Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
One area of parapsychology that has never established scientific proof of any sort is psychic healing. Not because it doesn’t exist, (the placebo effect basically confirms the existence of psychic healing beyond any reasonable doubt.) but because mitigating factors seriously cloud the ability to scientifically nail this one down.
A large study is in the works at Stanford University in Northern California that may shed some light on the subject. They are using a sensible and conservative approach to healing touch therapy. The goals are modest: They are only trying to relieve the effects of chemotherapy and they are using a larger number of people over a three year period, which should gather a fairly large amount of data, making it easier to pick the results out of the inevitable variables.
One of the challenges in determining the effectiveness of psychic healing, indeed with any new medicine or medical procedure is that any one person represents a huge list of variables. You have to have very large groups of people in studies controlled for the placebo effect to be sure that an effect is real. A lot of drugs and medical procedures have been implemented with relatively inconclusive testing for this reason. It is just too expensive and in particular, surgery to test the placebo effect has ethical implications because of the inherent risk of infection once a person is cut open.
People will often use multiple avenues to manage their own care, and the people who would seek out some sort of psychic healing probably do more to manage their own care more so than most people. Thus, if someone has changed their diet, is taking various supplements, is exercising more, using acupuncture and also psychic healing, it can be difficult to determine whether the psychic healing is a major, minor or any sort of contributor to their return to health. My experience is that people are not terribly objective about their health.
There is also the problem of a lack of information as to exactly how much and what sort of psychic healing might be needed. How much psychic healing is appropriate in any given situation? Does a cancer patient need it every hour? Every day? Every week? We don’t know what is appropriate and we have no real way of knowing without extensive experiments. Perhaps you don’t get satisfactory results until it reaches a certain level.
Another variable is the expertise of the practitioner. In the cancer study for example, they are all women and all volunteers. What’s wrong with this? Psychic healing is a mind/body/emotion skill that is interwoven into the beliefs of the person performing it. How seriously is someone taking their own skill if they are giving it away for free? How seriously will others take them?
Does anyone besides the program director and the patients care if these healing touch practitioners leave? Probably not. And I guarantee that these volunteers know that. Their only reward is their connection to the sick people that they help and while that is certainly very rewarding, that’s not how we culturally recognize and reward people. We do that with money.
I am one of a very few people who have attempted this as a profession and who actually charged money because I felt that I had a special skill at it. I still do. The psychic people that I have known who are wired for healing like me are all strong willed earthy people who place definite limits on how much crap they’ll take. It’s a required trait for being a good healers because healing is not about removing “the bad stuff;” it’s about pushing people out of their emotional/physical patterns. The more you can push them, the faster they heal.
In psychic healing, you’re not being sensitive to other people’s bodies and emotions, you’re interfering with them. There are plenty of examples for this in regular life; getting a drug user off the drug they are addicted to; getting a teenager to follow rules and behave and learning to adapt to your partner after you’ve married them. In all these cases, change is uncomfortable and often unpleasant, but necessary for healing and/or getting on with life.
It’s no different at the psychic level. I know that this is part of the Great Debate, but after a few years of healing work I’m convinced that we store our pain in various parts of the body and it is in these areas where sickness and injury are most likely to occur.
Based on that; (my admittedly limited understanding of what is required for psychic healing to work well,) I would predict success for this study, but only in a very limited way.
As far as being a psychic healer goes, there is another element to it that I have noticed: You can’t heal issues which you possess yourself and if you embrace psychic healing, you cannot stand back from it. You have to embrace the healing just as much as you’re giving it. This can be a real strain. It certainly has been for me. You cannot hide from your own fears and I’ve been continually surprised at how many I have. And those fears don’t leave easily. I’ve noticed that I have a limit to how much of it I can do.
Even though the scientific evidence is rather thin here, I personally am completely convinced the personal evidence I have accumulated. I think that this evidence will come in time, but that it will lag significantly behind other evidence.