Experts debate evidence of therapy’s effectiveness

Langara offers therapeutic touch program

Langara's continuing studies brochure features details on becoming a therapeutic touch practitioner. Photo: Cloe Logan
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Reported by Nathan Durec

A controversial certificate program offered by Langara College claims to provide healing through the balancing of bioenergy.

Cheryl Larden, a registered nurse and therapeutic touch instructor at Langara, is a strong proponent of its benefits.

“I’ve used it in the hospital,” she said. “I’ve used it in emergencies. I’ve used it in so many different situations and it can really be helpful. It really helps relieve stress and anxiety for people too and that’s really so critical.”

Langara is the only college in B.C. that offers a therapeutic touch practitioner certificate. Courses have been offered for decades but the program was established in 2015. The website describes it as a “holistic, evidence-based therapy.”

Critics question evidence

Bernie Garrett associate professor at the UBC School of Nursing said, “To claim it’s evidence-based is deceptive.”

Garrett co-authored a literature review of therapeutic touch studies in 2017, which included three studies that Langara cites as evidence in favour of the practice. The review found one study was “biased” and based on “low-quality science and low-quality evidence. Another had a “ludicrous” study-design and an “unfalsifiable” hypothesis.

The third was “not a scientific study” and cited “recent evidence” from 1888.

Science not the only way to measure effectiveness

Dr. Lloyd Oppel also questioned the science behind this therapy, but did offer an alternative perspective. “We derive a lot of benefit from practices that can’t be substantiated,” he said. “There’s great value.”

Larden is aware of the controversy and said there are studies that substantiate claims of it’s effectiveness. But for her, the real measure of it’s effectiveness is the benefits.

“It can make such a positive difference to people and I don’t quite understand why there seems to be so much negativity. Sometimes, with something that people don’t understand, there’s skepticism and doubt,” she said.

Critics don’t object to claims that there are benefits, they take issue with the claim that those benefits have been scientifically proven.

Garrett added, “If they were to run it as a recreational course in alternative faith-based modalities that would be reasonable. But to run it as a therapeutic course that trains practitioners to deliver faith healing is problematic for a public educational institution.”

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