the body’s own healing processes and patients’ coping strategies. This article reviews the natural healing process and its indications in practice

Natural healing is a holistic therapy using hands-off or light touch technique as a useful adjunct to several ailments, including many common chronic diseases. Although natural healing may be perceived as a new treatment due to its rising popularity, it is, in fact, thousands of years old and has been used in several ancient cultures.1 Hippocrates himself recognised healing energies and noted the heat emanating from hands as beneficial. It is being increasingly accepted within mainstream healthcare, and many nurses and doctors are trained in it.

The treatment process
Healing sessions are typically relaxing and informal. The first session may involve an assessment, including medical history, and last up to an hour, but subsequent sessions are usually shorter. Patients do not remove any clothing except perhaps their shoes. A treatment can be given with the patient sitting in a chair, or lying on a couch. As with many types of holistic treatment, it is advisable for the patient to close their eyes as this helps with relaxation, which in itself can be a form of healing. Some therapists work at a short distance from the patient (6–12 in), while others use a light touch with the patient's consent, analogous to the techniques used in hypnosis.2

The healer can feel great warmth or great coolness, either in the hands or all over the body, often accompanied by calmness or stilling of the mind and body. The patient can often feel heat in a particular area or throughout the whole body. Often, they feel that their ailments – whether physical or mental – are receding. The patient can feel a great sense of calm and relaxation, which on many occasions can last for several days or indeed to the next treatment.

The number of treatments recommended differs depending on several factors, including the severity of the symptoms, whether the illness is acute or chronic, and the patient's age and current physical and psychological state. After an initial treatment, both the practitioner and the patient will discuss how many treatments would be beneficial. In many cases where the illness is chronic, as long as the patient is feeling an improvement the treatments may continue for some time. In cases of terminal illness, it is advisable for treatments to continue while the patient is still conscious and feels they are benefiting.

Indications for treatment
Numerous conditions may benefit from natural healing; this includes some not usually recommended for other holistic therapies, such as cardiovascular disease. Stress-related disorders respond quite well in the authors' experience, as do many physical ailments exacerbated by psychological factors, including asthma, hayfever, eczema and migraine.
Healing can also be helpful in assisting patients to overcome addictions such as smoking, alcohol and drug misuse, in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, the likely mechanism being its calming influence. Natural healing can help with relief of pain and suffering, stress reduction, and ultimately allow the patient to cope with their situation more easily.

The evidence base
As natural healing, and indeed all complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), has gained wider acceptance, the need to work within an ethical framework using evidence-based treatment analogous to mainstream medicine is also recognised.3 In his paper published in 2001, Aldridge brings together many studies on spiritual healing in medical settings, noting that when the treatment goal is palliative (cancer patients with a life expectancy of six months or less), the most important outcome is improved quality of life. Interviews with 120 terminally ill patients show their key concerns to encompass existential, spiritual, familial, physical and emotional issues and that throughout their illness these concerns were rarely a focus of their usual care. He noted the importance of spiritual wellbeing during the process, even when the outcome was inevitable.4

In their study of the experiences of users of complementary medicine, Cartwright and Torr concluded that users of CAM indicated that the patient–practitioner relationship and explanatory frameworks provided by CAM were perceived as important components of the therapeutic process, irrespective of treatment efficacy.5

This is analogous to Balint's observations of the doctor–patient relationship, where the doctor can themselves actually be the "drug".6 CAM served a variety of functions beyond explicit relief of symptoms by increasing energy and relaxation, facilitating coping and enhancing self-/other awareness. They summarised that, therefore, it is important for these wider effects to be taken into account when evaluating complementary medicine to accurately reflect patients' experiences.

An umbrella group called Healing Touch Research has gathered together a number of studies on healing and touch on various group types. Most commonly, the research indicated reduced mood disturbances, increased levels of relaxation, increased pain relief and reduced muscle tension.7 They acknowledged that these studies could not "prove" the efficacy of natural healing, but could be a platform for further research.

