THE DIMENSIONS OF HEALING: An Interview with Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N.
Dr. Dolores Krieger is one of the true grand dammes in the world of holistic and energetic healing methods, and has been for many years a recognized leader in their development and practical implementation. Best known as the co-developer, along with Dora Kunz, of Therapeutic Touch, a modern-day interpretation of several ancient healing methods, Dee, as she is known to her many students worldwide, is also a registered nurse and professor emeritus of nursing at New York University. Today, more than 25 years after the birth of Therapeutic Touch, she is still actively involved in exploring all facets of the healing process and is the bestselling author of a number of books on the subject.
Originally developed in 1972, Therapeutic Touch is now taught in over 100 fully accredited colleges and universities in the U.S., and in over 75 countries, making it one of the most widely accepted holistic healing methods by the scientific community.
Therapeutic Touch continues to gain widespread acceptance among both holistic and conventional practitioners of medicine. How do you account for that?
Well, I tell you very frankly, the reason lies with the people who are using Therapeutic Touch. They are the real heroes. They use it in such a natural way that they excite interest, and so I feel that one of the best ideas I ever had in my life was not to maintain a proprietary relationship with TT. This has allowed people to feel free to go on and add their own creativity to TT and I think that’s really been the basis for the rather phenomenal growth that TT continues to experience.
Let’s talk about TT in terms of its personal applications. First of all, in your estimation, is it something that is easily learned by the average person?
If you mean the average lay person, from my point of view lay people are more difficult to teach than health professionals, because health professionals, at a minimum, have actually touched people before, so they’ve gotten over that barrier. Secondly, invariably, they have some kind of fundamental knowledge of the biological sciences and the psychological sciences, etc., so you’re working with people who have at least some knowledge of what you’re trying to present.
This lack of knowedge doesn’t necessarily prohibit someone from having success with TT, but it can make it more difficult for them to learn. I suggest that people go to a college or university, or a campus bookstore, and look under the sections that teach the biological sciences. What you will find there are anatomy books, usually with lots of color illustrations, that can provide them with basic information about the body and how it works. They can also find this on CD-Roms and certain television programs, of course. People who follow up on that don’t have any difficulty to speak of learning TT. But it’s difficult for lay people if they don’t have a good understanding of how people heal. It’s very easy for them to fantasize. That’s the real danger. Whereas, if you have people already familiar with the healing process, such as from surgery, you know that the body has its own time and that there are things that happen before and in the middle and at the end. So you don’t jump to conclusions. And in the end, you find that regardless of what you’re doing, miracles are very few and far between.
It’s understandable that lay people have a tendency to fantaize. It’s not that they’re worse at it than a health professional, but the health professional has already seen the healing process at work, so they’re less likely to misunderstand what it is they are seeing. Meaning they have a more objective sense of what’s happening, as opposed to perhaps a more subjective interpretation, because you don’t go into the health profession unless you want to help people as well as yourself, and that does give you some kind of objectivity to begin with. But that doesn’t mean that health professionals are any better. It’s just that they have a different kind of diagram to work from.
What are some of the signposts that TT practitioners look for to verify that the healing process is actually taking place?
One of the things that I look for from a healing point of view is a change in attitude for whatever the illness is. I don’t think that a person can be healed physically without also getting a very different psychological insight into what is going on with them. It’s not like a broken stone that you’re putting together. A healing is a total process. Even a cut finger has a psychological effect on the individual, and yet there’s a miracle if ever there was one, happening right in front of the person’s eyes. Just to be technical for a moment, from a biological point of view there are seven distinct levels of organization, or seven distinct tissues, that make up what we call the skin or the flesh. When you cut a finger, you’re cutting those seven different types of tissue. Yet, when the cut heals, very frequently it heals so well that you’d be hard put to ever realize that there was a cut there if you hadn’t known about it. When you think about it, essentially what’s happening is that millions of molecules are somehow swirling around the finger, conducting themselves to the appropriate tissues by some very exquisite kind of organizational principles that we’ve yet to understand. Because, as I say, sometimes it heals so well that it looks as if the skin was intact to begin with. So what we have to recognize is that the correct molecules are going to the appropriate places, and if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. In other words, it’s not random; it’s not probablistic. It’s exact.
