Energy medicine relates to a variety of practices, many of them deriving from complementary or alternative medical theories. The term has gained use since the 1980s, with the founding of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine. Treatment takes many different forms, and is usually divided into two categories: veritable and putative.
Veritable energy medicine means that specific forms of energy like light or magnetic therapy are used and are measurable. In contrast, putative energy can’t yet be measured. Western medicine makes use of various specific forms of energy often. For instance, radiation therapy is in loosest definition energy medicine, and things like sound waves are used to visualize parts of the body through sonograms. People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may use forms of light therapy, which can help improve mood during seasons when there is limited sunlight. Other forms considered veritable include magnetic therapy, either with static magnets or with electromagnetic pulses.
The other type of energy medicine, putative, operates under the basic premise that all people have an energy field. Disturbing this field results in sickness and disease. This is a thought reflected in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where practitioners work in various ways to restore balance in the body’s energy field or qi.
The numbers of medical interventions that are alternative — directed at creating a balanced energy field — and putative, are impressive. Therapies can include things like homeopathy, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, prayer or distance healing, qi gong, or the newly developed emotional freedom technique. Each of these therapies aims toward restoring balance to disrupted or disturbed energy fields, since this will bring about health and freedom from sickness.
When you consider these therapies, it’s easy to see why the second form is called putative. For most of the therapies you can’t exactly measure how you’re using energy or how much energy you’re using as you can with veritable energy medicine. There’s a big difference between using specifically controlled electromagnetic pulses and saying a prayer for someone to get well. In the second case, you might be asking yourself “How much prayer is needed? How long should I pray, and how often?” There may be no measurable answer to this, yet (as practitioners of putative methods might attest).
Given the vast range of energy medicine techniques, it may be difficult to separate fact from fiction in determining if one method or another actually works. Different standards in testing effectiveness may apply, and methods may not be subjected to the same kind of rigorous study or clinical double blind trials that most western medical techniques undergo. Some therapies, such as homeopathy, can conflict with other medical conditions, and prescription or over the counter drugs. Though many of these practices have long histories, such as qi gong and acupuncture, others are very new and are not adequately tested to determine safety.