Review of HANDS OF LIFE: An Energy Healer Reveals the Secrets of Using Your Body’s Own Energy Medicine for Healing, Recovery, and Transformation, by Julie Motz, 309 pp. New York: Bantam Books, 1998. ISBN 0-553-10714-3, $24.95.
Energy healer Julie Motz was once a troubled young film student with a history of bulimia, attempted suicide, childhood sexual abuse, a physically abusive relationship with a jealous man, and seduction by her therapist. Group therapy put her in touch with her anger, and a back injury led her to experiment with alternative treatments such as macrobiotics, Reiki, acupuncture, and chiropractic. She indiscriminately accepted every new idea (except, for some reason, past lives and alien abductions), believing that “Everything works for somebody and nothing works for everybody.” She began trying to heal others, believed she succeeded, and developed her own methods and hypotheses about energy healing along the way. This book describes her journey and how she came to use her techniques in the operating room.
Heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, made her a part of his hospital team. She made a lot of suggestions, including a macrobiotic diet, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, changing light from fluorescent to incandescent, and cleaning the floors only with natural cleansers. She predictably encountered resistance from the medical establishment, but eventually was allowed into the operating room during open-heart surgery.
In the OR, she touches patients at various meridians and acupressure points. She feels in herself what the patient’s body is experiencing, and has auditory hallucinations that make her briefly wonder if she is crazy: “I hear, with what set of ears I do not know, the vein screaming in terror…. the heart moaning in confusion and pain.” She communicates with the anesthetized patient by touch, speech and thought. She works with the patient’s energy field, which concentrates around the head under anesthesia and sometimes tries to leave the body. She helps the (unconscious) patient feel the emotions that are evoked by the surgery. She reassures and welcomes the transplanted heart and thanks the body for accepting it; she communes with the blood cells and tells them to pretend they are cerebrospinal fluid as they flow through the bypass pump. Dr. Oz credits her with the success when a transplanted heart is persuaded to start beating, saying he didn’t know what she did in there, but he’d never seen a heart come back so fast.
Postoperatively, she stabilizes a patient’s BP by feeling his feet, evoking the memory of a lost dog, and instructing him to tell the dog good-by and to share the pain with his new heart. She heals a bedsore by “sending the blocked energy in the area down his leg.” In addition, she achieves “almost a hundred-percent success rate working with back pain, sore throats, and colds.”
Her techniques work at a distance and do not require the patient’s belief or even knowledge. In one case, she works from the room next door to raise a patient’s oxygen level. In another, she thinks about the patient from her home at a pre-arranged time, and as she deals with his supposed memories, the patient falls asleep.
She employs psychodrama. Patients act out their anger and relive emotions that were going on in their life at the time their illness began. Later she learns to trace these emotions back to their causes in prenatal life.
She believes that acupuncture meridians and the concept of qi energy “have a functional but not a physical reality in the body.” She doesn’t explain how a non-physical reality could function to affect changes in a physical reality. She expands acupuncture theory by “coming up with” her own associations of organs and meridians with emotions.
She is big on correlations and on the number four. There are four and only four basic feelings: fear, anger, pain and love. Four forces correspond to these four emotions:
electromagnetism, the force that, as light and electricity, governs observation and communication, corresponds to fear. Gravitation is anger, with its accelerative power. The nuclear force is pain, with its power to pull in toward the center. The weak force, the last to be discovered and to date the most mysterious, is active whenever neutrinos are released or absorbed, as in the hydrogen-helium reaction which fuels stars like our sun, sending billions of neutrinos out into space. It corresponds to love, the radiant feeling of creation and connection.
In depression, internalized anger increases the gravitational field. In contrast, patients weigh less after massage because it decreases the gravitational field.
Love is time, space is fear, matter is pain, energy is anger. There are four body fluids (CSF, blood, lymph and synovial), four tissues that carry emotions (nerves carry fear, muscles carry anger, bones hold memory and pain, bone marrow carries love), four tissues that carry defenses (hate=skin, resentment=fat, contempt=tendons, joy=ligaments), four neurotransmitters corresponding to the four emotions, and four chambers of the heart corresponding to the four emotions (left atrium= fear, etc.).
She includes detailed charts showing the correlations between meridians, organs, chakras, colors, emotions, etc. Of course, most of these ideas are examples of primitive, magical thinking in which superficial similarities or poetic analogies are believed to signify identity and function. She has no respect for modern scientific thought, and fatuously offers as truth the obvious falsehood that “Three thousand years of energy-based Chinese and Indian medicine [have had] just as high a cure rate as our own.”
Working with breast cancer patients, she observes that maternal abuse, neglect, narcissism and resentment occur too commonly to be ignored; a mother’s bitterness about nurturing must cause breast cancer in her daughter. Gradually, she comes to the conclusion that health is determined by prenatal experiences. She believes memory precedes the formation of the nervous system. She comes to believe her own bulimia was a reenactment of her fetal rejection of toxins from the placenta, toxins created by her mother’s feelings during pregnancy. She pretends that she “curls up from her father’s left testicle” and finds herself re-experiencing something from his boyhood. In a male patient, she feels “A sadness swirled around in the place where his womb would be if he were a girl…” reflecting his mother’s feelings when she became pregnant with him.
