Invisible Force

"Subtle energy" therapies -- such as acupuncture, Reiki, and
Therapeutic Touch -- are showing startling results
and steadily gaining respect among psychotherapists.

BY Jane McGoldrick

Common Boundary
(November/December 1997)

As a lawyer required to play hardball in the big leagues of Washington, D.C., Karen was sidelined with a huge problem: She feared authority. "I would come across as tentative and timid," she says, "in dealing with my boss, in meetings, in talking to opposing counsel over the phone."

Karen, 39, recognized her fear as a childish reaction to events of her past and so decided to seek help. "When I identified what I needed to work on, I didn't want to take months or years," she says. "I wanted something with a fairly quick effect."

That's what she found in Thought Field Therapy -- a form of psychological treatment based on the concept that the human being is a sea of vital energy and that thoughts are a form of this energy. In a process that surely seems to skeptics like hocus pocus, Karen's therapist, social worker Deany Laliotis of Bethesda, Maryland, instructed her to hold in her mind an image of a current trigger for her fear -- for instance, dealing with an angry client. At the same time, Laliotis had Karen tap with one index finger at various spots on her body in a specific sequence, starting with a point on her chest and finishing just under the collar bone.

"I immediately felt incredible energy," recalls Karen, who learned the sequence and practiced it as homework. After two office treatments and several repetitions on her own, Karen now finds that her old fear no longer paralyzes her, and coworkers have noticed her newfound energy. A recent business meeting -- a situation that previously would have cast her into a state of trepidation -- provided an opportunity for her to display her new persona. "I'm much more effective with people," she says. "Even my body language has changed."

Increasingly, energy therapies are attracting clients like Karen and winning over mental-health practitioners like Laliotis. At the national conference of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM) -- the Colorado-based organization founded in 1989 by Elmer Green, Ph.D., the father of biofeedback -- mental-health professionals form one of the largest contingents. To China scholar Kenneth Cohen, master of the Chinese healing system qigong, the numbers make sense. "Psychotherapists believe in self-regulation as a form of healing," he says. "They're the ones who, among all healing professionals, recognize the subtle-energy interaction between the patient and healing. Mainstream medicine, on the other hand, has a fix-it mentality."

With more psychotherapists taking up energy methods that range from qigong to light therapy to sound healing to Thought Field Therapy, patterns are emerging. Some therapists have abandoned their former practices for careers as healers, finding traditional talk therapy too slow or redundant. Still others find their practices revolutionized as they adopt paradigms different from the Western medical model. The largest contingent, however, has blended talk therapy and energy work. Foremost among this group are those who practice various forms of spiritual healing -- Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, External Qi Healing, and other modalities rooted in traditions like the biblical laying-on of hands. For most, this integration has evolved as they add energetic techniques to an already accomplished psychotherapeutic repertoire. But for a growing minority, the aim at the outset of training is to acquire dual sets of skills.

Five times a year, Anna White of Arlington, Virginia, travels to a hotel in New Jersey for a week-long training with the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, based in East Hampton, New York. There Brennan, a former NASA research scientist, teaches High Sense Perception (HSP), in which students are trained to "see" nonphysical energetic phenomena.

White, a Psy.D. student at the American School of Professional Psychology in Arlington, entered the four-year Brennan School in the fall of 1996, at the same time that she began her conventional doctorate. "The two programs complement each other," she says. "In the Psy.D. program, we get training in psychotherapeutic methods. At the Brennan School, we do in-depth self-analysis and learn to use HSP to diagnose and work with energy fields." According to White, "Psychological dysfunction shows up in the energy patterns before manifesting as illness -- mental or physical. With hands-on energy work, a healer can release frozen energy blocks, helping clients then to do their own self-healing."

Throughout the world and across time, people have had many words for an unseen energy used for healing, including qi (ch'i), prana, fohat, orgone, and vital force. Now most commonly called subtle energy, this force is generally conceived of as higher levels of vibrations beyond our normal perceptual abilities.

Drawing on esoteric tradition, spiritual healers such as Brennan talk of working with the chakras -- centers of consciousness or energy in the physical body that act as step-down transformers for these higher subtle energies. Much of their work, these healers say, involves the chakras and the etheric body, or the "subtle blueprint" of the physical body.

