OBJECTIVE AND CONTEXT: This review was designed to assess the quality and review the outcomes of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of biofield therapies (external qigong, Healing Touch, Johrei, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch) that report using only nonphysical touch forms of treatment. RCTs of nonphysical contact biofield therapies have the potential to contribute to an evidence base for health-promoting effects mediated through mechanisms outside the present understanding of biomedicine.
Methods: Articles meeting inclusion criteria were identified from database and reference list searches and evaluated for a range of reporting and design items. Data were extracted to determine the range of protocol parameters and treatment outcomes. The final set of included RCTs were evaluated via a modified 5-item Jadad scale as well as by a set of 20 criteria that included items relevant to the early-phase nature of the trials and to the examination of nonphysical touch biofield therapy interventions.
Results: Of 90 RCTs that assessed effectiveness of a biofield therapy in humans, 28 trials involving 1775 participants met additional inclusion criteria (most importantly a clearly reported use of only nonphysical contact treatment). The research designs of these 28 trials revealed marked heterogeneity in regard to condition treated, number and duration of treatments, nature of the control/comparison group, and outcome measures. Finally, 10 trials were excluded on the basis of low quality assessment scores. Twelve of the remaining 18 trials (7 Therapeutic Touch, 3 external qigong, 1 Reiki, and 1 Healing Touch) reported at least one primary outcome with statistically significant beneficial treatment outcomes.
Conclusions: The pilot study nature of essentially all the identified nonphysical contact biofield therapy RCTs, as reflected by low sample sizes alone, precludes drawing robust conclusions. Given this perspective, the finding that two thirds of the higher-scoring trials demonstrated at least partial effectiveness favors a continued research effort, especially in light of the translational value of biofield clinical trials for studies exploring the nature and physiologic basis of biofield healing.