Tellington TTouch- How to Sell Petting and Magic Rituals as a Powerful Healing Practice

Tellington TTouch is a subject I have long avoided, as I tried to avoid talking about pet psychics, because it is such vapid nonsense that there is really very little to discuss. As Thomas Jefferson once said, in another context,

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…

The description provided by the inventor of this magic ritual may help to illustrate the problem with trying to take TTouch seriously as a medical practice:

[TTouch] is a bodywork and training method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence — “turning on the electric lights of the body.” The TTouch is done on the entire body, each circular TTouch complete within itself. It is not necessary to understand anatomy to be successful in speeding up the healing of injuries or ailments, or changing undesirable habits or behavior.

This collection of impressive-sounding but meaningless words is worthy of a Deepak Chopra quote generator. “Cellular intelligence” gives the game away by its similarity to the “innate intelligence” of Palmer’s chiropractic, or the “vital force” of Hahnemann’s homeopathy, as well as “Q’i,” “Prana,” and all the other mystical energy forces that cannot be identified or evaluated by science but which magic healers claim to be able to manipulate to affect health.

TTouch, like Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and all the other varieties of faith-healing and “energy medicine” out there, is simply a spiritual practice masquerading as a medical treatment. None of the “energies” that are claimed to be behind these therapies and to have such tremendous power have ever been shown to actually exist, and none of the therapies themselves can provide convincing evidence of any effect beyond the placebo.

Ms. Tellington further illustrates the fundamentally faith-based nature of this personal religious healing practice in her use of language. She notes that, “My philosophy that all beings–humans and animals alike–are reflections of the Divine Whole formed the early basis of Tellington TTouch and anchors it today.” She frequently refers to “the magic of TTouch. And, of course, she employs the vague and deceptive references to “quantum” phenomena that are so common in efforts to make faith-healing methods sound scientifically legitimate:

This book is an introduction to quantum science, explaining how we can be effective with our intention working from a distance. This is not new but many people are just now awakening to the “infinite possibilities” offered by quantum science…you will discover fascinating studies that have been done around the world with many universities and research institutions about the effect of intention and the understanding that all information is contained in the quantum field and is available to us when we learn to listen.

The claims made for the effects of TTouch are broad, covering almost every aspect of the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of life:

a simple and effective means to relieve a vast range of common and uncommon health issues — from a simple headache to a life threatening emergency.

can improve performance and health

solutions to common behavioral and physical problems

helps establish a deeper rapport between humans and animals through increased understanding and more effective communication.

a newfound sense of well-being and renewal

relief from everyday physical and emotional issues such as headaches, backache, neck pain, depression, and sensitivity to touch.

can be effective in relieving asthma

teachers are using these techniques in the classroom to address behavioral issues and to facilitate problem-solving and positive growth and development in their students.

enhance relationships beyond the constraints of language. Parents are finding new channels to connect with their children. Spouses are deepening their relationships and discovering new ways to nurture one another in a non-sexual context. Friends come to new levels of understanding and appreciation. TTouch is a powerful tool to enrich all your interpersonal relationships.

TTouch-for-You is used successfully for:

  • Fostering a sense of well-being

  • Reducing stress

  • Pain relief in neck, back and legs

  • Migraine relief

  • Depression

  • Releasing unfounded fear and anxiety

  • Managing panic attacks

  • Management of arthritis pain

  • Stroke support

  • Enhancing focus and learning in the classroom

  • Helping youth at risk

  • Improved quality of life for seniors

  • Deepening interpersonal relationships

  • And much more

That’s a pretty impressive list of accomplishments for a system of touching rituals made up by one person based entirely on her own intuition. Unsurprisingly, however, there is absolutely no reliable evidence to support any of these claims. The TTouch web site claims, “We have also gathered a rich legacy of anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness of TTouch to enhance personal wellness and quality of life” without any apparent recognition that this is meaningless in terms of validating the claims made for the treatment (see discussion of anecdotal evidence below).

However, as is so often the case, there is an understanding on the part of those selling quackery that science has marketing value and people want to believe that such a powerful, life-changing treatment has been scientifically validated, even if they rely primarily on anecdotes to judge the practice themselves. So there is a page devoted to “Research and Studies.”

Nothing could illustrate more clearly the contempt and lack of understanding of science than the collection of links grouped under this heading. They consist almost entirely of anecdotes dressed up as science. Uncontrolled case reports or case series with no placebo control, subjective measures of effective, and little to no effort to account for chance and bias are the meat and potatoes of faux science used to promote rather than investigate alternative therapies.

