Does hands-on "energy healing" really work or are outcomes attributed to such healing merely a matter of self-healing, as in the placebo effect? This is what sociologist (by day) and energy researcher (by night?) William Bengston set out to test, motivated by his own remarkable experience with an energy healer who cured his intractable back pain. To avoid the placebo effect, he used laboratory mice instead of human subjects. The mice were injected with a form of cancer that would normally cause fatal tumors within a few weeks. This mouse-model of cancer development is a standard, well-understood method of conducting cancer research, used in dozens of laboratories around the world. No mice ever spontaneously cured themselves of this cancer, and the best cancer drugs in the world only slow its progression. Bengston hoped that if an energy healer could slow the cancer growth in these mice even a little, as measured by a few more days of survival than expected, it would provide dramatic evidence that something big was going on. Bengston got his evidence…and then some. Here's a short excerpt from his new book:
About a week into the treatment, I was changing the litter in the cage when I observed lumps on two of the mice. One had a growth near its left hind leg while the other had one near its left front leg. Since Dave Krinsley* and I had anticipated that a successful treatment meant no cancer would occur, this was very depressing. And it got worse. Two more mice soon developed lumps, while those on the first two continued to grow bigger. When all five had tumors, I called Dave, ready to end the obviously failed experiment by putting the mice out of their misery. He urged me to continue until he had a chance to come to the storeroom to see for himself.
To say I now harbored doubts would be a gross understatement. By the time Dave arrived all the mice were misshapen with tumors. One had a third of its leg consumed by the growth. I was devastated.
Before his visit Dave had consulted with our biologist. Now he repeated to me what she told him. "This is a cancer that doesn’t spread. Instead, the mice get large external tumors which press against their internal organs, depriving them of nutrients and causing death through malnutrition.”
Now I felt worse. "These mice are obviously dying."
Dave wasn’t convinced. "They’re acting quite normally."
It was true. Even the mouse with the largest tumor continued to scuttle around the cage, occasionally fighting with the others. I had tried to calm them down, afraid they might injure one another – unconsciously, I suppose, I was wanting sick mice to act like sick mice. I also noticed that when I picked up the cage to begin a treatment, the mice would gravitate to my left palm, even laying their tumors against it. When I turned the cage so my left palm was on the other side, the mice shifted too.
During the next few days, Dave pressured me into keeping the experiment going. Odd blackened spots like pencil points had appeared on some, then all, of the tumors. I became increasingly depressed on behalf of the mice. Before I could convince Dave to terminate, we heard that two of the control mice had died on schedule and that the rest were in such poor condition they were expected to follow shortly.
Dave became even more optimistic about continuing. As he argued, “Perhaps the treatments are slowing down the cancer even if they can’t prevent it. There’s no record of a single mouse living past Day Twenty-Seven. Get one to live beyond twenty-eight days and we’ll have a world record.”
By Days Seventeen to Twenty-One, some of the tumors with their blackened spots had ulcerated. Though I assumed this to be the beginning of the end, the behavior of my mice had not changed. They were still cavorting as if nothing was wrong. This continued even after the ulcerations grew large, raw and red, as if holes had been burned into the mice.
By Day Twenty-Eight all five were still alive. I informed them, aloud, that they were making history. Privately, I wondered if the biologists would dismiss this as a fluke or even suspect fraud.
I noticed another change in three of my mice. The insides of their ulcerations had turned from red to white. Though I assumed this was infection, I found no pus or other discharge. Was it my imagination or were their tumors also shallower? During the next week the same whitening happened with the other two mice. More startling, I was now convinced the tumors were shrinking. As I watched day by day they completely disappeared and the mice’s fur regrew. My patients now looked the same as when we’d begun – little brown creatures of normal shape and size.
Dave and I were too stunned to jump to conclusions. Instead, he took the mice to the biologist for an expert opinion. We spent the evening together awaiting her report, reprising the emotions we’d experienced during the previous weeks – anxiety, disbelief, fear, foolishness, impatience, wonder, dread, frustration.
When the phone finally rang, I had to sit through a full repertoire of “yes’s,” “uh-huh’s,” and “oh-I-see’s” while waiting for Dave to finish. After he hung up, he walked right past me, mumbling something I couldn't understand and looking ill.
I ran after him. "What's wrong?"
“The mice are cancer-free. They’re cured!”
Excerpted from The Energy Cure: Unraveling the Mystery of Hands-On Healing (Sounds True, October 2010) by William Bengston, PhD, a professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s College in New York. In his early 20s, Bengston received hands-on healing ending his chronic back pain. A self-proclaimed skeptic, he began a 35-year scientific inquiry into the mystery and power of energy medicine. Hands-On Healing: A Training Course in the Energy Cure is a companion audio to the book. Visit bengstonresearch.com.
* Acknowledgements: David Krinsley, a friend and a geology professor from Queens College of the City University of New York, set up and funded the initial cancer experiments reported here.