Inability of an 'Energy Transfer Diagnostician' to Distinguish Between Fertile and Infertile Women

David M. Eisenberg, MD, Roger B. Davis, ScD, Jeremy Waletzky, MD, Alison Yager, MD, Lewis Landsberg, MD, Mark Aronson, MD, Machelle Seibel, MD, Thomas L. Delbanco, MD; Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, DC; Children's Hospital, Denver, Colorado; Department of Medicine, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Illinois; Private Practice, Boston, Massachusetts

Medscape General Medicine. 2001;3(1) 

In This Article


Context: Various forms of "energy healing" have become popular in the United States.

Objective: To test the assertion that an energy healer can, without physical contact, distinguish the presence or absence of internal organ pathology in individuals who lack overt physical findings.

Design: Observational randomized study, in which we tested the assertion by a well-recognized alternative healer that he had particular skill in using energy transfer to detect the presence or absence of fertility disorders in women.

Patients: Convenience sample of 37 women, 28 of whom had documented pathology resulting in infertility, and 9 of whom were fertile.

Outcomes: The healer was provided with no medical history and performed diagnostic evaluations without physical contact with the blindfolded, clothed, and silent subjects. We compared to random chance the ability of the healer to establish a diagnosis of fertility or fertility disorder.

Setting: Teaching hospital.

Main Results: The healer was unable to distinguish the presence or absence of fertility disorders in the study subjects.

Conclusion: This study points to further need for fair yet rigorous assessment of claims that energy transfer can lead to accurate clinical diagnoses.

Key words: alternative medicine, complementary medicine, energy, psychic, spiritual healer

Spiritual healing encompasses a variety of techniques involving the intentional influence of 1 or more persons upon another living system without utilizing known physical means of intervention.[1] The force behind spiritual and energy diagnosis and healing is frequently described as "an energy transfer" between the healer and patient, but the idea that an as yet unidentifiable "vital energy" source exists is a major point of contention between proponents of these therapies and clinical investigators. The scientific method argues that if such an energy field exists, it should be measurable by physical means and clearly demonstrable in clinical research studies.[2]

A nationally representative telephone survey of 2055 adults in 1997 found that 7% reported the use of "spiritual healing by others" (as distinct from personal prayer), and 4% reported using "energy healing" (examples included magnets and laying on of hands) to treat their "most serious or bothersome medical conditions."[3] Estimates of the number of Americans who sought a spiritual healing or energy healing provider (ie, "healer") for therapeutic sessions in 1997 exceed 2 million individuals per year.[3]

Prior published investigations suggested that accurate clinical diagnosis using the techniques of iridology[4] and therapeutic touch[5] could not be substantiated. We could find no scientific evidence to support claims that "energy diagnosticians" can indeed make accurate clinical diagnoses and designed a study to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of a recognized healer in active practice. This healer asserted that he could accurately determine the presence or absence of fertility disorders in women who lack overt physical findings.