Energy Healing

What is "life force?"
The "life force," often called "energy" in Western culture, is an entity that permeates and bonds all. It is sometimes referred to as the "vital force." In China, it is called Qi; in India it is called prana. It is believed the "life force" extends throughout the universe and that the individual is part of an indivisible whole. Most Eastern philosophies share this common theme of universal spirit and wholeness. Individuals who practice such alternative medical approaches as meditation, yoga or tai chi do so not only because it decreases stress and anxiety and promotes general well-being, but also because it helps them connect with the "life energy" within and around them. The belief is that because the "life force" permeates everything, an individual is unavoidably affected by external events and energies. Thus, treatment of the individual should consider the mind/body/spirit interaction as well as an overall connection to the universe.

What is energy healing?
Energy healing is based on the belief that our "life force" creates energy fields that are unbalanced during emotional or physical disease. Because our energy fields are part of an interconnected whole, the use of focused intention by one individual can aid in the health and well being of another. Many individuals use their own individual means of directing their intention to heal. Others practice according to schools such as Reiki. In the West, a common form of energy healing is Therapeutic Touch, which has been taught to thousands of nurses across the United States.

Healers operate in many different ways. For example, they visualize, send intentions for diseased cells to die, send intentions for cells to revert to their optimum state of health, or simply send loving energy. A common theme is the intention for the well-being of the client. Another is focusing on being a conduit for a loving, universal life force.

An interesting feature of energy healing is that it may be performed over distances of thousands of miles. The "life force" claimed to be transmitted by energy healers does not have the properties of any known form of energy. A comparable practice to energy healing that is used frequently in the West is prayer. A 1996 survey showed that 82 percent of Americans believed in the healing power of prayer. A survey of patients in American Cancer Society support groups for breast cancer found that 88 percent experienced beneficial effects of spiritual and religious practice.

Blending of paradigms
The idea that an energy can be transmitted from one person to affect the health of another, especially from a distance, does have some scientific merit. This idea is quite compatible with theories of quantum physics, in which there are no time/space barriers. In quantum physics, subatomic particles communicate instantaneously, and theoretically, particles can affect each other at far ends of the galaxies.

It has been about 80 years since Einstein introduced his theory of relativity and quantum mechanics was born. This represented a complete paradigm shift that still has not been incorporated into medicine. However, as the science provides more and more indications that there may be realities and energies that are beyond our current comprehension, the interest in performing scientific research to detect the effects of such energies is increasing.

Research into energy healing
In an effort to incorporate Western sciences' need for physical proof, studies have been performed on the impact of energy healing on living, isolated cells as opposed to human subjects. Many of the studies on isolated cells are inadequately controlled, are published as incomplete reports, or are published in non-reviewed journals. Thus, while existing evidence provides enough positive indications to warrant further investigation, there is a great need for more rigorous studies from experienced investigators.

Of 23 clinical trials involving energy healing that did meet a rigorous criteria requiring adequate design, control and review procedures, 57 percent have shown a beneficial effect. This caused authors reviewing the studies to conclude that the "evidence thus far merits further study."

Indeed there is growing interest and evidence for alternative health exploration based on a "life force," wholeness, and interconnections. The National Institutes of Health has established a Center that is devoted to research in the area of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The budget is growing rapidly and research into areas such as energy healing and prayer is being encouraged. Several large clinical trials, especially on the effects of prayer, are now underway in major academic institutions across the country. Through science, researchers eventually hope to better understand how energy healing practices may be incorporated into Western medical practices.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit or This document was last reviewed on: 1/12/2005