To return to the psychological shift that occurs in healing, even a cold will make you miserable. (Laughs) Just imagine yourself in the throes of that. There’s an old saying that it will last six days if you take medication, and half a dozen if you don’t. Yet you must get to work on day two, so you try to accelerate that process and wind up feeling utterly miserable. Sometimes so much so that you take to bed with an upper respiratory infection, and when you do, you’re more or less in a dependent position in that you can’t jump up and down and do the kinds of things for yourself that you did a few days previously.
Then along comes a practitioner of TT who does Therapeutic Touch on you. One of the great things that happens with TT is that we get a full-blown relaxation response exceedingly rapidly. We’ve studied this for many years, and usually this occurs in two to four minutes. I remember being on a program with Herbert Benson in London, who coined the phrase” relaxation response,” and I mentioned this to him and asked him if, in his experience, that seemed credible and he said, yes, it’s possible to get a response in less than five minutes. Eliciting that response with TT one of the easiest things for us to do, to tell you the honest truth. Not only that, but from our experience, you must elicit the relaxation response first in order for the body to accept the healing. In other words, it certainly makes it easier for the body to absorb the healing effects. So, getting back to your cold, now you’ll feel absolutely relaxed. And, of course, one of the things that Benson’s studies have shown is that the relaxation response facilitates the immunological response, so you’re already on your way home.
In addition to that, one of the other things that TT has been shown to be able to do is to ameliorate or eradicate pains. So, if you have aches and pains associated with your stuffy nose, this also will go away. And, of course, another point is that the healing has been accelerated. Within five minutes or so, you’re feeling like a much better person. Your head might clear, your sinuses drain, things of that nature, and you can actually feel it happening.
This will be a very consistent outcome. It might not happen to everyone, but
most people will definitely receive benefit. This is something that has high reliability. So, what happens, number one, is that you feel better. Frequently people will say, I’ve never been touched in this way before. Because in Therapeutic Touch, the idea is not to just make symptoms go away. Literally, TT is a transpersonal healing. To begin with, before interacting with clients, the TT practitioner goes “on center.” He or she centers their consciousness. And this isn’t only a case of centering and then going in and doing something else. Rather, it’s a fact that what we do is center and we stay on center, meanwhile doing these other techniques. It’s always seemed to me that this centering state of consciousness is the ground against which we are doing the various techniques of TT, and we maintain that state of centering until the end of the TT process.
By studying this, we now know that just being in the presence of someone who is on center and is attending to his or her inner work, has an effect on people around them. Not in any magical way, but their demeanor is different. The TT practitioner is attending to something within and by doing that becomes a model for the patient. Interestingly enough, getting back to lay people, many of them have become Therapeutic Touch practitioners because they so admired what was happening with the TT therapist who was working on them. When they got better, they wanted to help other people as they had been helped. And we do have a lot of lay people practicing Therapeutic Touch. I started with health professionals
since, as you know, I’m a nurse, but in the mid-80s I did a study in which I taught husbands how to do Therapeutic Touch on their pregnant wives, and the results were so good that very frequently the husbands and wives continued doing it. Not only on each other, but also on their children after they were born. That’s where some of the tremendous impetus has come from, because it went rapidly from within the family to relatives and out into the community.
One of the places that gave TT great impetus for lay people was among volunteers, particularly people who volunteered at hospices who worked with people who are dying. Dying is so little understood in our culture that mostly in the places where people are dying they’ll let you do almost anything because they’ve sort of thrown up their hands. So, in doing that we’ve found what I think is one of the greatest boons of Therapeutic Touch. Many of our people do work in hospices and by being able to facilitate this very rapid relaxation response and things of that nature, they help people to die very peacefully. It’s a beautiful sight to see.
