Hands that Heal

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Researchers at Kennedy Krieger Investigate Whether Energy Therapy Can Benefit Children with Developmental Disabilities

To an outsider, it looks like the small boy is having fun with a baby-sitter. As he moves from toy to toy, his "sitter" follows him, occasionally placing her hands on his arms and legs. She tries to touch his head, but he pushes her hand away. She spends a lot of time pressing lightly on his chest. When he gets tired, she keeps applying light pressure as he becomes more and more relaxed. As the boy starts to nod off, she steps back, ending the session.

"Whatever it was she did, it really relaxed him, because he just zonked out," says Yolanda Day, mother of 3-year-old Maliq. "Something must have happened, I just don't know what."

Maliq is a participant in a current Kennedy Krieger research study exploring the benefits of energy therapy for children with autism. He and his 5-year-old brother Malcolm, who also has autism, each saw energy healer and author Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere six times over a two-week period this past summer. Bruyere has been a recognized leader in the field of energy therapy for more than thirty years and has been involved in clinical research at institutions such as UCLA and the Menninger Clinic.

Although Mrs. Day hasn't noticed much of a difference in Maliq's communication abilities, she did see one very significant change in his overall health: her son's twice-monthly asthma attacks stopped, and he's only had to use his nebulizer once. "No one told her he had asthma, so I thought it was weird that she spent so much time on his chest, since autism mostly affects the brain," says Mrs. Day.

Energy therapy relies on the scientific principle that all living organisms exude energy, and that it is possible for that energy to be disrupted. "All of us have had an experience where we've had someone walk up behind us and, without seeing anything at all, we knew they were there," says Lana Warren, Ed.D., Vice President of Clinical Programs and Inpatient Services at Kennedy Krieger. "That's someone entering into our energy field." The study involving Maliq and Malcolm is one of several current Kennedy Krieger studies designed to determine whether energy can be used to help children with developmental disabilities better achieve their potential.

Therapists provide energy to supplement areas of blocked or depleted energy in a patient. When it is applied, the therapy may feel like a pulsating warmth. Eastern religions call this energy our aura and describe it visually as a vibrant rainbow. Bruyere can see and draw auras, which she says helps her to better understand her patients' needs. But the ability to see these auras is not a prerequisite to being a healer. Everyone has an energy field, so anyone can learn to become an energy therapist. According to Bruyere, her clients don't need to understand or believe in energy therapy in order for it to work. "You don't need to believe in the existence of oxygen in order to breathe it," she says.

Sharon Reeves, R.N., M.A.S., M.S.N., chief healthcare executive at Kennedy Krieger, learned about the potential that energy therapy has for children with developmental disabilities through a Kennedy Krieger board member, Sharon Seymour, for whom Bruyere has been a mentor and close friend for many years. "Kennedy Krieger is fortunate to have someone of Rosalyn's caliber researching the benefits of energy for children with disorders of the brain," says Seymour.

The Institute launched the current studies to determine whether the therapy has value for patients with developmental disabilities as it would do for any other potentially beneficial therapy, Reeves says. "A fundamental underpinning for all of us as clinicians is that we have a responsibility to be knowledgeable about each and every care delivery model that could make a difference in our kids' and their families' lives," she says. "This is something that has been practiced for many years and proven to cause no harm. When we're presented with something that's safe and could make a difference, we have a responsibility to provide the best and to explore beyond the traditional treatment methods."

With the blessing of Institute officials and financial support through a grant from a private foundation, Bruyere has made three two-week trips to the Institute every year since 1999. The Institute has conducted several pilot studies on energy therapy in medically fragile babies as well as children with traumatic brain injuries, autism and ADHD. So far, the scientific findings of the studies have been inconclusive, but anecdotally, many parents have noticed subtle improvements in their children improvements many don't know how to explain.

Kenny Jones was 2 years old when he toppled into a neighbor's swimming pool in August 2000 and nearly drowned. The resulting spasticity in his limbs left the once-active toddler curled in a tight, fetal position. Kenny's two weeks of energy therapy with Rosalyn Bruyere complemented his traditional rehabilitation program.

"My husband and I were a little skeptical at first, but then we started seeing Kenny's body unfold and grow like a flower does from a seed," says mother Karenna Jones. "I don't know how energy therapy works, but it does. His muscles were so tight before, and now he's much more relaxed. He can sit up in a wheelchair, has been fishing on a boat, and started therapeutic horseback riding in June. I don't believe he'd have gotten there without energy therapy."

Several parents of children with autism noticed their children relaxing more after meetings with Bruyere. "Ian's always been pretty high strung, and he was much calmer for a good two weeks after he met with Rev. Bruyere," says Jennifer Haupt, mother of the five-year-old boy. "And before he saw her, he'd never turn his head and acknowledge you when you called his name. He still does that 80 percent of the time."

Mrs. Day noticed similar changes in her older son Malcolm. "He does a little better with listening and comprehending if someone says Look over here!' and points, he'll turn around and do it now. He never would before," she says.

Dr. Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is leading the study involving energy therapy's benefits for children with autism. The study involves videotaping children both before and after sessions with Bruyere. Screeners watch the tapes and rate the children in terms of their play habits, their attention spans, and how much they initiate contact with others. Dr. Landa plans to wait for all of the data to be finalized before drawing any conclusions about the therapy's impact, but says that the logic behind energy therapy is sound, even if its effects are difficult to quantify. "You can't see radiation, but it can cure you of cancer. If you really think about things, the body is designed to heal. But, stress and the body's chemical response to stress can injure its ability to function properly," she says. "There probably are things that can be done to facilitate the healing process, and perhaps Rosalyn's therapy can help children reach a more regulated state where the body can do its natural work."

Indeed, Bruyere, who studied to be an engineer before deciding to devote her life to energy therapy, sees her work as a complement to traditional medicine, not an alternative. "My clients often see traditional doctors as well. Energy therapy helps the body to work with medicine to heal, and it doesn't work as well by itself," she says.

Kennedy Krieger recently surveyed parents of children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, ADHD and autism to gauge their experience with and interest in complementary medicine. "It turned out that these parents had a much greater breadth of knowledge and experience in these fields than we did," Reeves says. That's not surprising, says Dr. Landa. "Autism impairs so many aspects of these children's lives. Families are really out there drumming up whatever safe therapy they can try, so the concept of complementary treatment is not a new one," she says.

Dr. Warren and Reeves hope the preliminary data generated by the current energy therapy studies provide the Institute with enough information to pursue a grant from the National Institutes of Health to further explore the potential of energy therapies and other non-traditional types of treatment. The NIH already maintains its own center for alternative medicine for which Bruyere was one of the original consultants which demonstrates the interest the medical establishment has in energy therapy and other methods of complementary medicine.

With enough evidence of the positive effects of energy therapy, the Institute can begin incorporating it into existing therapy programs. More than 25 Kennedy Krieger employees, including Dr. Warren, are completing lectures and hands-on training with Bruyere to become energy healers themselves. The intent is to one day have the Institute's nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists incorporate energy therapy into day-to-day care and show parents how to use the therapy at home. Dr. Warren says: "This work allows us to expand the scope of our healing environment and create a more healing place."

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