Unfortunately, the studies on alternative medicine and holistic healing are generally in a dismal state.

Many are done with small samples (13 in one study), or based on subjective observation (the mice seemed less anxious), done by a group looking to show why its own modality is valid (versus independent verification), done by a researcher expecting to find the placebo effect (acupuncture has been judged to both help neck pain and headaches and to be completely ineffective), poorly matched to treatment (one massage study on pain found negative results for 30 minute sessions but positive results for 60 minute sessions; an energy healing study compared to physical therapy featured just 10 minute treatments and determined results were inconclusive), or surveys of the literature, flawed because they condense flawed studies (usually done by holistic practitioners, vs. independent research analysis).

But all is not lost.

We do know something is happening. Yes, many claims are all over the place-yet I have also seen remarkable healing I would not have believed. But can we see these reliably? Even if we do not know precisely how things are working, can we use them, even something as vague as energy healing? While I can share stories of various diseases healed, we can not promise those results, but there are some areas yielding measurable results: range of motion, and pain. And not only subjective experiences of pain lessening, but actually the disappearance of the underlying cause in some instances.

I suffered from lower back pain for a couple years due to incurable degenerative disc disease. Both the pain and the disease are gone. One of my clients had neck pain for a year from a dislocated disc following an auto accident. Her chiropractor told her “I do not understand it, but your C1 vertebrae has moved back into place,” relieving her pain. Her high blood pressure dropped to normal too. An ex-professional dancer suffering from sciatica (a painful leg nerve condition), an ex-professional lacrosse player using a TENS unit for back pain and a foot nerve injury, an ex-firefighter whose body could barely move, a martial artist who was on the verge of giving it up-all found relief from pain and recovered mobility.

We do have some studies confirming some energy healing as “real,” while others are “no better than placebo” results. The connective healing work I use has been studied, for example, in a few ways. One of the most useful studies has participants sensing whatever energy is being sent to their left or right hands. At first, they're guessing, but after a learning curve of a few days, they consistently get it right. Another study shows the energy field of clients expanding during a session. Still another shows the practitioner's heart rate rate slows, and the client's brain waves slow to match.

How does this equate to healing? We do not know. Even in the scientific sense we do not understand energy. Renown physicist Richard Feynman, in the updated millennial edition of his famous Feynman Lectures, notes that physicists do not know what energy is, and goes on to explain how nonetheless theoretical physics can advance through practice and observation. The same is true for energy healing – we can observe the phenomena and the results that follow for our understanding and evidence for its efficiency.

But not everyone sees these results – so how do we know whether a particular holistic approach will work for a particular individual? I wanted to know the same thing, and so I started studying both different approaches and my own clients, to see who was getting results, who was not, and what these people were doing differently. I found there are three main distinctions.

1) Instead of matching problem to approach, holistic healing is often consumed as trying modality after modality – in essence, as if it were another pill to take. Our drug treatment approach to health is surprisingly rooted. If we do not take “drugs,” we look for the right herb, or tea, or technique to take to magically remove our troubles. And sometimes that works – but pain of often more complex and more stubborn than that. Magic will not work. If you need a medical procedure, you do not find which ones work-you find the one you need. Cardiology and proctology are both important, but not interchangeable.

Also, because we are so rooted in trying “things,” we bounce between polarities. We go to “alternative healing” but keep the main thought system, often seeing these as a dichotomy of natural / pharmaceutical, or spiritual / physical, for example. It's like trying to lift a heavy board by one end, deciding that will not work, and then trying to lift it from the other end instead.

Sometimes, even often, we become quite good at some of these “things.” But because it's only part of the picture, we do not yet see results. It's like trying to get a car into good running order – you fix the brakes, but that does not fix it, so you forget the brakes and try the fuel pump, but that does not fix it, so you try the spark plugs , etc. – but the problem is that your car needs ALL those things to run well.

If you're in pain, you've probably tried a lot of things. If you're still in pain, you know why that approach is not successful. But maybe you got lucky-you found something that worked. All the other pieces happened to be in place, so this additional piece did the job.

But how do you get all the pieces in place?

2) The Four Pillars of the Healing Equation: Clarity + Connection + Coherence + Change = Results. You need all four to get consistent results. Just as a table with a missing leg will not work well, neither will approaches missing any of these Four Pillars.

Let's start with the second one-we'll come back to Clarity in a moment.

Connection is the one most typically associated with energy work. Whatever the particular modality, the energy of the client is connected to supplemental energy of some sort, whether newly generated or already existing but not being used efficiently.

And that can work, simply because sometimes the other elements are present adequately to accommodateate healing. We are a continuum from physical through emotional, mental, spiritual, and highest self to the divine – without break or separation – and we certainly want that pipeline clear and functioning. But for effective results, we need the other elements as well. Cars do not run just because they have gas in them (except the route is downhill).

Coherence is how all the various parts of our energy resonate together. A cardiologist, for example, is not going to stop at heart surgery, but rather, insist as well on dietary changes, no smoking, and so forth. Anything short of this would be incoherent-and so would that person's health. In energy work, coherence means the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects have to be working together, in the same direction, in harmony. Connection can promote this, certainly. But a physical cure ignoring the energetic whole is only raising symptoms, and temporarily.

Remember last time you were emotionally distracted? Or under mental duress? How did you feel physically? Not good, I'll bet – this is why coherent is important. Attention to coherence will help you identify what to change as well.

Change is essential, as our cardiologist friend insured above. If you want different things to happen, you'll have to do different things. I can not have a clean house the same way I got a messy one-I have to change my habits, behaviors, and procedures.

Sometimes change is difficult. We all tend to cling to our relative comfort zones. Recognize, though, that this is a recipe for the status quo. All progress, all improvement, takes place out of that comfort zone. Who we are now is how we got what we have now. We will have to step into new ways of being to move into new manifestations of that energy.

Clarity is the final pillar-and in practice, should be the first. What exactly is the problem? Very commonly, people are trying “solutions” that address the wrong problem-which is why those are not working. Likewise, what exactly do we want to happen? If the desired outcomes are vague, then the “strategies” for reaching them are going to be fuzzy at best – which means they are not going to work well, if at all. When I smashed up my knee, my doctor examined it, diagnosed the problem, and then asked, “So what's our goal here?” It's a smart question. It determines the appropriate treatment.

Sometimes people find healing for something other than they thought they wanted. When we're in pain of some sort, physical or emotional, we may have difficulty naming what we're really seeking. It's hard to be honest and insightful with ourselves when we're suffering. Until we are, though, we do not know what we're addressing.

With all Four Pillars – Clarity, Connection, Coherence, and Change – we can be comfortable knowing we will find results of some kind. Actually, we have to. We know what we're addressing, why, and what we want. With all four pillows of the healing equation, we tap into a greater network to access the resources to do it. Clarity helps the Connection to work with Coherence; rather than different parts being at odds with each other, there's a unity of direction and purpose. And that Clarity of direction and purpose will take us out of our comfort zone and into the new habits, thoughts, actions and approaches needed to complete the needed Change.

Progress of some sort is now assured. That's the power of the Four Pillars of the Healing Equation (whatever terms individual practitioners may have for these pillows) – and the danger of omitting any of them.

All we need now is a systemic approach to ensuring those criteria are met. And that's really important. What does not get planned tend to not happen. Intentions are not results either.