Frequently, healers speak of transmitting their own energy while opening chakras and smoothing disruptions, cooling hot spots, and relieving congestion in the patient's energy field. They sometimes equate the etheric body, or other subtle bodies beyond it, with human thermal or electromagnetic fields. Some even claim that Kirlian photography -- an electrographic process that records a corona of electrical discharge around a subject -- actually captures a form of subtle energy, the normally invisible aura, on film. (Skeptics charge, however, that the shimmering halo seen in Kirlian photography has nothing to do with life energy. Any object that conducts electricity -- for example, a metal coin -- will reveal the corona discharge.)

Although scientists have treated talk of human auras and an "energy transfer" from healer to patient with a hearty dose of skepticism, noted biofeedback researcher and consciousness expert Elmer Green forced them to wrestle with some unsettling data. Green blazed a subtle-energy trail by measuring the electromagnetic voltages of healers in his Copper Wall Project, conducted with colleagues at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, between 1983 and 1995. Because copper is an excellent conductor of electricity, a specially designed copper-walled room was constructed at the clinic. Green then had healers and those known for parapsychological sensitivity, along with control subjects, sit on a chair on a nonconductive glass base, facing a copper wall. In a complex series of studies, scientists measured changes in the body's electrostatic charge, or body potential, and in the electrical fields of the subjects while they meditated or attempted noncontact healing. Electrical-field changes around the subjects were also measured. In some studies, the subject attempted noncontact healing with volunteer "patients," both within the copper room and outside it.

In 600 trials, no unusual electrical surges were noted with control subjects, but with "sensitives," body-potential surges ranged from 4 volts to 221 volts during meditation and, during healing, from 4 to 190 volts. These surges prove to be 10,000 times greater than the heart's electrocardiogram (EKG) voltages and 100,000 times greater than electroencephalogram (EEG) voltages of the brain. During healing, the experimenters found that the patient's body potential, although less than the healer's, fluctuated in synchrony with that of the healer. Psychologist Patricia Norris, Ph.D., outgoing president of ISSSEEM and Green's daughter, points out that, despite its significance, the Copper Wall Project measured only electromagnetic energy, not subtle energy itself. Just as thunder is a correlate of lightning, for example, electromagnetic energy is a correlate of still unmeasurable subtle energy.

Green also had healers practice distance healing and found that although the patient's body potential did not change, patients often reported feeling "healing energy" or receiving imagery visualized by the healers. This outcome, according to Green, suggests that subtle energy correlates with more than electrical energy. For example, a healer's intent may resonate with the patient, even when electrical correlates are absent.

Among the healers in Green's study was Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., who in 1972 had developed, with her colleague Dora Kunz, a new healing method. Based on several ancient healing techniques, it involves the healer's consciously centering herself or himself, then using the hands to sense and modulate the energy field of the patient, usually without direct touch. The practitioner "scans" the field, with hands held two to three inches above the patient, tuning in to temperature differentials, sensations of congestion, tingly feelings, and other cues. Following the scan, the healer then attempts to direct a flow of energy through the hands -- for instance, projecting cooling energy over a warm area of the patient's body.

Krieger, now professor emerita of nursing science at New York University, wanted her technique to gain mainstream acceptance. Avoiding any hint of what was then often called "psychic healing" or "spiritual healing," she chose the respectable yet innocuous name Therapeutic Touch. And to ensure a legacy of proficient healers, she says, "I started where I was" -- teaching Therapeutic Touch to nurses, both because they had a background in anatomy and physiology and because she believed she could count on them for compassion.

Krieger also conducted many studies of the physiological effects of Therapeutic Touch within the medical environment, a move that other researchers have followed, tallying a substantial body of basic and clinical research over more than two decades. Today more than 100,000 health professionals worldwide practice Therapeutic Touch.

While research shows Therapeutic Touch to be most effective on physiological systems, Krieger has seen it have profound psychological effects -- calming emotions and treating psychosomatic illness, depression, bipolar disorder, catatonia, and hyperactivity. With regard to an illness like schizophrenia, she says, "we're selling schizophrenia short if we think simply in terms of energy blockages. It is energy that has gone down aberrant pathways. Shamanism has taught us about places the mind can go. People are now beginning to realize there are alternate realities and, so, to take another look at an illness like schizophrenia."

