Nurses know it, massage therapists know it, and there’s no question that mothers know it. As social beings, most of us intuitively understand the healing power of touch.
From a scientific perspective, touch has been proven to decrease the stress hormone cortisol and can lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure.
For Jill Wiggins, a special kind of touch turned out to be life-altering.
Two years ago, the 66-year-old Alta Sierra resident was diagnosed with cancer. An acquaintance, Kathryn Davis, suggested she try something called Healing Touch.
“I had no idea what she was talking about,” said Wiggins. “But with the surgery, chemo and radiation, I figured I could use all the help I could get.”
As it turned out, Davis was a certified Healing Touch practitioner through the organization Healing Touch International. Although she lives in Alta Sierra, Davis is currently the associate director of Healing Partners, a community service program based at Stanford Medical Center. The nine-year-old program provides free Healing Touch sessions — weekly for up to six months — to any woman with a diagnosis of breast cancer. To date, the program’s 50-plus volunteers have served more than 330 women.
On Healing Touch International’s website, the practice is described as “a relaxing, nurturing energy therapy. Gentle touch assists in balancing your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Healing Touch works with your energy field to support your natural ability to heal. It is safe for all ages and works in harmony with standard medical care.”
“Whenever I had a session with Kathy, it was like I was on a little mini-cruise in the middle of chemo,” said Wiggins. “It induces deep relaxation. I don’t know what it does physiologically, but it definitely helped me deal with what I was going through. I surprised my doctors with my vitality throughout radiation treatments.”
Healing Touch is meant to complement and support existing medical treatment, not cure or serve as an alternative, said Davis, who emphasizes that the practice integrates well with Western medicine.
“The intention is to create a smooth flow of energy and deep relaxation so people can take best advantage of healing, such as when they’re going through chemotherapy,” she said. “While sessions are typically done on a massage table, it’s not massage — that can be too intimate for some people, especially elderly people who are frail.”
With a vision of establishing a Nevada County program similar to that of Stanford’s, Davis has teamed up with local Healing Touch colleague Sue Berney to organize a “Healing Touch Level 1” training Feb. 23 and 24 at Hospice of the Foothills in Grass Valley. Certified instructor Elizabeth Helms, a registered nurse who has trained a majority of volunteers in the Bay Area, will be leading the training.
“Healing Touch is used in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices and private practices — people come from all backgrounds,” said Davis. “Many people have told me they’d like to learn Healing Touch to help their aging parents.”
Founded in 1989 by registered nurse Janet Mentgen, Healing Touch was originally designed to be a continuing education program primarily for nurses and other health care professionals. Today, it is now part of patient care practices in more than 20 hospitals across the country.
The Grass Valley training this weekend is open to anyone with an interest in learning about this energy-based work, said Davis.
“Touch creates a sense of well-being that encourages and supports self-healing,” she added. “It’s not magic — it’s just deep caring and being present for people in a special way. Seeing people be able to translate Healing Touch into their day-to-day lives — that’s the real gift I get in doing this.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.