In the USA, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has conducted much research into CAM and a recent National Center for Health Statistics survey indicated that over 6% had used some kind of "energy healing".8

Daniel Benor is one of the leading medical authorities on CAM, particularly natural healing. In his book, Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution, he addresses the subject and its effectiveness, and references some 1,500 published articles and 191 randomised, controlled trials of healing, which indicates that natural healing may be helpful as an adjunct to treating conditions as diverse as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, myalgia, anxiety, depression, anxiety and HIV-related illness.9

The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, whose main objective is to make complementary healthcare, integrated with conventional healthcare, available to all who need it, is helping to set standards for CAM and is helping fund research into the effects of CAM. It has published several useful publications to assist patients in making an informed choice about complementary healthcare.10 Weze and colleagues evaluated the effect of natural healing on musculoskeletal problems, finding that healing was associated with statistically significant improvements in physical and psychological functioning and quality of life measures in the majority of subjects.11

Are there any contraindications?
CAM should not be seen as a pure alternative to conventional medicine if the latter has a useful, particularly curative, role, nor should any unrealistic claims be made for efficacy; management must be within the said ethical framework.

Where is it practised?
Medical doctors working within the NHS or private sector may now recommend a healer to their patients, provided that the doctor retains overall responsibility for clinical care and many doctors are themselves hands-on CAM therapists. There are now both government-financed and private healing centres under the NHS umbrella where healers and other complementary therapists work with patients; for example, Leeds Teaching Hospitals, where Ruth Kaye has been employed for over 15 years. In London, Angie Buxton-King has headed a team of healers at University College Hospital for several years. She has a special interest in patients with haematological disorders, having lost her son to leukaemia in 1998, and has founded a charity, the Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust.

The Mid-Devon Primary Care Research Group has developed a high profile in its four key research areas, one of which is integrated healthcare – evaluating complementary therapies and integrated (complementary and conventional) healthcare approaches within primary care. They are currently collaborating with a number of practitioners, primary care staff, academics and others to develop a research framework for developing and evaluating integrated health clinics in primary care (Evaluations of Integrated Health Clinics). This is the core of a programme of research into the use of complementary therapies in primary care.

Conclusion
Natural healing is a non-invasive complementary therapy that can be given to patients suffering a wide spectrum of conditions. There are now over 15,000 registered healers under the UK Healers association. Its popularity is growing, and doctors in mainstream medicine may recommend natural healing and other complementary therapies to their patients. l

References
1. Harper J. Spirit; Wellbeing: To the Rescue.
The Guardian: London; 2002.
2. Vickers A, Zollman C. ABC of complementary medicine. Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. BMJ 1999;319:1346–9.
3. Miller FG, Emanuel EJ, Rosenstein DL, Straus SE. Ethical issues concerning research in complementary and alternative medicine.
JAMA 2004;291:599–604.
4. Aldridge D. Prayer and spiritual healing in medical settings. Available from: http://www.wholistichealingresearch.com/11Aldridge
5. Cartwright T, Torr R. Making sense of illness: the experiences of users of complementary medicine. J Health Psychol 2005;10(4):559–72.
6. Balint M. The doctor, his patient and the illness. London: Tavistock Publications; 1957.
7. Healing Touch Research. Available at:
www.healingtouchinternational.org/research/summary2005.pdf
8. National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/backgrounds/energymed.htm
9. Benor D. Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution. Available at: www.wholistichealingresearch.com/Books/Seri
10. The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health. Available at: http://www.fih.org.uk
11. Weze C, Leathard HL, Stevens G (2003) Evaluation of healing by gentle touch for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. Am J Public Health 2004;94(1):3–10.

Resources
UK Healers
W: www.ukhealers.info

The Research Council for Complementary Medicine
W: www.rccm.org.uk

Doctor Healer Network
W: www.doctorhealer.net
Ruth Kaye
W: www.ruthkayehealer.co.uk

Mid-Devon Primary Care Research Group
W: www.middevon-pct.nhs.uk/research