One of the forebears of Krieger's method is ancient External Qi Healing (EQH), which qigong master Kenneth Cohen describes as the "Chinese version of Therapeutic Touch" in his book The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing. Qigong -- also known as ch'i kung and pronounced "chee gung" -- uses movement, meditation, breathing, and relaxation to gather, cleanse, circulate, and release the flow of qi -- the subtle energy of healing -- in the body. Its aim is to improve health and harmony of both the mind and the body. Thus, according to Cohen, regular qigong practice best prepares a person to do External Qi Healing. Cohen tells of one qigong master who in 1980 "induced anesthesia in surgery patients using External Qi" -- touching off a revival of interest in the technique and a host of studies demonstrating its effectiveness.

Cohen's wife, Rebecca Cohen, M.Ed., a certified counselor, often combines EQH and talk therapy. With her hand or hands held about six inches above the body, she projects qi directly into the client's body. Rebecca Cohen finds EQH particularly suitable with teenagers, who tend to be highly dissociative. "When they go into dissociative states," she says, "I ask if they mind if I do a little energy work. If they agree, I do External Qi Healing. It takes away the anxiety and brings them back to the present so they can focus on real issues."

At the Center for Change in Somerville, Massachusetts, Richard Curtin, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, and Judith Prebluda, M.A., a psychotherapist and dance/movement therapist, have integrated a different spiritual healing system into a practice they call "psychotherapeutic Reiki." The name Reiki comes from two Japanese words: Rei, meaning "universal" or "spiritually guided," and Ki, the Japanese version of qi, the life force. Thus, defined by practitioners as a universal or spiritually guided life-force energy, Reiki is said to flow from their hands or to be transmitted mentally. The ability to channel this energy is not taught, as are most hands-on healing techniques, but transferred to the student from a Reiki master during a one-on-one initiation process called an "attunement." Believing that Reiki flows where it is needed, practitioners do not actively try to direct the energy as in Therapeutic Touch or EQH.

After becoming Reiki masters -- the highest level in the conventional Reiki teaching system -- Curtin and Prebluda decided to make Reiki treatments available to their psychotherapy clients. The two have since found that Reiki has helped clients access their feelings more quickly and that it generates optimism and quiets the mind -- making it especially effective in cases of depression and anxiety. However, it does not replace talk therapy, they note. "People need to be active in their treatment," says Prebluda, "integrating their own understandings and insights to make what's happening real for them."

Joseph, a 27-year-old workman, had never heard of Reiki when he went to Curtin for psychotherapy to address some childhood issues. When Curtin suggested he try a sample of Reiki at the end of their first session, Joseph agreed, mainly out of curiosity. "Lying on the massage table, I closed my eyes and he put his hands underneath my head," Joseph recalls. "I could feel the warmth from his hands -- it was amazing how warm they were." At the second session, Joseph and Curtin talked for about 15 minutes, and then Joseph lay down on the table. "He started at my head, and as he was working on me I would get little spasms in my body," he says. "We talked a little, but mainly the Reiki let my mind relax."

As therapy continued, a healing breakthrough occurred that Joseph attributes largely to Reiki. A few days after talking with Curtin about how he had suppressed his emotions as a child, Joseph unexpectedly burst into tears. At the time, he and his wife were having a conversation about contemporary events of their lives -- unrelated, it seemed, to his past experiences. "A lot of sadness came up," he recalls. "It was a real mourning of my childhood." Joseph, who felt more at ease after what he describes as a "wonderful release of emotion," has since learned Reiki himself.

Like Curtin and Prebluda, Steven Vazquez, Ph.D., a longtime student and teacher of energetic techniques who practices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, has created a synthesis of healing and psychotherapy that he calls Confluent Somatic Therapy. After talking with his client and deciding where interventions are needed, he uses the skill of focusing his attention to enter an altered state of consciousness. Allowing himself to fill with compassion, he reports, he then senses a flow of energy in his body -- "It's like turning on a faucet, then the whole hose comes on." Vazquez places his hands near the client's body and, he says, directs healing energy to the client. "I don't need to touch the person," Vazquez explains. "There are no boundaries of material matter in this intervention."

