Dolores Krieger: Lessons of Compassion

An Interview with the Developer of Therapeutic Touch

By Karrie Osborn

Her mornings begin with a wander through the pristine Montana forest that surrounds her mountain home. There, she breathes in the language and lessons of nature. “The quiet gives you some idea of what peace must be like—it’s such a wonderful background to think and reflect and write.” This is the retirement backdrop for Dolores (Dee) Krieger, PhD, RN, cofounder of Therapeutic Touch and matriarch of a community of touch practitioners who span the globe.

Witty and thoughtful, fiery and bold, at 96, Krieger shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, retirement has given her new clarity. “What I like is that while, yes, there are some little things like ‘senior moments,’ your mind starts to acquire other abilities and a different perspective on life. Obviously, you’re seeing life differently, but it also helps you to open yourself more to other kinds of relationships.” And it’s that relationship with nature that helps fuel her each day.
 “If you were to go out my front door, you have 3–4 million acres of national forest. On my land, there are grizzlies—they are so interesting—mountain lions, lynx, fox; it’s fascinating, the life that continues to persist,” she says of the forest that envelops her.
“Every morning, I take my wheelie and go into the backwoods.” (Krieger’s wheelie is an “all-terrain” walker that helps her nearly 100-year-old frame maneuver through the forest brush.) “I do a 20- to 30-minute stint and get my heart going. After my wheelie, I stay out and get some sun. That’s where I sit and get my peace. It’s so refreshing, and I have plenty of company with the animals,” she laughs.
Then it’s time to sit in her sun-drenched study and write, and think, and write … and figure out how to fit it all into her day.

A Path of Compassion
Since her early teens, Krieger has been interested in healing. “I think probably it was very much how your readers come to know their own ability in massage and bodywork. As a child, and as an adolescent in particular, when someone had a problem, my hands would automatically go to the place they hurt. Probably the first person I worked on was my mother, who had problems with her knees. My initial urge to help people came from my hands.” And those hands have continued to paint the broad brush of her work ever since.
Compassion, which is fundamental to the Therapeutic Touch modality she created, was most likely learned as a child. “I was very sick as a kid and almost died a couple of times.” Underweight, bedridden, and often without family by her side, she learned about caring and compassion from those who attended to her during her frequent hospital stays.
And it was there that she also found her motivation to be well. “From the hospital window I could see the school kids running around outside; I was determined to run around, too. My motivation was to be like them.” And she met her goal. “I turned out to be a pretty good track star, especially in long distance; nobody could ever catch me.”

“In the Meantime, There Were My Hands …”
Krieger once told People magazine, “Touching permeates almost every phase of nursing. I believe in my hands before anything else.”
Knowing that she wanted to be involved in helping and healing people, Krieger says her original career choice was physical therapy. But, without the money to go to college, Temple University’s offer of two years college credit for those who enrolled in the nursing program was how Krieger planned her segue into a physical therapy path.
“However, I wasn’t into nursing more than six weeks before I realized it was what I really wanted to do.” Her new path led her to earn her master’s degree and doctorate in nursing and eventually to teach at New York University (NYU) School of Nursing, where she was a professor until her retirement in 1997.
It was during this journey that Krieger would cross paths with the woman who would ultimately change her life.

