The University of Minnesota is Touching

Yesterday, I was alerted by my wife about some announcements on the state of the University of Minnesota. We are a public institution, you know, which is synonymous with “cash-strapped and struggling to make ends meet” in these days of Republican antipathy to higher education. The university is cutting some substantial programs to save money, which is bad news, but what caught my eye was a related news item in the Star Tribune: the University of Minnesota is being sued for promoting religion.

As you might guess, my interest was pricked. It seems we are being sued by Wisconsin’s Freedom From Religion Foundation for mingling religion with our health care.

The lawsuit was filed on Friday, March 25. It charges that the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium, an unincorporated association between Fairview Health Services, Luther Seminary and the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center, which is located on the Riverside Campus, “engages in activities to promote personal faith and/or faith communities within the context of health care.” The “mission” of the consortium is “the alleged relevance of faith as an integral part of health care services.”

I’m no fan of religion, but I don’t know that this is worth pursuing…I can appreciate that understanding religion is a valid part of medicine, as part of the psychological and social element of care, that bedside manner stuff. I’m also not going to get into it here, because I got a bad feeling as I looked into this MN FaithHealth Consortium at my university, and discovered it was part of a Center for Spirituality and Healing. I got here by looking up some major program cuts, and here I was discovering that we had something called the Center for Spirituality and Healing? Who knew? And strangely, it wasn’t among the programs on the chopping block.

Browse around there, and you’ll discover that they have several links to something called TTouch. This set off a few warning bells. My fellow skeptics will recall something called Therapeutic Touch, or TT, that was big news a few years back when a grade school kid, Emily Rosa, effectively debunked it and got the results published in a peer-reviewed journal. TT was a bizarre pseudoscientific practice that was getting peddled in nursing schools, in which people would touch or stroke and claim to be able to diagnose disease and even heal people. Rosa showed that they were full of crap, and after a few squalls of fury from some New Agers, I hadn’t heard of it since.

Now it seems my university has a unit babbling about a new variant, called Tellington TTouch. Read this description: it’s stock pseudoscience.

The foundation of the TTouch method is based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence—a little like “turning on the electric lights of the body.” The TTouch is done on the entire body, and each circular TTouch is complete within itself. Therefore it is not necessary to understand anatomy to be successful in speeding up the healing of injuries or ailments, or changing undesirable habits or behavior.

Look at that gobbledygook. “Cellular intelligence”? Notice the other common signs of quackery: amazing effects, but requiring no understanding of anatomy. Why, you can be stupid and do this!

As a matter of fact, stupidity may be a prerequisite. Despite requiring no knowledge of anatomy and demanding no prior training, the Center for Spirituality and Healing is offering a 3 day Tellington TTouch seminar…for $750. That’s quite a sum of money to learn how to wiggle one’s fingers in circular motions over people’s bodies.

And here are the wonderful powers you will acquire with this training:

TTouch is for you, whether to use on your family or for yourself. If you’re a Massage Therapist, Physical Therapist, Nurse or in the healing arts, you will benefit personally and you will have new ways of helping clients.

The Tellington TTouch has been used successfully for:

  • Relieving stress
  • Releasing unfounded fears
  • Recovery from stroke
  • Pain relief in neck, back and legs
  • Pain relief from migraines
  • Depression
  • Arthritis

Perhaps best of all is the general feeling of well-being that so many experience.

Grandiose claims, demands for money, too-good-to-be-true ease…is there anything to distinguish this from a Nigerian e-mail scam? Yes, a little hilarity. Brace yourself: the discoverer of this amazing ability is an animal trainer. Elsewhere on the site you will discover that:

The Tellington TTouch can help in cases of:

  • Excessive Barking & Chewing
  • Leash Pulling
  • Jumping Up
  • Aggressive Behavior
  • Extreme Fear & Shyness
  • Resistance to Grooming
  • Excitability & Nervousness
  • Car Sickness
  • Problems Associated With Aging
  • This gentle method is currently being used by animal owners, trainers, breeders, veterinarians, zoo personnel and shelter workers in several countries.

    Not only will you be able to help people recover from strokes with this skill, but you can keep your dog from getting carsick. I hope their webmaster never makes the mistake of mixing up the contents of those two pages above.

    I am embarrassed. Why is my university hawking this snake-oil? Why, when money is tight, aren’t we jettisoning this bit of quackery? The University of Colorado experienced something similar in 1994, investigated their nursing school’s promotion of Therapeutic Touch, and despite concluding that TT was bunkum, decided to allow the School of Nursing to continue with it.

    The report itself gives us a clue as to the justification for this decision: “TT is potentially a source of considerable income. Training in TT is not complex and arduous and the practice of TT does not require a large investment in equipment or personnel.” Indeed, Quinn’s Healing Touch training brings in a substantial amount of money for the nursing school. A set of three HT videotapes featuring Quinn sells for $675. Healing Touch classes cost $225 each for the first three levels and $325 each for the next two levels.

    But training is not the only cash cow associated with TT. Recently, over half a million dollars of public tax money has been spent on Therapeutic Touch research. The National Institutes of Health has given $150,000 in grants, the Department of Health and Human Services has granted $200,000, and most recently the Department of Defense granted $355,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham — all for studies of TT. The study at UAB, to be conducted on burn patients, was billed as being the study that would finally settle the question as to the effectiveness of TT.

    I suspect something similar is going on here. The Center for Spirituality and Healing brags about bringing in the grant money.

    The Center is committed to exploring integrative therapies in the context of rigorous science. Recently achieving the distinction of becoming a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-designated Developmental Center for CAM Research – one of only three in the nation – Center faculty are currently engaged in basic science, clinical trials and health services research.

    In a highly competitive field, faculty have been awarded an NIH center grant, individual R01 and R21 grants, and an NIH education/curriculum grant in addition to numerous foundation grants. Additionally, an NIH clinical research fellowship program funded by K-30 and T-32 grants was established in conjunction with Hennepin County Medical Center and Northwestern Health Sciences University, both in Minnesota.

    I despise Northwestern Health Sciences University. It’s our regional quack mill, offering training or degrees in acupuncture, oriental medicine, and chiropractic. They’re also flush with cash, judging by all the tchotchkes and spam mail they send me. Associating with them does not make me less grumpy about this.

    I’m also not happy to see that our university is milking NCCAM. NCCAM is a ghastly federal boondoggle, a way to redirect money away from legitimate scientific research and into the hands of witchdoctors and shamans and psychic investigators and other charlatans.

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was established in 1998, seven years after the creation of its predecessor, the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). The OAM had been formed not because of any medical or scientific need, but because Iowa senator Tom Harkin and former Iowa representative Berkeley Bedell believed in implausible health claims as a result of their own experiences. Bedell thought that “Naessens Serum” had cured his prostate cancer and that cow colostrum had cured his Lyme disease. He recommended “alternative medicine” to his friend Harkin, who subsequently came to believe that bee pollen had cured his hay fever.

    I think I’m more than embarrassed. I’m a bit disgusted. Why is the University of Minnesota supporting these frauds? Even if the NCCAM is an income stream, it’s dirty money, and shouldn’t we have a little self-respect and dignity?

    This article was first published on Pharyngula and appears here by permission.

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