Vazquez regards psychological disorders as energy blocks. "I use energy interventions to unblock the energy and to allow a natural flow to take place," he says. How effective is the therapy? "The energy work helps a person progress through the stages of emotional process about 10 times faster than if we merely sat and talked." For example, Vazquez explains, a client might be extremely bitter toward someone who betrayed her. Consciously, she wants to let go of the bitterness, but her unconscious is holding on to it. "While we're dialoguing, I have my hands above the energetic field where she is holding the bitterness -- usually the solar-plexus area," says Vazquez. "This `energetic massaging' loosens the restrictions in the body so the unconscious then goes along with her conscious desire."

In his practice, Vazquez also uses light therapy, in the form of brief strobic phototherapy (BSP). This adjunct to talk therapy relies on a Photron machine, a portable stroboscopic light of adjustable speeds between 1 and 60 cycles per second, along with 12 glass filters of different-colored glass. The strobe's pulsing entrains the client's brain-wave pattern, shifting it to a target rate associated with a certain mental state. For example, certain strobe rates cause a person to feel uninhibited. The colored filters enhance the state. Vazquez has found, for instance, that orange often serves as a catalyst to bring forth self-esteem issues. "The cumulative effect of light stimulation has the potential to transform long-held patterns," he says. "For example, I can do talk therapy with depression and it will be helpful, but brain stimulation for three weeks has a powerful cumulative effect. People change deeply."

Frances is a 57-year-old consultant with a doctorate in counseling. "I could talk the talk and ostensibly walk the walk," she says, "but there was something inside of me that wasn't on target, and I knew it." After travels down various personal- and spiritual-growth paths and 25 years, on and off, in psychotherapy -- along with prescriptions of antidepressants -- Frances heard about Vazquez's light therapy. Early in 1997, she began treatment. In each session, the two talk about different issues, as Vazquez changes the light's speed and colors, constantly checking to see how Frances is processing her feelings. "If I start to get agitated, feeling angry or sad," she says, "he might stay with that or shift to another speed or color so we can go deeper with it."

After a few months of regular sessions, Frances reports that her mental state has improved dramatically and she has no need for antidepressants. "The light treatment has brought up antiquated beliefs and attitudes and enabled me to dislodge them," she says. "I feel much more powerful and at home in myself now."

Although light waves fall into the visible electromagnetic spectrum, light energy seems to act on a subtle level in clients of this type of therapy, who report tingling and flowing sensations throughout their bodies. In fact, to some theorists both light and sound serve as bridges between the realms of the nonsubtle and the subtle. Jonathan Goldman, founder of the Sound Healers Association in Boulder, Colorado, conceives of sound as "the grossest of the subtle energies," stretching across a huge spectrum. For example, at one end auditory sound is not at all a subtle vibration, he explains. It is easily perceivable by the ear and measurable by the ear and other instruments. Then there are sound vibrations -- both ultrasonic and very low frequency (below the auditory limit) -- that we experience in our bodies rather than hear with our ears. And then, he believes, there are those sounds that we experience only on the very subtle level, vibrations that influence chakras and etheric fields. Even beyond these is an energy from the mind of the healer -- the intention. "Intention is probably the most subtle energy," Goldman says. "It's almost like the consciousness of the energy."

Goldman practices and promotes sound healing -- the use of sound and music for health and wellness. "Every object, including various parts of our bodies, has a resonant frequency," he says. "When something becomes diseased, it is vibrating out of harmony with the rest of the body. Sound can be used to restore that harmony."

"It's through sounding our own voices that we actually massage and vibrate our bodies from inside out," says Don Campbell of Boulder, Colorado, an expert on sound in healing and education. Campbell put his own views to the test when he was diagnosed three and a half years ago with a potentially fatal blood clot in his brain. As he recounts in his book The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit, he refused surgery, instead combining imagery, prayer, and humming as his treatment. As he hummed a tone -- careful not to use loud sounds that might dislodge the clot -- he attempted to "massage away the blood clot from within." Campbell envisioned the sound as a vibrating hand over the right side of his skull, then traveling through his body. The calming exercise, he suggests, encouraged the release of endorphins and other positive biochemical changes in his body. He also came to feel what he describes as an "inaudible sound" that accompanied a healing image, which he "replayed" for himself frequently.

Within three weeks, doctors declared him out of danger. Although they referred to his recovery as a "medical miracle," Campbell writes, "I knew I had been healed by the music of the spheres -- or should I say hemispheres?"