Dee and Dora—The Nurse and the Clairvoyant
Krieger speaks lovingly of her Therapeutic Touch partner, Dora Kunz, who passed in 1999.
“I don’t know anybody who wasn’t her friend. She was absolutely fascinating.” A world traveler, a friend to Nobel Peace Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, and a person unique unto herself, Kunz became the teacher, and Krieger became the student.
Krieger describes her partner as a “world-class clairvoyant, the fifth generation in her family to have the ability, and a woman of tremendous compassion.” She met her mentor at a meditation lecture Kunz was holding. Intrigued by the presenter and the material, Krieger pondered how she could determine whether what Kunz was saying was legitimate. “The best way to know was to apply what she’s suggesting to my life, and then know how my life changes. It was probably the best way I could learn at that time. So, I became her student.”
Over time, part of her role as student was to drive Kunz to the various medical conferences and lectures Kunz attended, largely because no one else would (“I was the only one willing to drive her, because she would see things on the road no one else could,” Krieger says, making the experience harrowing, to say the least). Krieger says it was at one of these conferences, where Kunz was brought in to explain subtle energy, that the two women watched the work of lay healer Oskar Estebani. At the time, healers of this type were thought to possess a God-given gift. She says most of it had a religious tonality to it and it was felt only people of certain faiths, or certain sects, could heal. Kunz and Krieger had already found influence from Christian healer Kathryn Kuhlman, and became fascinated witnessing the slant of Estebani’s work.
The two women eventually invited him to gatherings at the Pumpkin Hollow Retreat in New York to learn more about his healing processes. It was from there that the nonsecular Therapeutic Touch was born. “One time after a session was over, and we saw Mr. Estebani off, Dora and I were sitting on the lawn, having a few quiet minutes in the shade, talking about what had gone on. Dora told me, ‘I think I understand how he is able to heal.’ And I said, ‘Dora, do you think you understand it enough to be able to teach it?’ She thought about it for a moment and said, ‘Yes, I think I do.’”
It was the late 1960s, an era of enlightenment, where people began to think about health care differently, and Therapeutic Touch quickly filled a niche in the medical community. “With my medical connections, I initially got about 50 doctors and nurses together who wanted to learn to heal,” Krieger says. That was a catalyst. With her knowledge of curriculum development, and Kunz’s ability to connect with people, Krieger says the two were able to quickly bring the modality to the nursing community. Initially called Frontiers in Nursing, Krieger was able to get the work accredited at the graduate level at NYU.
Acceptance grew, nurses were taking the work they learned into the patients’ hospital rooms, and the dean of the college was pleased with the demand. “We were accepted by the medical community,” Krieger says. “It all began to mesh together. We were the only ones at the time to have the support of both the medical community and academe.”
By the early 1970s, Kunz was ready to follow her next passion, and moved out of state to lead the Theosophical Society. Krieger was left to shepherd the healing paradigm they had constructed together. “I thought, there’s too much good happening out of this to not keep it going.” It was then that the work took its new name—Therapeutic Touch.
Kunz remained active with the association when she could, and would attend the Therapeutic Touch conferences each year. “She was still very much part of it and we remained good friends until her death,” Krieger says.
Today, Therapeutic Touch has been taught at more than 70 medical centers and health agencies in the United States, and to people in health professions in 107 countries. More than 250,000 health professionals have been trained in Therapeutic Touch worldwide.

Historical Importance
If you don’t know the history of Therapeutic Touch, then you don’t know that Krieger and Kunz were key players in opening the door of complementary and alternative health practices to the traditional medical community. For a nursing community hungry to reclaim its roots of personalized patient care, Therapeutic Touch was a breath of fresh air. But its developers had to defend their work all along the way.
One of the first challenges came in the mid-’70s when Krieger says the National Enquirer used deception to gain an interview with her, and then put her on its cover in a sensational story. It was heartbreaking, she recalls. “They were trying to discredit the therapy, but some good came out of it. Because I was the only one at that time who had both the medical community and academia as my sponsor, other people on the leading edge of this whole New Age push got in touch with me. And Therapeutic Touch took off.” Soon, Krieger began teaching the work across the country, then around the world.
In 1998, Therapeutic Touch again was challenged, this time by the famous case of Emily Rosa, the 9-year-old girl whose 4th grade science project on Therapeutic Touch made it into the Journal of the American Medical Association.
How does Krieger address the naysayers and the people she says treat her with suspicion and distaste? “The first thing you do is develop a sense of humor,” she says. “That is a requirement.” But she also tries to dialog with people, in their terms. What you’ll find, she says, is that there is a tremendous amount you can align with. “I have worked on a lot of people who are skeptics, and I have never turned anyone away, ever.”
While not everyone welcomed Krieger with open arms, she says the early acceptance from her colleagues was something she hadn’t expected. “Surprise hardly encompasses what my feelings were at the time,” Krieger says. “First of all, particularly with the National Enquirer interest, my own career was at stake, but I was determined. What we were doing, Dora and I, I learned how helpful it was. We weren’t causing any miracles, but we had many instances of people walking out of a hospital who weren’t expected to, and other instances of people dying peacefully who were originally very unhappy and ready to die a miserable death.”