The few links that lead to actual scientific research concern only the effects of touch in general. While there is evidence that some domesticated animal species seek human touch and that they both appear to enjoy it and exhibit physiologic responses that support this interpretation, that says nothing about the validity of the grand claims made for TTouch. Gentle touching almost certainly does have calming effects and generates real physiologic responses in domestic animals. But this gives us no reason to think the specific methods of Tellington TTouch are superior to, or any different at all, from ordinary petting or that there is any mystical energy involved. And it certainly does not justify claims to improve the healing of serious, even “life-threatening” disease!

Ultimately, TTouch is just one in a seemingly endless collection of magic rituals invented and successfully marketed by one individual based entirely on wishful thinking and anecdotes. There is no reason to think it has any more value than any gentle, kind touch, or that it can prevent or treat disease. TTouch is, however, a marvelous illustration of an impressive number of Warning Signs of Quackery. Here are a few of the items on Dr. Walt’s list that appear just on the first few pages of the TTouoch web site:

Is the product or practice promoted as a “Major Breakthrough,” “Revolutionary,” “Magic,” or “Miraculous”?

Do the promotions try to simply elicit an emotional reaction rather than present clear information to help you make an informed decision about the product?

Is only anecdotal or testimonial evidence used to support claims of effectiveness?

Are claims made about scientific support without giving specific details?

Is the information about the therapy or product being provided by a professional lacking in the proper credentials?

Are technical words used without a clear definition?

Would a treatment require you to abandon any well-established scientific laws or principles?

Is the treatment said to be effective for a wide variety of unrelated physiological problems?

Is the product a quick and easy fix for a complicated and frustrating condition?

Do proponents use statements that are basically true but unrelated to the therapy?

Does the proponent disguise the truth with vague and misleading statements?

A Word about Anecdotes and Testimonials
As has happened for every other product or practice I have criticized on this blog, I have no doubt I will receive a steady trickle of comments about TTouch saying, in essence, “I tried it and it worked” or “How can all those people who have used it be wrong?” I will try to pre-empt some of this by referring readers to this collection of articles explaining why anecdotes and testimonials prove absolutely nothing.

  1. They are unreliable because uncontrolled observation is very prone to error and misinterpretation.
  2. There is a bias in the posting of testimonials. People with positive experiences are more likely to share them than people with negative experiences, so they misrepresent what people are actually experiencing.
  3. Similar testimonials can be found to support every single treatment ever invented, including those proven to be useless or even harmful. If we accept testimonials as evidence, than everything works. It’s a test no treatment ever fails.
  4. Tens of thousands of year of trial-and-error and anecdote led to virtually no improvement in human health and longevity. A mere couple of centuries of relying on science instead has double our life expectancy, dramatically reduced death, disease, and suffering, and proven that science work better than stories.

I encourage you to read these articles that discuss in much more detail why anecdote simply don’t help us evaluate medical treatments.

Why We’re Often Wrong Testimonials Lie
The Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine
Why We Need Science: “I saw it with my own eyes” Is Not Enough
Don’t Believe your Eyes (or Your Brain)

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11 Responses to Tellington TTouch- How to Sell Petting and Magic Rituals as a Powerful Healing Practice

  1. Mona Lindau says:

    I am not sure that it matters how you do it, but slow firm petting does release oxytocin in both dogs and humans, there controlled studies on this. Also, when I have a long massage on my back, I can hardly move afterwards and it feels like I have had a load of Valium from the released endorphins. As the muscles and nerves are very similar in this respect, I can well believe that good slow firm petting on the back, thighs and shoulders will release endorphins in the dog and the dog will get a FeelGood feeling, just like humans. And the FeelGood may help pain and depression temporarily. But that is as far as it goes I think, everything else I agree with the Skeptvet.

  2. Ms. Darkhorse. says:

    curious as to when the ‘theory’ of research practiced by fallible and prejudiced humans became ‘factual’,,, interestingly, many ‘factual’ historical and scientific hypotheses, pre-suppositions, conjectures etc etc become disproved time and again. Perhaps someday Science might invent instruments capable of measuring thermographic and electro-magnetic fields of cells, or even ofatomic particles, which are undergoing changes caused by as-yet-un-measurable frequencies delivered by either living being or human-designed instrument? have you ever experienced massage therapy or cranio-sacral therapy? have you heard of PTSD and the various modalites developing to assist the treatment of PTSD. Have you heard of Remote Viewing, used by the military in the 20th century, techniques of which are being revealed just recently? thankfully, many scientists are willing to remove the myopic monacles. Have you heard of the Neuro-scientist Ms. Candace Pert? interesting studies for the interested scientist.

