Integrating Therapeutic Touch Into Senior Massage

Making the Connection

By Jody Falconer

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2002.

“Mary” is a 90-year-old client of mine who suffers from diabetes. It has left her legally blind and has significantly compromised the circulation in her legs. She has had one hip replaced and, because of her poor eyesight, has regular caregivers. Otherwise, she is a vital senior, interested in the world, nature and literature, who is a delight to be with. So, it was a surprise upon my arrival for our weekly massage session that I found her in a great deal of pain from a fall she’d had two days prior to my visit. She had fallen against her wood-burning stove and had cracked her pelvis. Large, deep purple bruises covered her perineum, both thighs and her pelvis. The doctors were not sure if she had also cracked her “replaced” hip. Walking was excruciatingly painful, so she was usually either in bed or in a wheelchair.

It was obvious our regular geriatric massage session would not be appropriate for her. The bruising was too extensive, the cracked pelvis too painful. She was scared. This accident was a reminder of her vulnerability. For myself, I knew the appropriate interaction would be one of using Therapeutic Touch™ (Krieger/Kunz method) to promote healing, reduce pain and calm her fears.

What is Therapeutic Touch?

Therapeutic Touch (TT) is considered a contemporary interpretation of ancient, energy-based healing practices.1 Drawing upon the information you feel in your hands when passing them through the client’s energy field, you then, with compassion, centering and intention, direct an energy exchange to bring the recipient’s energy field into balance. This balance and sense of wholeness promotes relaxation, reduces pain and assists the body in its natural healing process.

TT was developed 30 years ago by Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., and Dora Kunz, a noted healer and clairvoyant. Based upon their observations of natural healers and Kunz’s ability to “see” human energy fields, the technique was developed and originally taught to nurses for use in hospital settings. Since then, it has spread throughout most of the health care professions and is also easily used by non-medical personnel. TT has been taught in more than 80 universities, in 30 countries and is practiced by an estimated 20,000–30,000 professionals in the United States, Canada and around the world.

The four basic assumptions underlying the practice of TT are:
• Human beings are open, complex and pandimensional energy systems.
• In a state of health, life energy flows freely through the organism in a balanced, symmetrical matter.
• Human beings are capable of both transformation and transcendence.
• Healing is an intrinsic movement toward order that occurs in living organisms and can be facilitated by practitioners. Life energy follows the intent to heal.

Both Kunz and Krieger felt strongly that healing is a natural potential in human beings. Healing is not necessarily contingent upon a religious source, but more on a recognition and cultivation of our natural healing capacities.

The Process of Therapeutic Touch

The first step in doing TT is recognition of a desire to help another being in need. This desire to help stirs a feeling of compassion in the healer. Krieger feels that compassion is of vital importance in the healing act. The next step involves a deep centering with the intention of helping the recipient. Centering involves becoming quiet, letting go of “chattering thoughts” and focusing within. In centering, Kunz encourages connecting to the healing energy of nature, to embrace the peacefulness and unity one feels when present in nature, and then invite that experience into our hearts, saying to ourselves, “I am that peacefulness.” When we become that “peacefulness,” we can then project that feeling to the client. In this centering, the practitioner enters the healing interaction with a deep sense of balance, unity and wholeness.

From this quiet place of centering, the practitioner is now ready to “assess” the vital energy field of the client. The practitioner gently places their hands in the energy field of the client (usually 2-6 inches off the body) and observes what the hand chakras “experience” as they scan the field in a general head-to-toe direction. The hand chakras, which Krieger calls “centers of consciousness,” pick up cues from the vital energy field of the body. These cues of imbalance usually consist of heat or cold, tingling, a pulling in toward the body, a pushing away from the body, a difference in pulsation or rhythm over an area or a sense of movement being restricted in areas. These cues tell us whether there is an imbalance in the flow of energy in that area. A healthy field feels light, with a balanced movement or flow of energy.

Now that we have an idea of how the vital energy field feels, we can redirect the energy to bring balance. We do this by using a smoothing or unruffling movement of the hand chakras throughout the client’s field and a reorganization of the energy in their field by inputting balanced energy or releasing stagnant energy. During the rebalancing phase we also continually reassess to receive information about how to continue our interaction with the client. The question I ask myself is, “What does this person need for healing now?” When the field is more in balance, the client can rest. It is felt that during this resting period, the balance energy can be incorporated more fully into the person’s being, thus supporting their own natural healing capabilities.

