Eileen Day McKusick is founder of The Biofield Tuning Institute, an author and originator of the sound therapy method Biofield Tuning. She wrote this guest editorial for MASSAGE Magazine on the topic of the limitations inherent in double-blind research protocols as applied to energetic therapies.
We have been conditioned in this culture to reject any kind of practice that has not been verified by double blind studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
This gold standard of research, which is largely utilized in drug trials, is considered the only real validation of any so-called claims.
In this model, the plural of anecdote is not data—meaning the experiences of my now thousands of clients, and the experiences of the many thousands of my hundreds of students, simply do not count.
When we dig deeper into this model however, we find many problems.
But first, I want to give you some background on my experience in the health care field, and the experiences of my clients.
Energetic Therapies: Observations
Twenty-one years ago, I ordered a set of tuning forks for healing and began to incorporate them into my massage therapy practice. I had read several books on the use of color, sound and music in healing, on the heels of being exposed to the notion that everything is essentially vibrating energy.
If everything is ultimately vibration, and we as humans are vibration, then treating vibration with vibration simply makes sense. In fact, this notion appealed to my logic-oriented mind.
When I first started using the tuning forks, I made unexpected observations. One was that the sound being produced by the tuning fork would change in pitch, volume and timbre as I moved it over different parts of the body.
Sometimes it would go flat or sharp, loud or soft or full of static. I began to notice correlations between the sound the fork made and what people were reporting.
For example, if someone had sharp pain, the tone of the fork would sound sharp or shrill when held over that specific area. If someone had dull pain, the fork might sound full of static.
Furthermore, I discovered if I kept activating the fork and holding it in the area where the tone became distorted, after a few moments the sound would change and become more pleasing and harmonic.
The body seemed to recognize the dissonance and auto-correct itself. People would return for sessions the following week and say things like, “All that pain in my shoulder went away after you did that to me last week–that was cool! Do that sound thing again.”
People also reported feeling calmer, clearer and lighter. Everyone wanted more. And so in fairly short order, my part-time massage practice morphed into a part-time sound healing practice.
I experimented with the tuning forks part-time for 10 years. It was endlessly fascinating. I was always making new discoveries and getting compelling feedback from my clients. But it was also somewhat consternating, because whenever I told people I was using tuning forks for healing I encountered this kind of universal skepticism and dismissal.
I couldn’t argue with this.
Even to me, my work sounded painfully “woo woo.” Someone even said to me once, “You know of all the woo woo stuff out there, what you do comes across as the most woo woo.”
Given that I am one of the most logical, practical people I know, being received in this way was very hard to take. I had no desire for it to be my vocation, largely because I did not want to be perceived as New Age or airy-fairy.
But then, in 2006, I had an experience with a client that changed everything.
Up until this point, I had just worked right over the body. I had discovered that loud spots, which I equated with areas of more energy, could actually be dragged around with the tuning forks, like a magnetic stylus drags around iron filings.
I decided if the body was going to be loud anywhere, it probably should be loudest over the nerve plexuses along the spine, which are associated with the Vedic chakras.
My process became one of finding loud spots, clicking on them, and then dragging them to the nearest plexus, where I would drop them in. As you might expect, people felt very centered after receiving these treatments.
On this particular day I accidentally located a loud spot about two-and-a-half feet off to the left side of a client’s neck. I executed click, drag and drop on this loud spot—which felt very odd, to be moving one of these constructs that far—moving it to the center of the throat.
The client called me the next day to tell me the sense of pain and pulling she had felt in her neck and jaw and shoulder was completely gone.
She had been suffering with this for some time and had sought many different therapies but had gotten no relief. (Months later she reported to me that the issue had remained resolved.)
I was terrifically intrigued by this experience, and began exploring the region beyond the body, as far as my treatment room would allow, about six feet. I discovered walls, pockets, channels, turbulence, what felt like membranes—and all kinds of other curious and fascinating constructs.
And as I worked in this area, my therapeutic outcomes, which had already been powerful and tangible, became orders of magnitude more so.
Anxiety disorders, pain, digestive issues, migraines and more disappeared. It occurred to me that I was onto something important, something I needed to bring out into the world.
But the woo-woo image issue remained, and it wasn’t going to be an easy one to shift.
The Research Puzzle
I decided to attend college as an adult and seek to understand the phenomena I was encountering from a scientific and academic perspective.
