Richard Hammerschlag, PhD

headshot of richard hammerschlag

Home Institution: Oregon College of Oriental Medicine

Fields: 

Current Position: Dean Emeritus of Research, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine

My Driving Question

What are the physiological mechanisms through which biofield therapies—such as reiki, external qigong, and healing touch—produce a therapeutic effect?

Scholar Project (2007-2013)

Dr. Hammerschlag’s work as a Nova Institute Scholar focused on the physiological basis of biofield therapies, such as reiki, external qigong, johrei, and healing touch, whose purpose is to balance the energy fields that surround and permeate the therapy recipient. The project’s overarching goal was to frame biofield physiology as an area of study. It was guided by a working definition of the biofield as a confluence of electromagnetic as well as other conventional and non-conventional phenomena to which living systems contribute and within which they exist. The project sought to illuminate the role of biofields in the maintenance of health and to summarize current understanding of how the body generates and responds to biofields. Dr. Hammerschlag’s Scholar project included the performance and publication of two systematic reviews and a roundtable discussion: The roundtable discussion resulted from Dr. Hammerschlag’s contacts with a community of research scientists who share an interest in biofield research: Drs. Ann Baldwin, Gloria Gronowicz, Shamani Jain, Susan Lutgendorf, James Oschman and Garret Yount. The discussion reflects these researchers’ presentations at a symposium, organized by Drs. Hammerchlag and Jain, at the third International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health, held in May 2012 in Portland, OR. The symposium examined the evidence for biofield healing, for biofield therapy-related changes in healers and healees, and for physiological mechanisms related to endogenous and exogenous electromagnetic fields. Dr. Hammerschlag, the first member of the Institute’s Scholars & Fellows Program, concluded his tenure as a Scholar in August 2013, with the inaugural Capstone presentation, “Biofield of Dreams: Energy Physiology as a Basis for Integrative Health.” His talk explored the possible role of connective tissue as a whole body network that monitors and regulates the flow of energy, integrating the biofields inside the body with the biofields around it.

Biography 

Dr. Hammerschlag began his academic career conducting research in neurobiology at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope in Duarte, California, where he served as associate chair of the Division of Neurosciences. Twenty-five years later, a growing interest in acupuncture led him to change careers and become founding director of research at Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon. There he engaged in collaborative research projects in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine with Oregon Health & Science University, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, and the University of Arizona, funded by the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

A co-editor of the book Acupuncture Research: Strategies for Establishing an Evidence Base, Dr. Hammerschlag currently serves as an executive editor for The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Education and Training
  • Postdoctorate, neurochemistry, University College, London, England
  • PhD, biochemistry, Brandeis University
  • BS, chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • BS, humanities and science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Selected Honors
  • Executive Editor, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2006-present
  • Editorial board, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2000-present
  • Editorial board, Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 2005-present
  • Editorial board, Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, 1999-2003
  • President, Society for Acupuncture Research, 1997-2003
  • Invited presenter, NIH Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture, 1997
  • Chair, Research Methodology Panel, OAM/FDA Workshop: Status of the Acupuncture Needle, 1994
  • National Institutes of Health, Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, 1989-96
  • Council member, International Society for Neurochemistry, 1991-95
  • Chair, program committee, American Society for Neurochemistry, 1993
  • Editorial board, Journal of Neurochemistry, 1986-93
Selected Publications

Research Papers

Books

Developing safety, persistence, trust

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Acquiring Resources

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
    • “I think I kept trying to convince him I was crazy. And he kept saying, ‘No, you’re not crazy.’ […] You wouldn’t necessarily say a Vietnam Vet was crazy. You’d say they are responding like you’d expect to extraordinary circumstances.”
    • “I’m not the only one who have [sic] this problem. A lots, millions of people, you know. […] They don’t have nothing to do with that. I guess I have to live.”
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
    “You need a lot of energy and a lot of work … it takes a lot of work. It doesn’t just happen. It’s not like a magic wand.” This patient understood that they had to actively participate in the healing process.
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

Helping Relationships

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) “When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. Healing, in this sense, does not mean cured—none of the study participants were cured of their ailments—”but all developed a sense of integrity and wholeness despite ongoing pain or other symptoms.” In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” When we begin to heal, we find increased capacity for hope, renewed motivation to help others, and are more able to accept ourselves as we are.

Suffering

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. “The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”