Patients create their illnesses and bring treatments into their lives in order to relive their traumas. The CCU (coronary care unit) represents infancy, the operating room represents the womb, surgery reactivates the trauma of gestation, chemotherapy recapitulates receiving chemical toxicity in the womb, radiation therapy recapitulates hostile thinking on the part of the parents.
Most chronic disease begins in the womb, and the relationship of parents to themselves, to each other, to their own parents, and to their unborn child sets the state for that child’s future health.
She doesn’t think surgeries (or any treatment involving burning, cutting or poisoning) should be done, because people shouldn’t be allowed to get that sick. The money going into medical research should be diverted to helping people resolve their emotional interpersonal conflicts.
How does this energy healing work? She proposes an unintelligible mishmash of vibration, synchronization, neutrinos, chakras, and misunderstood quantum theory. She thinks an electron in a sick person’s body behaves differently from an electron in a healthy person’s body. She thinks every organ, cell, and fluid has an awareness and an intention. She thinks de Broglie matter waves can carry feelings between people faster than the speed of light. She surmises that anger held in cells electromagnetically damages DNA bonds.
Motz’s father is a physicist, and he tries to tell her these ideas do not fit with what science knows about energy. In response, she holds a pendulum over one of his chakras and as it swings, she asks him where the energy comes from to make it move. Sadly, he is unaware of the ideomotor illusion and answers that he doesn’t know. (Note: the ideomotor illusion occurs when expectations and unrecognized causes lead to muscle action that is voluntary but is not consciously recognized as being voluntary, as in planchette movement on the Ouija board or dipping of the forked stick in dowsing.)
She believes that whatever occurs to her mind is a true representation of the patient’s memories and feelings. She never even considers other possible explanations. She makes no attempt to verify these intuitions. She simply accepts as truth everything her intuition suggests. She takes credit for every improvement, and uses no controls. She gives us no data to determine whether her ministrations have any actual effect on outcome.
Her attentions may make some patients feel better (through personal support and positive thinking), but it is unlikely that they have any effect on the course of illness (and she presents no evidence to support that idea). On the other hand, she may do a great deal of harm. She reports trying to dissuade patients from chemotherapy and being disappointed when they choose it anyway. She takes a child off Ritalin and has him reenact his prenatal life. She tells patients their parents didn’t want them. She encourages patients to remember real and imaginary traumas, to suffer through psychodrama, to wrongly assign blame, and to avoid standard medical therapy in favor of wishful thinking.
This book epitomizes the philosophical approach that is behind much of the alternative medicine movement. Anything is possible, a mystical “vital energy” is proposed, critical thinking is scrupulously avoided, “everything works,” intuition is a valid way of knowing, truth is many-sided, and similarity signifies identity. Modern technological medicine is impersonal and unnecessary: we can prevent illness from occurring in the first place. The scientific method is thrown out the window.
This philosophy appeals to many people. My local public library purchased four copies of Motz’s book in 1999 and has purchased three more copies since then. The seven copies have been checked out a total of 138 times. The same library has only one copy of Stephen Barrett’s The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America. The library catalog lists 96 titles under “parapsychology” 55 under “new age movement,” 12 under “reincarnation therapy,” 17 under “alien abduction,” and 17 under “chakras.” It lists only three titles under “pseudoscience,” and three under “quacks and quackery.” Motz’s book, incidentally, is listed under “Vital force – therapeutic use” along with three other titles: Energy Now, Awakening the Healer Within, and The Therapeutic Touch. Fuzzy thinking seems to be far more acceptable than critical thinking in today’s climate.
There may be a relationship between emotion and disease, but so far, no convincing studies have shown that changes in emotion or thoughts affect the outcome of any disease. And there is no evidence that the proposed chakras, meridians, tissue memories, prenatal memories and human energy fields exist; in fact, there are compelling scientific reasons to think that they do not exist. Further research may be in order, but the surgeons go too far when they allow Motz to practice her brand of unsubstantiated voodoo nonsense in a modern hospital. One wonders what kind of informed consent patients are able to give.
Students of psychology may profit from reading this book as a case study of how a delusional system can develop, support itself with illusions, and reward the ego. Motz is seduced by the gratitude of her patients and by her feelings of competence and power. She herself admits, “I realized with some pain how invested I was in having my patients think that I’m wonderful, at all times and in every way. I couldn’t bear to think I’d disappointed them. I needed their love much more than they need my healing, I thought.” It is sad to see Motz’s imagination and intelligence become prostituted to a self-serving fiction, and sadder still to see her inflict this fiction on vulnerable patients.
This article was originally published in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.