We’ve also taught many relatives the basic skills of TT so that they can have that time with their dying relative and many of these people have become lay practitioners of TT and have gone on to do quite a lot of good.
How is the process of going on center achieved, and from there, how does a TT session unfold?
Well you have to know what you are discussing when you talk about centering because the term itself is rather well known today and there are different kinds of centering. For instance, one of the things that has recently had quite a lot of interest is the Centering Prayer, particularly in the Catholic Church. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The type of centering we do involves attending to the inner self. To really pay attention to the inner consciousness that makes you whoever you are, and to explore those facets within yourself while at the same time you are paying attention to the needs of the healee. This is important because Therapeutic Touch is a conscious process. The way you can tell somebody who really understands the TT process is that you should be able to stop them at any time during that process and ask them what they are doing and why, and they should be able to tell you. TT is not something where you close your eyes and go off on a cloud. Rather, it’s a very acute awareness of, first of all, the liaison which you as a personality have with your inner self.
Secondly, as you focus or center your consciousness, what you’re attempting to do during the healing process is to call upon or communicate with the inner self of the healee. It’s not just a case of laying on of hands. That’s hardly the beginning of it. There is a whole interior process that’s going on within you that very frankly takes time to learn. You can learn the beginning techniques of TT in one day, and then learn further techniques in an intermediate workshop, but we ask people to have three years of practice before they go on to learn the advance techniques of TT because you have to learn how it’s working within you. And that, of course, is why Therapeutic Touch has exploded. We’ve taught it in over 75 countries now, and the pull or attraction is the fact that what you learn is about yourself. That’s why it’s personally so attractive, because it’s a never-ending story in that you know for a fact that the human being is an open system. I know for myself the reason I’ve been at it for over 25 years is that it has been a constant challenge, a constant exciting adventure in a very real sense.
Now, the way you know that centering is not a fantasy, first of all, is obvious. Is it working? You have to use that as a criteria. Did the person get well, or was there some kind of personality transformation? There are a number of ways that an individual can get well, so you use very objective criteria. Also, you observe yourself and see your own personal growth and things of this nature. You’re really learning the therapeutic functions of the vital energy field, you see, and in the process of doing that you begin to understand your own vital energy fields as well. As you do, you change. You become more intelligent in the way you use it. There is a distinct transformation that occurs, and you, yourself, are the gauge of it. Additionally, the TT practitioner, while being engaged in the process, also has the opportunity to heal his or her own self.
As the TT practitioner becomes centered and aware of his or her inner consciousness and inner self, and then starts to become aware of the healee’s inner self, does the dynamic of that particular session evolve based on communication between inner self to inner self?
I don’t think that any healing occurs without a concomitant interaction with others. Intuition, of course, would be one of the obvious things that develops. After all, most of the Therapeutic Touch process happens within the vital energy field, or beyond the edges of the physical body. And what you begin to find very rapidly is that you can actually learn the therapeutic functions of the vital energy field and you can be more effective in guiding the vital energy flow. That’s essentially what you do, you guide those flows of energy in the appropriate direction. You can feel it very quickly. For instance, if the healee is fatigued, you can feel him or her become resuscitated very, very rapidly, even from intense fatigue. Strangely enough, the worse off you are, the more quickly you feel these energies and they begin to revive you.
