healing touch

How Healing Touch Therapy Can Soothe Children With Cancer

Healing Touch therapy is a relatively new service that we offer our kiddos—but it’s one that has eased physical and mental pain for many of our childhood cancer patients. Here’s the story behind Healing Touch, in the words of Sheila Mee, DMin, CHTP, a Healing Touch practitioner for the Hand in Hand Palliative Care Program at Children’s.

Q: What is Healing Touch therapy and how does it work?

Sheila Mee, DMin, CHTP: Every living being has an energy field, or biofield. The underlying theory with Healing Touch is that whatever is happening in the body is also happening in that energy field.

So, by bringing a balance—which is what a Healing Touch practitioner does—we can help the body become better able to heal itself or help itself feel better.

It’s not that the technique is going to heal the disease. But it helps the body become better able to respond to whatever medications it’s on.

And this is all done through gentle touch. Much of it is directly on the body. But some of it can actually be done completely off-body—about an inch or two above the skin—if a person has a very painful area.

Source: Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha

Q: How did you get into Healing Touch and bring it to Children’s?

Sheila: I actually got into it several years ago while I was working on my doctorate of ministry. The program I was in had a very holistic approach.

One of the things we did was explore different types of spirituality. I did some qi gong, which is an ancient Chinese way of using body postures, breathing, and meditation to help yourself feel more balanced. I got acquainted with my own energy, and that really intrigued me.

When I had time, I began to look for training in the use of energy healing. That’s when I ran across Healing Touch. I started studying it in 2010 and was certified in 2012.

I’m one of the founding members of our palliative care program here at Children’s. After I started studying Healing Touch, I introduced it to our team. In 2012, we did a pilot study to see how it worked with the kids.

We used something called a FLACC score, which looks at different signs of agitation and how they change before and after healing touch. (FLACC stands for face, legs, activity, cry, and consolability.)

Almost universally, the kids’ FLACC scores improved, meaning they were more relaxed and more comfortable. Pain levels often went down, and it was common for the kids to fall asleep during a treatment session.

Andrew Macfadyen, MD, the medical director of our palliative care program as well as an intensive care doctor here, measured factors like blood pressure, both before and after. Their blood pressure usually improved after treatment.

After that, we got a grant to add Healing Touch to our program.

Q: How can Healing Touch help soothe childhood cancer patients?

Sheila: We use Healing Touch in many different ways. One of those ways is to provide comfort. There are techniques that are relaxing, for example, when a child is very anxious. These techniques clear a child’s mind a little bit.

There was a young boy here who became very anxious when anything new was introduced into his room. He got scared, but when I did Healing Touch with him, he was able to calm down, rest, and be less agitated.

There are also techniques used for pain. For instance, there’s one called “pain drain” where the pain literally drains from the body.

I usually have children rate their pain from 1 to 10, and maybe they’ll say it’s a 6. I’ll say, “Let’s see if we can get it down a little bit.” And after I work with them a little bit, they’ll often report a 1 or even a 0.

I use those techniques a lot. We had a teenager here a couple of years ago who had a lot of neuropathic pain in her legs from the chemotherapy she received. That’s pain that occurs when the nerves flare up.

Healing Touch would make her pain disappear for a while, so that she was able to sleep and rest. She knew to ask for it whenever she became too uncomfortable.

There are also techniques that are just generally relaxing. Most of the time, I can see a child visibly relax. They’ll often go to sleep in the process of receiving a treatment.

Q: What would you say to parents who are unsure about whether to try Healing Touch for their child?

Sheila: We have a teaching sheet we can give families who want to know more. And we recently had a nice story in the Omaha World-Herald about Healing Touch. I would refer them to that type of thing, too.

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There are parents who decide that they don’t want to try it, but most of the time, parents are willing to try. And when they see the effect on their child, there’s usually a pretty quick buy-in.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also read: A Day In My Life As A Palliative Care Nurse

Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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