Compassion and Energy Medicine
Integral to Therapeutic Touch, and certainly integral to her own journey, Krieger says compassion is an important part of our humanity. “There is a neurological effect on the person who is enacting compassion. That surge of emotion coming from compassion, that’s the lodestar the healer follows. Without compassion, you don’t have Therapeutic Touch; you have merely a manipulation, so to speak, a power play.” Krieger says just as massage and bodywork require grounded therapists who need to approach their work mindfully, the same is true for Therapeutic Touch practitioners.
“Sustained centering is where you stay throughout the entire session. You try to be mindful and aware of the shifts in consciousness. The 5 Phases of Therapeutic Touch are really just shifts in consciousness,” she says.
With time and training, awareness and intuition sharpen for the Therapeutic Touch practitioner. “You begin to realize you’re in a very different state. And it’s not only that you’re in an altered state, but you’re being urged on by the psychic force of compassion. We call it the inner self, some might call it higher power; it is what continues, it’s our soul. This is where it pushes you.” And it’s in this way, by working through your heart chakra, she says, “that you’re able to bring through you the prana, the energy.” The process, she says, is transpersonal healing.

A Future to Unfold
As a consultant for the Therapeutic Touch International Association today, Krieger continues to forward-think about the work she helped create. Her most recent musings, and subject of her next book, revolve around what happens within the healer during the healing act.
“If you look back, healing has a history that predates civilization. In all that time, healing has been inarticulate. There is very little in the literature about what goes on in the healer.” Understanding that the act of Therapeutic Touch extends beyond the outside experience is important, she says. “That interior experience is forcing people’s consciousness toward transformation in a way that is at the frontier of where we’re going—in a good way—as human beings.”
The future, Krieger says, is one filled with opportunities to utilize Therapeutic Touch and she feels confident her work will continue to find its value and legacy long after she’s gone. “It’s at the extreme opposite end to high tech; as such, Therapeutic Touch will have a great deal to offer … even if it only helps people remember to be compassionate.”

What is Therapeutic Touch?
According to the Therapeutic Touch International Association, this therapy “incorporates the intentional and compassionate use of universal energy to promote balance and well-being. It is a consciously directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses the hands as a focus to facilitate the process.” The University of Maryland Medical Center describes it as a technique based on the theory that the body, mind, and emotions form a complex energy field. A balanced energy field is indicated by good health, while illness represents imbalance.
Developed by Dolores (Dee) Krieger, PhD, RN, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer, the modality was first taught to graduate nursing school students, but then expanded across the country, largely through the grassroots efforts of professional nurses. A Therapeutic Touch treatment is individualized for each clothed client/patient, and is typically less than 30 minutes.

The 5 Phases of Therapeutic Touch
1. Centering. This phase involves “bringing the body, mind, and emotions to a quiet, focused state of consciousness,” and opening yourself to find an “inner sense of equilibrium to connect with the inner core of wholeness and stillness.”
2. Assessing. By holding your hands 2–6 inches away from the client’s body while moving them “from the head to the feet in a rhythmical, symmetrical manner, you’ll pick up sensory cues such as warmth, coolness, static, blockage, pulling, and tingling.”
3. Intervention. Called clearing or unruffling, this process “facilitates the symmetrical flow of energy through the field.” This is achieved “by using hand movements from the midline, while continuing to move in a rhythmical and symmetrical manner from head to toe.”
4. Balance, Rebalance. Here you project, direct, and modulate energy and assist to reestablish order in the system. “Treatment is accomplished by moving the hands to the areas that seem to need attention; energy may be transferred where there is a deficit, or energy may be mobilized or repatterned from areas of congestion.”
5. Evaluation, Closure. When you’re no longer getting that sense of imbalance or change of patterns, the treatment is finished. “Reassessing the field continuously during the treatment to determine balance and elicit feedback from the individual are cues as to when to end the Therapeutic Touch treatment.”

Karrie Osborn is an award-winning author and senior editor for Massage & Bodywork and ABMP. Contact her at