Take someone immediately after an operation, for example. You usually will feel quite out of it, mostly because your consciousness has been literally knocked out of your being. That’s why you go to sleep when they give you anesthesia. As you become aware of your surroundings, one of the things you’re very impressed with is the feeling of utter exhaustion that you have. Nobody wakes up from anesthesia and feels like playing nine rounds of golf. But with Therapeutic Touch, we have very rapid recovery, and we have many nurses in recovery rooms doing TT because of this. We have people actually in the operating rooms. Dr. Mehmet Oz of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City is a good case in point. He uses several modalities as part of the hospital’s alternative therapies program, but he loves his TT nurses. One time he did a live radio program, I think it was for the Canadian Broadcast Company, and he discussed an operation as it was in progress, telling what was happening and showing what was happening with the
alternative modalities that were complementing it. And, of course, once the major operation is completed, the people who are no longer needed usually leave the operating room. So, at that point in the broadcast, the TT nurses, among others, left the room. As the doctors were completing the sutures and so on, the patient had a sudden turn of her physical condition and they almost lost her. And right on the broadcast you could hear Dr. Oz screaming, “Where are my TT nurses. Get me my TT nurses.” And they came back and the patient was stabilized. The reason I mention this was that it was a reflex on the part of Dr. Oz and it gives you an idea of how much he thinks of Therapeutic Touch. He’s one of the chief cardiothoracic surgeons in the country, so it’s not something you can take lightly.
Since you’re talking about the vital energy field, I’d like to discuss the chakra system and how that relates to Therapeutic Touch.
You have to understand the chakra system before you can talk about it. To begin with, the chakra system doesn’t only come out of India. There are many other cultures that have known it. For instance, to give you just two, the Kuna in Hawaii and the American Indians here in the southwest also have whole teachings on the chakras. They call them by other names, but nonetheless, that is what they are talking about. As another example, I spent a month in South Africa in the mid-80s and had the distinct pleasure of speaking with someone I later found out was one of the most powerful shamans in Africa. During our discussion I asked him about the chakras, because at that time I was finding that there were ways of relating, that is, communicating, with trees. I know this may sound strange, but lo and behold, this man told me that he too used the chakras to communicate with trees, particularly the medicinal variety. So we had this wonderful conversation about that. What you find throughout the world, in fact, is this knowledge of the chakras. I think the reason so many people talk about the Indian interpretation is because it’s so clearly stated in the Upanishads and is easy to translate and understand.
I talk at length about the chakras and their relationship with TT in my book, Therapeutic Touch Inner Workbook. I also discuss the various types of ancient healing that we have integrated in TT, and what the operative chakras are. Specifically in relation to the secondary chakras in the hands, located in the well of the palms, in the vital energy field overlaying that area. What you find is that you begin to understand the chakras by literally relating to your own chakras. This is what I’m doing in certain of the exercises that I have in the book. But if you talk about chakras to most people who’ve heard about them in the U.S., they tend to refer to them as energy centers. That’s somewhat of a misconception. If you go back to the Upanishads, which I’ve done, what you’ll find is that they are spoken of as centers of different kinds of consciousness. Once you’re willing to look at that from that point of view, you begin to realize that there’s a heck of a lot more to chakras than just little energy centers. There are so many misconceptions, to tell you the truth, in our Western literature that have stemmed from that, such as the idea that you can open and close the chakras. Well, that’s stupid. They’re open, period, otherwise you’re dead. I hate to be forceful about it, but I think these misconceptions have caused an awful lot of damage for no reason except that people like to have it their way. But things are not always easy. Sometimes you just have to do some thought crunching. (laughing)
If the chakras are always open, what causes the imbalances that can occur within them?
One of the things which we don’t understand in our culture is the fundamental place that rhythm has. That rhythmicity, I should say, has in our total being. This is what it is that gets out of whack, and once you’re willing to make that shift in your own consciousness as you think about this, you start to realize that Therapeutic Touch is not the only healing method in the world. There are many, many different and very valid methods. But essentially, when you study them, you find that this question of rhythmicity is what they’re really talking about. The energy that we think we’re working with is something called the pranas in India, and if you go back to these ancient books, you find that prana comes from an element called vayu. And when you study that, what you find is that a chief characteristic of vayu is rhythmicity. Isn’t that interesting? When you look at it, the vitalness, if that’s a word (laughter) of our being really is rhythm, whether you’re talking about the beating of the heart or the breathing of the lungs, or the peristalsis in the gut, or whatever. In all of these things there is this rhythmicity which is absolutely basic, and you don’t have to go too far to realize that rhythm, when it gets altered, can cause all sorts of biological changes.