Sound energy, experts say, heals the mind and emotions as well as the body. "By using our voices, we begin to let go of emotions that have been held in our bodies for a long time," explains Campbell. Not surprisingly, he notes that therapists and mental-health nurses now make up a large portion of participants in his workshops.

After meeting up with a Campbell-like "miracle," some find it hard to stay in the system. One former psychotherapist who has abandoned psychotherapy entirely is psychologist Roger Callahan of Indian Wells, California, creator of Thought Field Therapy (TFT). "For me, the essence of psychotherapy was to eliminate symptoms," he says. "That's what TFT does."

Callahan discovered the strange technique by accident while treating a patient named Mary for a severe water phobia. After a year and a half of conventional psychotherapy, Mary had improved only slightly. She could go near Callahan's swimming pool but would not get wet.

Callahan, who had been investigating acupuncture, knew of the meridian system -- a theorized network of qi-carrying pathways in the body. One day he decided to follow an intuition and try an experiment with Mary. Believing that her fear was focused along the stomach meridian, he tapped under her eye, the beginning point along that meridian. Immediately she exclaimed, "That horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach is gone!" As he recalls, she ran to the pool and put her face in the water. "She was cured after this brief tapping under her eye," says Callahan. "She still has no trace of a problem."

Eventually, Callahan invented a series of algorithms -- recipes for sequential tapping along various acupuncture meridians -- each keyed to a particular psychological problem. Later, he developed a diagnostic system to treat more difficult cases and began training others in TFT.

Of course, not all therapists who learn TFT stick to it exclusively. Many combine talk therapy with both TFT and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), in which a client recalls a traumatic memory while moving his or her eyes in a prescribed pattern. While both therapies apparently break up long-held patterns, EMDR is usually described in terms of physiology, not energy. EMDR, practitioners say, reconnects the brain's neural networks that have been isolated by trauma.

Because TFT has not been accepted by mainstream science, few researchers have studied it. An article about TFT by psychologist Fred Gallo in the March/April 1997 issue of the Family Therapy Networker generated the ire of letter writers who targeted the therapy for lack of substantiating research, as well as a commentary by research psychologist and healer Lawrence LeShan, who wrote: "Tremendous and imprecise claims are made for a process so far from our usual ways of thinking and conceptualizing modern therapy that we simply do not know what to do about it or how to respond."

How does Callahan in fact explain TFT's effects? "I believe that thought fields and thought patterns are organized energy," he says. When there are perturbations in the thought field, so his theory goes, psychological problems arise. The tapping seems to eliminate the perturbation -- often instantaneously -- although some clients may need repeated treatments. "If you break a leg, it takes months to heal," says Callahan. "But the energy field doesn't have the inertia of the material world." As a result, he claims, "TFT can cure thought problems in minutes."

In an ironic twist in this tale of two therapies -- psychotherapy and energy healing -- some psychiatrists have found their psychotherapeutic practices shifting into general medical ones as they embrace holistic and energetic systems. Leon Hammer, who is now retired, practiced "pure psychiatry" -- mainly psychoanalysis -- in New York until discovering acupuncture and Chinese medicine while in England in 1971. After learning the Chinese system, he tried it on a patient. "The person came to me for an emotional problem, but a physical problem also disappeared," he recalls. Word spread, and Hammer soon reversed direction, developing a general medical practice. "One of the great values of this type of medicine is that it's all-inclusive," he says. "I can treat tennis elbow with the same concept energetically as if I'm treating bipolar disease [because] we're essentially dealing with qi."

Like Hammer, Todd Rowe of Phoenix, Arizona, gave up conventional medicine 12 years ago for energy medicine, and a psychiatric practice for a general holistic one. Says Rowe: "I practice homeopathy exclusively, because it can treat someone physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually all at once."

In the case of mental illnesses, Rowe reports that when he prescribes the correct homeopathic remedy, problems like phobias and some anxiety disorders may resolve quickly, without the need for psychotherapy. Other disorders may require psychotherapy, but he says that homeopathic treatment allows the therapy to flow faster and more smoothly because it removes energetic blockages that can interfere with therapy.

