February 4, 2023

Pain treatment comes in many different forms — medicinal, massage, psychological and more. Patients who visit U-M Health’s Back and Pain Center have recently been introduced to another method that’s gaining traction and seeing success.
Meet the Healing Touch Program (HTP). It’s a non-invasive, effective, non-toxic and economical program, one of many non-pharmacological pain management options provided by the center. The center promotes its program as a “relaxing, nurturing energy therapy that balances emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Gentle, intentional touch brings relaxation and balance to the body.”
Healing Touch’s inception and popularity has been shepherded by Becky Bail, R.N., CHTP, RYT200.
Bail has been a registered nurse for nearly 30 years with a background in pediatric cardiology, while also serving as a certified healing touch practitioner since 2013. A touch practitioner is a professionally trained individual who will either place their hands on or near the body, while a patient is seated or laying down, using standardized techniques.
In March 2020, Bail was tasked with launching Healing Touch as part of the university’s Rewrite the Script initiative led by Paul Hilliard, M.D., M.S.
But it almost didn’t even get off the ground.
‘More important now than ever’
“I couldn’t even believe the pandemic hit,” Bail said. “The fact we can move forward is so important because of the opioid crisis that’s going on. It’s gotten worse since COVID-19. Our program is more important now than ever.”
Starting and growing the project amid the pandemic was onerous, but it took off. Along the way, Bail and her colleagues studied and measured their work in 47 patients from July 2020 to March 2021. The results were clear — significant decreases were observed post intervention for symptoms of distress and pain severity.
The emphasis of the program is self-empowerment through self-care. The program’s holistic approach and team-oriented structure allows it to thrive. After the first year, due to demand, the clinic doubled the nurses in the program.
“The program embraces its community-centric identity,” said Vanessa Shamany-Fakhoury, M.B.A, M.H.A., R.N., senior nursing director for Ambulatory Care, Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Neurosciences & Behavioral Health. “There’s a demand of access for this sort of treatment and Michigan Medicine provides it.”
Individualized care
Alex Smith, M.S.W., screens patients to sort out which components fit best. From there, either Bail or fellow healing touch nurse Tina Berkholz, R.N., will then perform an assessment. The nurses explain what healing touch is, talk about the patient’s pain story and set goals.
The treatment sessions can include many components such as Healing Touch interventions, meditation and imagery, and energetic assessments. Pain and distress scores are given by the patients both before and after their appointments, where a self-care home plan is provided to continue their treatments.
“The self-care plan, it’s a big deal,” Bail said. “It’s key. I don’t want you to leave until you can help yourself before you walk out the door.”
Bail has had the support of the entire Back and Pain Center, which has numerous satellite offices across Southeast Michigan including the Burlington Building on East Eisenhower Parkway in Ann Arbor.
A key member of the Center is operations manager Madhavi P. Anne. She’s been credited with providing the resources necessary for the clinic to be a “well-oiled machine.” The collaborative nature of the center is remarkable.
“The fact that the program has been able to grow and succeed tells you the strength of it,” said Ronald A. Wasserman, M.D., FRCPC, division chief of the Back and Pain Center. “We are really excited to have this and look to grow the program as it continues to show success.”
Looking forward, the team will continue to aid as many patients as they can, while attempting to meet demand by hopefully expanding to other treatment facilities that U-M Health oversees. There’s more to do, and Bail, Berkholz and the entire Back and Pain Center team will continue to support their patients and seek positive outcomes through the Healing Touch Program.
Special thanks to Susan Masri, M.S.N., R.N., the nursing supervisor at the Back and Pain Center for her continued support of the program.
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