Therapeutic Touch, and true healing of any kind harmonizes these rhythms and creates an integration of the rhythm center of each respective chakra. This is something, for the most part, that our culture has a deep-seated lack of awareness about. And sometimes a disregard, as well, actually. Look what we do in industry, for instance. We have industries working 24 hours a day, and companies that send people off at the snap of a finger to a completely different time zone, or many time zones, without considering the consequences of that forced change in biorhythms. It’s something quite serious yet we really don’t give a hoot about it.
One other point that I want to make about rhythmicity in every day life has to do with people’s breathing process. Just by taking a moment to look at respiration in people, you can almost tell the psychic or psychological state that they’re in. And these breathing patterns change when you receive Therapeutic Touch, which is another way you can tell if the session is working.
What do you think the implications of Therapeutic Touch are for health care in general as we move into the 21st century?
I think one of the most exciting things that is happening at this moment in TT’s first quarter century (laughing) is its introduction into the family and into the community. That’s where I really think the excitement in the immediate future is going to be. Because, as you can see, it’s not only a matter of using TT to help others. It’s also a means of learning about yourself, your own inner self.
One of the things that’s been observed in recent years is that, although there’s been a decline in religion, there has been an increase in the interest in spirituality. That’s one of the things that makes me think that would be one of the great places for Therapeutic Touch to go. There has already been a great deal of acceptance by the establishment of Therapeutic Touch, because it’s been proven to be safe, both for the healer and for the patient or healee. Also, Therapeutic Touch is transculturally based, and I think that’s another thing that the future will prove. In the early 80s, the United States Public Health Service sent me to Alaska, and the reason they did was to have me teach TT to public health officers, thinking that TT would work as a good liaison between the public health workers and what are called Eskimo doctors. Since then, we’ve seen more and more of that. Three years ago, I was in Australia with the aboriginal people. They use their hand chakras in amazing ways that are far beyond us. For example, one of the things they do is, as we would scan the body, they scan the Earth to find certain root crops. Not only that, but they can tell whether or not they’re ripe. So, you can see, that’s a whole new area for us. (laughing) Imagine doing that at the supermarket. I could give you many other examples of transcultural recognition of TT.
One of my original students was the first nurse I knew who brought Therapeutic Touch squarely within a hospital setting. I’ve often thought of her as a heroine. It was a children’s hospital in New York City, and she would do TT while she was giving out medications. She’d take a few moments as she was by the child’s bedside and do TT where it was appropriate. Well, there was this one little boy named Eddie, and I think he had asthma. I still remember her talking about him. He was Puerto Rican and his grandfather would visit him every day but never really communicate. He would just sit by the window, looking out over New York City, and when visiting hours were over he would go home. Then one day this girl came in and as she was giving Eddie his medication, she went on to do Therapeutic Touch. Before she knew it, Eddie’s grandfather got up from his seat by the window, crossed over to the bed, and was helping her. There’s a way of working together with TT, and he was doing it. He told her that when he saw what she was doing he was reminded of his own grandmother and what she did for him when he was a child. Isn’t that exciting? Because his grandmother, of course, would be Eddie’s great-grandmother, and there you have something that came over four generations to find itself in New York City.
Another example occurred during the Cambodian war. Not the current one, the one previous. Many of the refugees ended up in Thailand, and at one of the refugee camps were five health professionals who did TT. When they returned to the U.S., they told me that more often than not people would come out of the crowds and surround them as they did TT on the sick and wounded. They would come and they helped them because they remembered something like that out of their own culture. So really, this work is closer than our hands and feet. It is, indeed, a human energy field that we are dealing with, and is available to all of us. And in the near future, it is something that I think many more people will start to realize this and partake in it.