My “Discovery” of Therapeutic Touch

I was attracted to TT a year after graduating from massage school. I had always had a sense of something beyond the physical body, but did not understand it. I only knew I “sensed things.” It was wonderful to attend my first seminar of TT. I saw it as a way to explore what I had always been aware of, but did not understand. TT is a way to work with what we don’t normally “see,” but experience nevertheless. TT is a way to intelligently nurture potential in all human beings and compassionately facilitate healing.

I was also intrigued by the background of scientific studies regarding TT that Krieger had instigated, as my goal in massage was to work within the medical community. Studies have shown that TT can reduce anxiety, decrease wound and fracture healing time, reduce pain and induce a deep relaxation response.2

I was fascinated that with TT I could feel things in my hands without touching the body. In the beginning I would ask everyone I worked with if I could feel their energy fields. I would get some skeptical stares. But with each interaction, I learned more about the healing qualities of TT and I saw positive results. When my senior clients would come with colds for their weekly massage, I could relieve their sinus or chest congestion with TT. When their muscles were too sore or sensitive to touch, I could use TT instead of massage. They would feel a deep relaxation and reduction of pain, and I would watch the muscles become soft and pliable. If surgery was needed, I could go to the hospital and assist in their recovery by using TT since their bodies were not yet ready to receive massage. When a senior had fallen and broken a bone, badly bruised themselves, or injured a muscle, I could use TT to help the bone heal, the bruises to dissipate and the injured muscles to heal.

Decubitous Ulcers

One of my senior clients had neuropathy in one of her legs. As the condition worsened over the years, she would develop decubitous ulcers any time she brushed her leg up against a hard object. These ulcers required extensive nursing interaction, usually 2–3 times a week, with debriding of the scab so that the wound would heal from the inside. This was extremely painful for the client.

In attempting to help her, I used my knowledge of geriatric massage and lymphatic massage techniques to increase circulation and clear the lymph system in the leg, and TT to reduce the pain level. This was helpful to an extent. Then one day, I decided to use my knowledge of TT to address more directly the physical imbalance in her leg. I had been practicing how to energetically connect with the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, the muscle tissues, etc., and with that “peacefulness” of TT, to support these systems in my own body. I connected with her circulatory system and lymphatic system in her leg, and supported them with TT. By “supporting,” my intention was to energetically connect them to the body’s own healing capabilities: the purpose of the blood circulatory system to carry oxygen to cells, to feed the cells and to carry away toxins; the lymphatic system’s job of cleaning the blood and fighting infection; and, with TT, to transmit that life energy to support these specific systems’ natural jobs of healing. To my surprise, after I started to initiate this protocol in our regular massage sessions, the decubitous ulcers healed much more quickly. After that, whenever this client would hurt her leg, the wound would heal without decaying into an ulcer situation.

Beyond the TT Techniques

There is a quality of TT that goes beyond technique. Something changes in the practitioner as he continues to practice this modality. As Krieger says, “TT becomes a personal growth experience. It changes our world-view, our personal philosophy of life. With TT, you learn that you don’t have to push or pull to make a difference. You begin to make mind-to-mind communication possible. As a practitioner, you become aware there are multiple realities — this opens the door to infinite possibilities.”3

For myself, this practice has also led to a heart-to-heart communication and a continued discovery of my inner self. I feel I am just beginning to understand the richness of these connections. The more I explore “centering,” the more I experience the wholeness of life — the unity, balance and order that is in life energy. With this experience of unity, there is then an ability to connect with the client’s inner self. And, in that connection, to support their core, assisting them in remembering their own connection to that life and peacefulness. They seem to have a sense of themselves that goes beyond the physical body. This work has changed my definition of “healing.” As massage therapists, we all recognize the importance of honoring the entire person — emotional, spiritual, mental and physical. For myself, TT has been a vehicle to uncovering my awareness of what this means — a journey of understanding healing.


On the Wednesday I visited Mary, she was looking forward to the familiarity of our weekly visits. Her world had literally taken a tumble. Her sense of wholeness was fragmented. To be able to offer TT as the treatment was of great value. I was able to soothe her bruised muscles without touching them, and ease the pain of the fracture. She felt the calmness and peacefulness of my centering, which helped her to recover emotionally. I could speak to the cells in the nervous system and acknowledge the trauma of the fall and help re-establish a sense of order. With her permission, we set the stage for her to deeply relax, and in that deep relaxation, to facilitate her body’s own natural healing capabilities. I continue to work with Mary. She has recovered from her fall. It took some time, but she is walking well with the use of a walker for stability. Her life is back on track.