  3. skeptvet says:

    Yes, I did say that there is evidence that touch has measurable physiologic and behavioral effects on some domestic animals, so this is the sort of relationship I was referring to. The problem with TTouch is that it tries to distinguish itself as special, different from ordinary touch and with dramatic healing properties, when there is no reason to think it is anything other than regular petting.

  4. skeptvet says:

    Basically, what you’ve just said is that 1. If science can’t demonstrate it exists I am allowed to claim it does without proof, 2. Because science is sometimes wrong sometimes anything that contradicts science or lacks scientific evidence to support it has to be treated as if it were true, and 3. There actually is scientific evidence to support what I believe (which is both hypocritical, given 1 and 2 and also disingenuous since it means paying attention only to the scientific evidence that agrees with what you already believe). All of this is just a way of getting special treatment for beliefs you hold so that they don’t have to prove themselves by a method that has worked dramatically better than any other and that has given us unprecedented relief from disease and suffering. Not convincing.

    And if you think there is any legitimacy to “remote viewing,” then you’re completely in fantasy land.

  5. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and detailed information you offer. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material. Great read!.

  6. lee williams says:

    I’m wondering what you think about “thunder shirts?”

    I attended a TTouch seminar a decade ago (before the thunder shirt was made and marketed to the public), and the only thing that made any sense to me were suggestions to help fearful dogs or those with anxiety by having them wear a t-shirt or by wrapping an Ace bandage around the body and back legs.

    At the time I had a border collie afraid of thunder. The t-shirt had no effect, and wrapping an ace bandage was too cumbersome. However, I did purchase a tight fitting (with lycra) shirt with straps that went around the back leg (it was said that dogs “hold stress in their back legs). I think it was called an anxiety wrap. I was greatly surprised how calm my boy seemed (that is, his behavior changed: he didn’t crawl up on me and try to melt into my skin) while wearing it during thunder,

    However, even though the wrapping was talked about at the TTouch seminar, my understanding was that it was not based on TTouch philosophy but rather information from Temple Grandin’s “squeeze machine” and deep pressure stimulation.

    It could have been my imagination, but it seemed that the straps around the legs were what produced the affect (real or imagined!), considering the t-shirt didn’t work (but perhaps it wasn’t snug enough?), so I didn’t think the thunder shirts would be effective because it wraps only around the body and not the back legs.

    I realize my anecdotal evidence of my one experience doesn’t show anything, so I was wondering if there had been any testing of the efficacy of anxiety wraps or the thunder shirt and what are your thoughts about it? More mumbo jumbo? (:

    Enjoying your posts!

    lee

  7. lee williams says:

    Ugh. Wish there were an edit button to make corrections to my post.

    lw

  8. skeptvet says:

    A guest author wrote a post on the subject of pressure wraps a while ago. In general, the evidence for their efficacy is pretty weak, so they might or might not be helpful and they probably do no harm.

  9. lee williams says:

    Thank you! I look forward to reading the article.

    Because I just recently “found” you and this website from a RT on twitter, it looks as if I have a lot of reading to catch up on! (:

    As an aside, when at the dentist I always request the heavy vest for blocking x-rays after I noticed my discomfort rising when the vest was removed. It seems the “pressure” slightly helped my anxiety, but by my behavior (squinty eyes and white knuckles on the chair) probably didn’t change.

    So, without the English language for dogs to tell us how they’re feeling and with only observable behavior to judge, perhaps there’s some difference just not one we humans may know about. Maybe? Possibly? (:

    Thanks again for answering!

  10. skeptvet says:

    Evaluating subjective feelings and experiences in non-human animals is one of the great challenges not only of animal behavior but veterinary medicine. It is all too easy to project our feelings and expectations onto our pets, and it is difficult to objectively assess how they feel. We know that owners and vets will, for example, believe that dogs with arthritis feel better even when it turns out the dogs are actually being given a placebo that isn’t doing anything. This makes it important to be as objective as we can in assessing how our animals respond to the things we do so we don’t simply fool ourselves into believing we have helped them when we haven’t.

    You might find this article interesting:

    Caregiver Placebo Effects: New Study Shows that Owners and Vets Often Believe an Ineffective Therapy is Working When it Isn’t

  11. Allison says:

    Thank you for this!

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