I was able to complete my undergraduate and graduate degrees in four years, and produced a master’s thesis titled “Exploring the Effects of Audible Sound on the Body and its Biofield,” which then became the basis of my book, Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy.
Needless to say, writing an academic treatise on the use of tuning forks in the body’s aura or energy field was not easy to do. There was virtually no research that had been conducted and published on the therapeutic use of audible sound frequencies.
I also found plenty of research on music therapy, but that was actually quite different.
The closest thing I could find was research on Therapeutic Touch and other so-called biofield therapies, where practitioners were using their hands instead of tuning forks to do essentially the same thing I did with my forks.
I also undertook a study as part of my thesis. I wanted to see if I could visualize these auditory shifts. We suspended a sensitive microphone over the end of the fork and fed this data into a spectral analysis software program. What I discovered from this process is research is very grueling.
Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, took longer, and cost more than we anticipated. In the end, the forks needed to be struck against a hockey puck to be activated and this was virtually impossible to do consistently, which essentially negated all our data.
New information coming out about data in studies on many different drugs and medical procedures—studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals—shows that information in gold-standard studies may be cherry-picked, skewed, misrepresented or outright falsified.
As one example: The anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, produced by Merck allegedly underwent this gold-standard process, and yet it was revealed later that data was falsified and people were paid off. The drug was kept on the market until 2004, even after Merck learned that tens of thousands of people were killed by it. (The final death count was 55,000 patients, killed largely by heart attacks caused by Vioxx.)
In short, alleged objectivity of this process has revealed itself to be highly subjective and profit-driven.
Does this mean we shouldn’t conduct or trust research? Of course we should conduct research.
However, we need to acknowledge that some modalities, especially those related to energy and vibration, can’t be double-blinded. Some can’t even be single-blinded.
Can we collect before-and-after biomarkers of people’s physiologies? Absolutely; and we can also ask people how they feel.
In my opinion, that feeling piece is just as valid as the results of a large-scale, randomized, double-blinded study.
One way to make progress in the validation of energetic therapies is by employing the CARE case report guidelines. A statement from the CARE group notes:
“Value in healthcare is often expressed as outcomes divided by cost. Outcomes include clinician reported outcomes (case reports), and patient report outcomes.
“Systematic case reports—written following the CARE guidelines—provide evidence for the effectiveness of an intervention in real-world conditions.
“Clinical trials, on the other hand, provide evidence for the efficacy of an intervention in a controlled environment. ‘High quality evidence does not necessarily imply strong recommendations, and strong recommendations can arise from low quality evidence’ (Guyatt 2008).”
What’s Really Important?
I am at this moment involved in a research study that is a continuation of the work I did for my thesis.
I have developed a hypothesis that I call the Biofield Anatomy Hypothesis that states that our memories are stored in a kind of personal cloud, mathematically encoded in standing waves in the diffuse magnetic field around our bodies.
I have contracted with a team of research scientists to apply the scientific method to this hypothesis. I have had to spend a great many hours of my time, unpaid, to figure out this protocol, and to find and apply for grants to cover the costs of it.
Does this mean you should wait until the outcome of my research to show up in a peer-reviewed journal before you decide to sign up for one of my classes and discover how if you squeeze a trigger point between two vibrating forks that it can virtually melt them away?
To answer that question you’ll need to answer this question first: What is really more important to you when it comes right down to it? Other peoples’ stories and experiences, or data in a peer- reviewed journal?
I find that over the years many people have come to my table a skeptic—maybe they were even dragged to a session by their partner or family member.
But I have never had anyone leave a skeptic.
Everyone hears the changes in tones, feels things moving around in their bodies, and notices they experience a state change afterward. Then they tell their friends.
This is one of the reasons why Sound Healing is currently exploding in popularity: People who experience it, whether a sound bath with singing bowls or gongs, a treatment with tuning forks, or binaural beats through headphones, notice they feel better afterward.
And that is how a process that has yet to be validated by science becomes known: Individuals discover that it works for them and they share that information.
I am continuing in my quest to understand the science behind Biofield Tuning—but the lack of research on energetic therapies is not holding progress of my method back, as the people experiencing shifts in health on all levels are sharing their stories and becoming practitioners themselves.
A guest editorial represents the opinion of its author and is not intended to represent the viewpoint of MASSAGE Magazine.
Eileen Day McKusick is the originator of the sound therapy method Biofield Tuning, founder of The Biofield Tuning Institute, and author of the best-selling, Nautilus Award-winning book, Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy.
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