Rowe tells of treating a 42-year-old elementary-school teacher, a victim of child abuse who suffered from depression, tremendous anxiety, and multiple fears -- of cancer, of making new relationships, of poverty, of talking in groups, and more. As a result, she found herself in a series of dependent relationships. Psychotherapy had yielded no response, and high doses of the antidepressants Prozac and Xanax had ceased to offer relief. Rowe prescribed a single dose of the homeopathic remedy arsenicum album. The patient's depression steadily lifted, and her fears abated, resolving within 10 weeks. Rowe gradually tapered her off all medications. Rowe continues to see her as her family practitioner and reports that now, two and a half years later, she appears free of her previous fears, her energy is improved, and she has developed new relationships without her former dependencies.

Homeopathy, founded in the late 18th century by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, is based on the law of similars: Like cures like. A person exhibiting a set of symptoms is given a carefully matched remedy that, in a healthy person, would create the same symptoms. Homeopaths have not been able to explain how the remedies work, other than to say they act on a subtle, energetic level rather than a material one.

In this regard, homeopathy is akin to other energetic systems whose mechanisms remain mysterious but whose efficacy is increasingly being documented through research. In 1991, for example, after an extensive search, Dutch researchers at the University of Limburg analyzed 107 controlled clinical trials of homeopathy conducted worldwide. Of the 105 trials with interpretable results, 81 indicated positive results, they reported in the British Medical Journal. A look at the field of spiritual healing yields similar conclusions. Psychiatrist Daniel Benor of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, author of the four-volume study Healing Research, has found 165 controlled studies of healing in humans, animals, plants, and more. Two-thirds of them show statistically significant effects.

Still, as subtle energy strives for legitimacy, critics and practitioners agree that more research is needed. But funds are scarce, and many of those practicing energy-based therapies have no interest in studying them. As one acupuncturist told me, "I just want to do the work."

Psychologist Gregory Nicosia, who has combined several energy modalities, including TFT, into a method he calls Thought Energy Synchronization Therapy, says he had to ask himself, "Do I spend time validating procedures, or do I train others?" He concluded that, ultimately, training others would be of more value. Not for another 10 years, Nicosia predicts, will there be a body of research demonstrating TFT's efficacy to the satisfaction of mainstream psychologists. "My hope is that I will be training people who will do research," he says, "and that the research generated will exceed what I could do as an individual."

Despite a highly publicized 1993 survey from Harvard Medical School indicating that one in three Americans uses at least one unconventional therapy, the National Institutes of Health, with a $12.8 billion budget, funded its Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) at a relatively meager $12 million in 1997. Although the studies that OAM has supported include such modalities as homeopathy, qigong, acupuncture, Therapeutic Touch, and "energetic therapy," the office as yet has no official position or definitive information on subtle energy.

Even at the Institute of HeartMath, a research center and think tank in Boulder Creek, California, where some of the most advanced research indicating the presence of subtle energy is taking place, the studies are not widely publicized. Rollin McCraty, the institute's director of research, admits that to do so might alienate the mainstream cardiologists and corporate executives who, institute officials believe, are key to taking its heart-related stress-reduction programs to the wider public. Yet McCraty sounds clearly excited about the latest research (see box "Energy of the Heart"). "We're still measuring correlates of subtle energy now," he says, "but we're very close to being able to measure the next level of the subtle."

What is the next level? Michael Conforti, a Jungian analyst in Brattleboro, Vermont, postulates the existence of a subtle, nonlocal field, which is observable, for example, in the therapist-client dyad. "It seems clear," says Conforti, "that human behavior, culture, and systems are responding to some core around which they organize." Conforti calls this core an archetypal field, drawing on Carl Jung's concepts of the archetypes -- the organizing principles or structural elements of the unconscious that function like magnets within the psyche. In terms of the therapist and client, Conforti explains, we should look at the two as if they're on a stage, with their behavior mandated by an archetype. Clinical issues of transference, countertransference, and even synchronicity become responses to this archetypal field. Conforti thinks such fields could account for phenomena like distance healing or telepathy. "Whereas electromagnetic fields are reduced at a distance," he suggests, "archetypal fields are not."

As science measures, quantifies, and analyzes the subtle, level by level, will archetypal fields -- and then all subtle energies -- one day become nonsubtle? The trap here is the temptation to be reductionistic. "For a long time we've tried to justify subtle energy by referring to it in scientific terms, but scientists pooh-pooh it," says Robert Duggan, president of the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, Maryland. "This means we leave it in the realm of `experts' rather than calling upon everybody to reawaken to what they already know -- that it's real but not quantifiable." Duggan believes that subtle energy is actually common sense, or a reawakening of all our senses as if they are one.

