Glow and behold
A vital energy force flowing through all organic life that can be manipulated for healing the body and mind. Any of this sound familiar?
Energy medicine, while considered in the West to be an alternative therapy not subject to rigorous evidence-based examination, clearly has a lot in common with traditional Chinese medicine. The supposed non-physical energy at the heart of it bears a strong resemblance to qi, and treatments are often similar to reiki and qigong healing.
Therapies that purport to treat this kind of theoretical energy field suffer from a credibility problem in Western medical circles. Regardless of how many practitioners claim the therapies work, and how many patients say they have benefited from them, the absence of solid scientific evidence remains a major stumbling block for many people.
One such practitioner, Tjitze de Jong, who refers to himself as an energetic cellular healer (you'll also hear names including biofield energy healer, spiritual healer and contact healer), visited Hong Kong recently to conduct private healing sessions and courses.
De Jong's main claim is that his healing can be effective against cancer - all types of cancer, he says, of any duration, in any part of the body (except, for some unknown reason, brain tumours). His trip here was the first time he'd taken his practice away from the Findhorn eco-spiritual community in northern Scotland, where he attracts patients from around the world to a clinic that has been fully booked for the past 16 years.
After starting his professional life as a crisis social worker in his native Netherlands, 20 years ago, de Jong, on the advice of a friend, went to Findhorn to take a short course in massage - and never left. That was partly because he felt at home there, and partly because he discovered he had a talent for massage. Within a year, he was fully booked as a massage therapist, attracting clients from more than 150 kilometres away to a small community 25 kilometres from the nearest town, served by just three buses a week.
Then things got stranger. 'During the massages, I started to see black strings from people's mouths, throats and bodies,' he says. 'I thought I was going crazy.' Fortunately, looking through a local library, he found the spiritual healing classic Hands of Light, by American author and healer Barbara Brennan, which exactly described some of the phenomena he had seen. Within two weeks he was in Florida on a course at Brennan's School of Healing.
When he opened his own clinic, the waiting list was soon up to a year. He returned to Brennan's school 30 times, graduating as a healer in 2001, and, in 2007, as a teacher of healing science, after which he opened his own Energetic Cellular Healing School. He claims some startling results among his patients, such as one woman whose CT scans showed that her cancer had spread all over her body before seeing him, and that it had completely disappeared afterwards. (Her doctor, says de Jong, commented that 'it's great you get so much benefit, but I'm not allowed to believe that it works'.)
Energy here is defined as a life force, something that differentiates living from non-living objects, often conceptualised as a field, and it's completely different from the physical type of energy. That there is absolutely no scientific evidence for this type of energy's existence is something de Jong cheerfully admits, although other people's scepticism seems to frustrate him.
Edzard Ernst, for example, the world's first professor of complementary and alternative medicine, at the University of Exeter, England, and a leading proponent of an evidence-based approach to alternative therapies, says that 'healing continues to be promoted despite the absence of biological plausibility or convincing clinical evidence that these methods work therapeutically and plenty to demonstrate that they do not'. In his book, Trick or Treatment, co-written with science writer Simon Singh, he adds: 'At best it may offer comfort; at worst it can result in charlatans taking money from patients with serious conditions who require urgent conventional medicine.'
Perhaps part of the problem is the tendency of proponents and practitioners of energy medicine to use language almost calculated to infuriate fans of science. When treating a patient, de Jong says, as well as getting information verbally about their condition, he also closely observes 'how their chakras and aura function', and then, via his touch, 'the energy from around us energises and balances their field. It can be locally clearing and restructuring a chakra, aura or organ, or it can be spiritual surgery where a spirit guide works through me.' He also claims to talk with sprites in the forest near his home.
The energy field he manipulates, he adds, can be manipulated by anyone. 'I never promise I can heal you. I don't heal. I'm the simple son of a Dutch pig farmer and I've got no specific skills. Anyone can do it. I learned it.'
Susan Jamieson, a qualified medical doctor who describes herself as an integrative specialist, using traditional Chinese and Indian medicine along with Western alternative practices as complementary treatments, was responsible for bringing de Jong to Hong Kong. While theoretically anyone can heal, she says, 'anyone can play the piano - it's not complex - but some will be better at it than others.'
She sees her belief in de Jong's powers as empirical, because it's based on what appears to help people - for whatever reason.
'As doctors, we have to be open to what benefits the patient and not bring our own prejudices to it,' she says. 'I'm a scientist and I don't want to endorse anything flaky. We can't say that Chinese medicine or acupuncture is rubbish - people do it, it works and it's ancient. We're recognising the qi force that the Chinese have recognised for centuries and trying to bring it within the framework of science. I think science is behind. We'll probably find out in 10 or 20 years how it works, but for the moment I don't need to know. It doesn't do any harm and it seems to help people.'
As ever with alternative therapies, however, perhaps the main harm it can do is to your bank balance. 'Everything we do can be explained, but it goes into realms that can't be tested scientifically,' adds de Jong.
'Most people are not open to it - they're scared of it, because it's untouchable, unscientific. All you have to do is open up and become an instrument of it. It's been around for thousands of years.'
And still we're waiting for proof that it works.