Systematic Review of Biofield Therapies

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Jain S, Mills PJ. Biofield therapies: helpful or full of hype? A best evidence synthesis. Int J Behav Med. 2010 Mar;17(1):1-16. Review. PubMed PMID: 19856109; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2816237.

Investigators from UCLA Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Research and the Department of Psychiatry, University of California, conducted a quality assessment and best evidence synthesis approach to examine evidence for biofield therapies (such as Reiki, therapeutic touch, and healing touch) in relevant outcomes for different clinical populations.

From the Introduction:

“The concept of subtle energy and methods of its use for healing has been described by numerous cultures for thousands of years. These vital energy concepts (which include the Indian term prana, the Chinese term ch’i, and the Japanese term qi) all refer to so-called subtle or nonphysical energies that permeate existence and have specific effects on the body-mind of all conscious beings. Similar concepts in the West are reflected in the concepts of Holy spirit, or spirit, and can be dated back to writings in the Old Testament as well as the practice of laying on of hands.”

The authors’ review examined 66 clinical studies with a variety of biofield therapies in different patient populations, including cancer patients, hospitalized and postoperative patients, dementia patients, and cardiovascular patients.

From the Discussion:

“In conclusion, this best evidence synthesis of proximally practiced biofield therapies suggests that they are promising complementary interventions for reducing pain intensity in numerous populations, reducing anxiety for hospitalized populations, and reducing agitated behaviors in dementia, beyond what may be expected from standard treatment or nonspecific effects. Effects on longer term clinical outcomes are less clear, and more systematic research is needed to clarify findings on fatigue and autonomic nervous system activity. Future suggested research directions include a more thorough assessment of cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune variables, particularly those that are clinically relevant to the disease population. Finally, comparisons of biofield interventions with empirically supported treatments for particular disorders is warranted to determine whether these therapies provide any benefits over and above those from other relaxation-response providing interventions. It is hoped that behavioral medicine clinicians and researchers will continue to examine the research in the area of biofield-based therapies, in order to determine whether these interventions may be a helpful tool in our arsenal to alleviate suffering within patient populations.”

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