For his part, Elmer Green believes that one day humankind will become aware of subtle energy as we are now aware of sunshine. "There will be a consensus about what subtle energy is, and then people will cease to talk about it," he says. Green predicts that, as today's "crude" instruments improve, most of what we now consider subtle will be measurable. Yet, at the most rarified level -- as the link between mind and matter -- subtle energy may never be fully quantifiable. "Ultimately, some quality of subtle energy," suggests Green, "will remain ineffable."

Contributing editor Jane R. McGoldrick is a writer and editor in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Energy of the Heart

In 1985, psychotherapist Sharon Wendt, Ph.D., was treating a 37-year-old woman named Roxanne. Plagued by depression, anxiety-panic disorder, premenstrual syndrome, migraines, and allergies, Roxanne was threatening suicide. On this day at the holistic center Wendt had founded in Munster, Indiana, Roxanne was scheduled for a massage, then a Reiki session, followed by psychotherapy. While Roxanne was having a Reiki treatment, Wendt did the same. Then Wendt walked into the room where Roxanne lay on her back on the massage table. The therapist leaned over her client, hugged her, and said, "How are you doing, Roxanne?"

As Wendt held her close, Roxanne began to cry and then burst out, "My chest! My chest feels filled up for the first time in my life!" Next, recalls Wendt, "she began laughing in a joyful way and announced, `I want to live.'"

It took Wendt four years -- and many related experiences -- to arrive at a personal understanding of what had happened. While training in a type of spiritual healing, she found her answer. "It dawned on me that my clients were describing their sensations about energy and the lack of energy in their heart chakras," she writes in her book, The Radiant Heart. "I could only make sense of it if I shifted my focus to the spiritual level -- the level of energies, chakras, and the human energy field that exists beyond the body." As the two women hugged, Wendt says, "our energy fields meshed and our heart chakras aligned quite by accident. This set the stage for an energy transference."

Although Wendt -- who has since developed a healing system she calls Radiant Heart Therapy -- explains what happened in spiritual and mystical terms, scientists at the Institute of HeartMath, a research center and think tank in Boulder Creek, California, offer another explanation. Because the heart is known to generate the strongest electromagnetic field produced by the body, scientists measured the electromagnetic energy produced by the heart of a subject as he or she interacted with another person. (Already their studies had showed that feelings of appreciation, love, or care produced increased coherence in the heart's electromagnetic field, strengthening its signals.)

To find out if an energy exchange had occurred between the two, the researchers measured the registration of each subject's peak waves at different sites on the other's body and under a variety of conditions. Results published this year showed that the receiver's body registered the sender's electrocardiogram signal. While this signal was strongest when the two were touching, it also occurred when they were not touching, and it fell off as distance between them increased. At four feet apart, no exchange was evident.

"This doesn't explain the nonlocal effects of prayer and distance healing," says Rollin McCraty, the institute's director of research. "But one of our goals is to develop instrumentation to help us measure those realms as well."

-- J.R.M.        

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Subtle-Energy Resources

The following is a list of some of the organizations and individuals offering information on subtle-energy therapies.


American Association of Oriental Medicine
433 Front Street
Catasauqua, PA 18032
(610) 266-1433

Traditional Acupuncture Institute
10227 Wincopin Circle
Suite 100
Columbia, MD 21044-3422
(301) 596-6006


National Center for Homeopathy
801 North Fairfax Street
Suite 306
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 548-7790


Center for Reiki Training
29209 Northwestern Highway, #592
Southfield, MI 48034
(800) 332-8112
Web site:


Institute of HeartMath
14700 West Park Avenue
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
(800) 450-9111
Web site:

International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM)
356 Goldco Circle
Golden, CO 80403-1347
(303) 425-4625
Web site:

Office of Alternative Medicine
P.O. Box 8218
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8218
(888) 644-6226
Web site:


Sound Healers Association
P.O. Box 2240
Boulder, CO 80306
(303) 443-8181
Web site:
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Copyright © 1997 Common Boundary, Inc. All rights reserved.

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