Many massage therapists have stories where they can pinpoint a time when they knew massage therapy was a means to help others.
For Emory Widener, LMT, it was in high school when he first experienced the healing power of touch from a massage. After sports practice, his mom would rub his back and give him a massage.
Today, Widener is one of a growing number of massage therapists who practice what they call laying on of hands, aiming to help others through Christian prayer and healing touch.
“I am a Christian, so I am a student of the Bible,” Widener said. “We see throughout the Old and New Testament that the laying on of hands is a healing modality but also a blessing in the reception of the Holy Spirit.”
The laying on of hands is a symbolic act that comes from the Old Testament in the Bible. This act is a way to set Christian believers apart from nonbelievers and for them to experience spiritual blessings.
In the Catholic tradition, laying on of hands is done to provide sacrament, in ceremonies and to convey rank. Christian churches today use laying on of hands for various reasons. The Church of the Great God in Fort Mill, South Carolina, for example, “uses the laying on of hands for requesting the Holy Spirit after baptism, anointing the sick, ordaining ministers, consecrating marriage vows, blessing little children, and requesting spiritual gifts of God.”
A growing number of trained and state-credentialed massage therapists are using words like “God’s hands,” laying of hands,” “heavenly massage” and “God’s gift” in their business names and marketing materials. Widener’s Denver-area practice is called The Laying on of Hands Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
With Reiki, Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch and other types of energy work claiming to channel universal power and spirit, is Christian-based bodywork any different? MASSAGE Magazine spoke to massage therapists practicing this work, as well as a respected educator, to find out.
Ritisha Hall, LMT, has been a massage therapist for five years, and she has been practicing laying on of hands for five years as well.
Hall experienced the power of touch at a young age when her mom would have Hall massage her feet. She knew that giving her mom a massage was something that her mom enjoyed, and she liked being a part of making her mom feel good.
One day when Hall was in massage school, she had a vision about healing. She said it was then that she knew that she was put in a position to heal people, not so much in the anatomical sense, but in the spiritual sense.
In Hall’s practice, laying on of hands just looks like a regular massage, she said.
“If you’ve ever experienced what a massage looks like, it’s just a transferring of energy,” said Hall. “Even though my hands are on the client I’m just transferring the energy to the body.”
She doesn’t tell her clients that she is praying for them. She said that “it just kind of happens, and they don’t know I’m doing it.”
With regular clients, she will follow up with them to ask about their massage. She said that she has seen great healing results come from her practice.
Widener became a licensed massage therapist in 2009, and has practiced in the state of Colorado for three years. He also practices laying on of hands in his massage practice.
To do actual laying on of hands though, Widener said that he must get his client’s consent. He does this via a conversation with the client, telling them that they will be prayed for through Jesus Christ.
“It’s really an ethical requirement, and it is in reference to 1 Timothy 5:22, which says, ‘Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,’” he said. “We obviously don’t want to do something that the client isn’t looking for.”
He said that clients come to his practice specifically for laying on of hands. His practice looks like a 90-minute massage session that can include techniques such as neuromuscular therapy with a verbal or silent prayer depending on the request.
Unlike other forms of energy work, like Reiki, Widener said, laying on of hands’ energy is specifically about Jesus Christ.
From his practice with laying on of hands he has seen his clients achieve amazing results.
“I’ve seen a few goals met, people have had pains and have had some degree of relief,” he said. “I’ve seen people get to know Jesus and know him on a deeper level.”
Reiki, a “Gift of God’s Love”
Elaine Andres is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Portland, Oregon. She is a Reiki master, and she has been teaching Reiki since 1984. For her, Reiki is also laying on of hands. Reiki is a form of energy work whose practitioners say channels energy by means of touch.
Andres said she doesn’t understand what happens in the process of energy work, and she said that it’s tough for her to know what her clients experience. She said that what she experiences when she lays her hands on someone doesn’t always make sense to her, but she is alright with that.
Andres was introduced to Reiki through the wife of a Christian minister at her church. One day, when Andres was over at the woman’s house for dinner, Andres’ shoulder was hurting. The lady laid her hands on Andres’ shoulder and it felt better. The experience led to her journey to becoming a Reiki master.
“My experience was that during my first and second degree work I didn’t experience any energy, and it took a few classes before I felt any heat in my hands,” she said.
Andres said she believes that her Reiki ability is a gift from God, and she said that belief has defined her journey with energy work.
“The scriptures teach us about hands-on healing prayer that early churches practiced to help people heal. To me, Reiki and the laying on of hands lined up,” she said. “I never saw anything contrary in my experience that indicated anything other than a gift of God’s love.”
Pray with Permission
Ruth Werner, a researcher, author and educator in the field of massage therapy, said that the definition of energy work can be difficult to pin down. Werner is also a former president of the Massage Therapy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting massage therapy research.
“[Energy work] can mean whatever you want it to be,” she said. “As a teacher and a person who works with words it’s meaningless. Energy work is a metaphor for something we haven’t pinned down, including client expectation, placebo effect, therapeutic relationship and time.”
Time, Werner said, can be a big part of energy’s work’s success because the client is in a place where a massage therapist is directly caring for them.
“When you are in a private space with the time and the space to feel what you are feeling, [energy work] can feel like magic,” she said. “If people want to put another aspect on top of that, it’s between them and their clients.”
As with all types of massage therapy, massage therapists need to make sure that they are staying within their scope of practice and following ethical considerations about permission. Massage therapists should not perform rituals on someone or pray for them without their permission, Werner said, because it is unethical in a professional setting.
“If you are a true believer, and you believe your prayer has the power to overcome the laws of physics, then you don’t wield that without your client’s permission,” she said.
About the Author:
Hannah Fell is the former associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and Chiropractic Economics.