LEARNING HOW TO CENTER
Basic to the Therapeutic Touch process in learning how to “go on center.” Becoming skilled as a practitioner of Therapeutic Touch requires time and dedication, often involving years of training and practice. The following exercise, however, can enable you to immediately begin to center your consciousness. According to Krieger, with regular practice of this exercise you will begin to achieve an improved sense of well-being and relaxation, and find yourself more in command of your life experiences. “Although it demands concentration, centering is a very enjoyable experience that allows you to learn more about the dynamics of your own consciousness,” Krieger says. “In this act of quietude, you can also ask questions. If you listen carefully, quite profound answers can arise from within your inner self. It isn’t easy to still the chatter of your every day thoughts and focus your attention on the responses that well up from the deep reaches of your consciousness. However, if your motivation is high enough, a way will be found in a surprisingly short time.”
Perform the exercise as follows:
Step 1: Sit in a comfortable position and take quiet, full breaths. It doesn’t matter if your eyes are closed or open. The goal is to become aware of the fullness of your own being.
Step 2: As you continue to sit and breath quietly and comfortably, be aware of what you feel like when you are quiet. Explore your own being and notice the feelings edging into your consciousness, quietly following any thoughts that cross your mind without becoming too emotionally involved in them.
Step 3: As you continue breathing, you will start to perceive various energies. Distinguish which ones belong to you and which ones belong to other things or people with whom you may be identifying. Concentrate on your own attributes.
Step 4: As you gain a fuller sense of your self, place your awareness on your own more subtle energies. You can begin to do this by quietly becoming aware of your own breathing. Notice how your breath fills your lungs, then try to sense how your breath permates the tissues of your body and quickens its functioning with life-sustaining vital energy. Now shift your attention to take note of other subtle energies. If someone else is in the room with you, notice how you sense his or her presence. If something distracts you, can your capture the visualization process that brings it to your attention? Can you follow the process of how you feel an emotion for someone who is not physically present? Continue to breath quietly and allow the answers to come to you.
Step 5: With continued practice of this exercise you will gain facility in the steps above. As you do so, try to go one step further. Attempt to identify, by mood or feeling, with the facet of your consciousness that senses energies and creates visualizations or emotions. As you access these deeper levels of your being, you will become aware of an enveloping stillness and a sense of timelessness. In this stillness, you will find it easier to attain a state of receptivity in which personal insights may emerge. You may find it useful to have a pen and paper at hand so that you can jot down key thoughts or symbols without disturbing your train of thought.
As you become proficient in this step, you will discover that you can access deep levels of guidance and answers to life questions you may have.
According to Dr. Krieger, the experiences produced by this exercise vary widely, ranging from a grounded feeling of physical centeredness to awareness of the transcendent functions of consciousness. With continued practice, the various aspects of your human energy field will be brought into resonance with each other, integrating the various facets of your personality. “Over time,” Krieger says, “you will feel more of one piece and more focused, and come to know that when the self is consciously engaged, the personality can be transformed or positively redirected. Out of this realization, your sense of the future will become more life affirming, as you gain deeper access to your own inner guide or teacher who is the reflection of your individual power.”
Nurse Healers Professional Associates, International
3760 South Highland Drive, Suite 429
Salt Lake City, Utah 84106
Provides information and referrals, as well as training conferences and seminars about Therapeutic Touch.
BOOKS BY DOLORES KRIEGER
The Therapeutic Touch Inner Workbook: Ventures in Transpersonal Healing (Bear and Company) 1997
Accepting Your Power To Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch (Bear and Company) 1993
The Therapeutic Touch: How To Use Your Hands To Help Or To Heal (Prentice Hall Press) 1979