Health: Faith healing without the religion

`Everything is energy', said Einstein. Brigid McConville meets two men who have successfully worked scientific ideas into a form of faith therapy

Above ground, as London seethes in the late summer heat, tourists and shoppers are jostling each other off the pavements of Oxford Street into the slow, ever-pushing traffic. But below ground, in the basement of the nearby Holiday Inn, quite another level of reality is being addressed. A group of healers from Ireland are concentrating on the mysterious business of making people well.

As I walk down the stairs I pass a woman on the way up. She smiles at me and says "phew!" as if she has just been through some mind-blowing experience. More people are sitting - some with sticks, one in a wheelchair - in the reception area. The women behind the desk are talking in hushed tones about a man who has started to walk again since his treatment, and another who is now free of pain for the first time in years. So far it is a bit like Lourdes without the religion. For these healers are secular. Their outfit is called "Plexus Bio-energy".

I am warmly welcomed and asked to wait. It seems that the half dozen Plexus therapists - who work without reference to their watches - are running late. So great has been the demand for treatment during their week-long visit to London that appointment times have become a polite fiction. So I sit and read the photocopied stories from Irish newspapers which tell of people from Galway to Dublin who have been "cured" of illnesses and disorders which their own doctors had told them were incurable.

Michael O'Doherty and Tom Griffin, who developed the Plexus system, have been running clinics across Ireland, treating some 100,000 people over the past 10 years, often in country pubs or hotels. Sometimes the healing is done in public; sometimes it is paid for with a pot of jam. It now costs pounds 30 a session (four sessions are recommended), but O'Doherty claims they don't turn away people who can't pay. This September they go to Chernobyl, where they will work voluntarily.

Tom Griffin emerges to meet me. A big, dark-moustached man from rural County Mayo, he takes me on a tour of the basement room where half a dozen people are receiving treatment behind bamboo screens. He has no compunction about pulling back the screens with a friendly "How are you?" to therapist and patient alike so that I can have a look - and he can find someone to give me a treatment. But the half dozen therapists are all still busily shaping the air and making waving hand movements, "realigning" invisible energy fields around their patients, so Griffin and I sit down for a cup of tea.

The chat is fast and furious as he rapidly fills me in on his background. Griffin was first "called to be a priest" but left that vocation to join the Irish army and then the prison service, where he took up martial arts and teamed up with Michael O'Doherty (both have a black belt in kick boxing). Their joint interest in the martial arts concept of the "life force" led them to the Croatian healer Zdenko Domanic, who taught them his own brand of bio-energy therapy.

Back in rural Ireland, which teems with faith healers, it took many years for people to accept a healing which was not linked to religion, says Tom. In country areas where bone-setters (sort of unofficial osteopaths) are respected members of the community, people would knock on his door asking for "the Bone Man".

He talks of Ireland's rich tradition of faith and miracles, from the ancient Celtic Druids to today's shrines at Knock, and he describes bio- energy therapy as modern Ireland's application of an age-old knowledge. Other cultures have it too, he points out, especially in India and China where health care involves balancing the energies which according to these cultures flow through the body's meridians (energy channels) via the chakras (major distribution channels).

Michael O'Doherty, an equally fervent and rapid-fire talker from county Clare (where the actor Michael York attends his Ennis clinic) later tells me that bio-energy - which simply means life force - can be photographed and measured electrically, while its existence has been tacitly accepted by the World Health Organisation (who acknowledged the effectiveness of acupuncture in 1979). This is a scientific therapy, he argues; faith healing without the faith, to "free up" energy blockages.

"Einstein concluded that everything is energy, and beyond that is intelligence," he says. "The physical body is a manifestation of energetic vibration. If that vibration is disturbed, it takes the form of illness. Your body is like the dashboard of your inner self. If a light flashes, do you take out the bulb? No! We can help you to communicate with your illness and reactivate your health."

Within minutes we are bandying ideas about society, religion, culture, education, politics. "Do you really think the multinational drug companies are interested in your health?" he asks, rhetorically. "No! Sickness is the biggest business in the world. Anti-depressants are big sellers - but what is the chemical formula for love, happiness, fulfilment? As a society we have become increasingly emotionally and spiritually stagnant - and this leads to illness."

Tom Griffin even claims that bio-energy healing can take the sting out of experiences as devastating as bereavement. O'Doherty explains further: "A trauma of 20 years ago - bereavement, conflict, rape - can impact on the electrical activity of your body. The body holds on to every memory and emotional trauma crystallises at a cellular level. But just as a glass shatters at a particular frequency of sound, so we can transform this crystallised energy which is causing illness."

But now I am introduced to a gentle young man called Willy who is available to give me treatment, so I retreat with him behind one of the bamboo screens. With an expression of intense concentration he makes balletic hand movements around me, but without touching me, as I stand upright, fighting the urge to giggle.

He tells me he can feel the energy around my body as if it were grains of sand running through his hands. He says my energy is blocked at my sacrum, and that he is concentrating on a problem in my left hip. (I haven't told him I sometimes have lower back pain, with sciatica on the left side.)

Then Tom Griffin steps inside the screen to join in. "Feel that?" he asks, smoothing the air around my middle. I say apologetically that I don't feel much. "Go on Willy, pull her!" he says to his colleague behind me. and I find that I am toppling over backwards. Auto-suggestion? Hypnosis? Or the tug of my aura? If this technique genuinely makes people feel better, what does it really matter?

Several hours later I emerge again into the material world, intrigued, if not converted. Clearly, O'Doherty and Griffin believe wholeheartedly in what they do; so do many who feel that conventional medicine has let them down. At worst, they cause no side effects. At best, they may be a kind of modern miracle.

Plexus UK bookings, 0192 232 7342

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