It doesn’t look like much -- Janet Althen places what looks like a small flashlight with an inverted colored bulb on certain points of the body, holding it there for about 30 seconds -- but for Althen’s patients, as well as a growing number of people around the world who are receiving the alternative treatment, light therapy has healing power.
“There’s like an awakening when Janet uses the light,” said Dana Echols, 44, who has been a patient of Althen’s for four years and been receiving light work, a new form of alternative medical treatment, for nearly two years.
Althen, owner of the Women’s Acupuncture Center in Elkridge, has been practicing acupuncture for 10 years, specializing in treating women’s health issues such as infertility, menopause, hormonal imbalances and menstrual cycle difficulties. Three years ago, Althen started using light work, also called colorpuncture, in her treatments.
“That was something that had fascinated me … the aspect of using light and color in the treatment room somehow,” she said.
The healing power of light -- especially natural sunlight, which helps the body produce vitamin D -- has long been recognized for its ability to battle everything from skin and sleep disorders to seasonal depression.
Colorpuncture combines those notions with acupuncture (beams of light used in addition to the needles) -- the traditional Chinese medicine intended to tap into the body’s energy and balance through different points on the body and channels called meridians.
In the United States, colorpuncture and light therapy are not widely used, nor widely taught.
Althen earned her master’s degree in acupuncture from Tai Sophia, a holistic wellness institute in North Laurel, but the school does not teach colorpuncture. That she learned from a trainer based in San Francisco who teaches light work throughout the United States.
Many of the colorpuncture trainers in the United States learned the technique in Germany at the Mandel Institute for Esogetic Medicine, founded by Peter Mandel, who is credited with developing colorpuncture in the early 1970s.
One of those people is Manohar Croke, who at the invitation of Mandel founded the U.S. Esogetic Colorpuncture Institute in Boulder, Colo. about two decades ago.
“My experience in teaching (colorpuncture) over the past 20 years is that more and more people have heard of this modality, are interested in this modality,” she said. “People come from different fields and learn this work and may combine it with other skills they have in different areas.”
Althen combines most of her light work treatments with acupuncture, and almost all of her patients start off with acupuncture treatments before receiving light work.
“The light work is very powerful, so it’s not something I would normally start a patient off with,” Althen said.
In practicing colorpuncture, Althen uses a Perlux light set on acupuncture points. The colors of light she uses and the points on the body on which she places them depend on the treatment. The number of treatments patients receive depends on the issue.
Life outside the light
Light therapy works for several reasons, according to Althen. Light is a nutrient, and exposure to light helps keep the body healthy, Althen explained, but in today’s world, many people are deprived of the natural light they need.
“We don’t live in the light anymore,” she said. “We don’t live in sunlight. We don’t have that in our lives. We live in houses and under sunscreen and in cars.”
What the eye perceives as different colors -- reds, blues, etc. -- are actually different frequencies. Those frequencies, or vibrations, Althen explained, are what the body is taking in with the light work.
“The energetic medicine gets down into the root and creates the change at the level at which it needs to heal,” she said. “It can get into deep places and move things in ways that are pretty incredible.”
According to Croke, “there’s more and more scientific data” to show that light frequencies have an effect on the body.
“By putting light into the body, you are helping the cells communicate better,” she said. “That, in turn, helps your health both physically and psycho-spiritually.”
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has not studied colorpuncture.
Althen uses the light work to treat a variety of problems, but it is a tool she often uses when a patient has any kind of hormonal issue. Some patients are seeking straight-forward relief from aches and pains, while others are seeking treatment for conditions less tangible, such as the release of trauma experienced years earlier -- even dating back to their time in the womb.
“The light is actually what helps your whole hormonal system operate,” she said, working on both physical and emotional levels. The great thing about the light work, Althen said, is it allows trauma to be released without repeating it.
“You don’t have to sit in therapy for 20 weeks and cry and scream and relive whatever the trauma was,” Althen said. “You may have an emotional reaction to it, but you don’t have to go through an ugly ongoing emotional catharsis to it.”
Though colorpuncture is not widely practiced, Althen is not the only person who uses the technique in Howard County. She said she knows of at least two others -- Fran Iamele, an acupuncturist in Clarksville, and Shari Sternberger, the owner of Elements of Energy LLC in Highland.
“I blend all the different modalities that I have,” Sternberger said. “For me, color just adds a whole different dimension to the work that I do.”
Sternberger uses a variety of alternative healing methods -- hands-on energy work, tuning forks, essential oils, flower essences and the light work. “I love the light,” said Sternberger, who uses the technique on both humans and pets. “I love the quickness of it. I love the simplicity of it.”
“It’s especially helpful with the senior animals who may be on the last part of their journey,” she said. Even with people, Sternberger said she has found colorpuncture is great at healing old wounds.
“Color, in what I noticed, has been very profound,” she said. “A little bit goes a long way. It’s like peeling an onion. You take a little bit at a time.”
Sternberger traveled to Germany to study colorpuncture, and receive treatment, at the Mandel Institute. “I was blown away by the changes that happened within me,” she said.
Detective work and persistence
Though it’s not an exact science, Althen said she has seen the light work heal many of her patients.
“Sometimes it takes detective work and a little bit of persistence, but once you get there, you can get to the root cause,” she said. “And that’s what real healing does is get to the cause, not cover up the symptoms.”
When patient Echols started seeing Althen, she had a wealth of medical issues, including Lyme disease, arthritis, migraines and intense back pain. Much of the pain, she said, started after she was hit by a car at age 18, some 26 years ago.
Echols has used a combination of acupuncture and light therapy, on a roughly weekly basis, to treat her pain and to help release the trauma the accident caused. Since starting treatments with Althen, Echols said she has not had the same sensations of pain that she lived with after her accident. “I’m in a much better place than I was four years ago,” she said.
Four years ago, Echols said she was at her “wit’s end” with pain, medication and doctors. “I would get up mornings the three years before coming to Janet and say, ‘How am I going to get through the day with three kids?’” Echols said, adding that she frequently credits Althen with saving her life.
Columbia resident Laura Loughery, 37, started receiving acupuncture treatments from Althen in July 2011 to boost her chances of getting pregnant. But it turned out she was already pregnant when she started acupuncture.
“Two months into it, I miscarried,” Loughery said. “So we kind of changed the course of treatments.”
In October, Althen began to use the light work, in combination with the acupuncture, when treating Loughery.
“By that time it was just for general well-being, being more rooted and also treating the prenatal stress that I received from my mother when she was pregnant with me,” Loughery said.
Acupuncture, in Loughery’s opinion, is more relaxing than a massage. With the light work, she said, she’s “surprised that it’s just as relaxing as having needles.”
Sometimes Loughery is so relaxed that she falls asleep during her treatments. “I feel so refreshed when I wake up, or the treatment is over,” she said.
Loughery sees Althen every week, and she also brings her 4-year-old daughter, Taryn, in for light treatment to help treat the prenatal stress her daughter experienced while she was pregnant.
“The whole entire experience she loves. And it’s very calming and relaxing,” Loughery said, adding that her daughter is calmer and less prone to temper tantrums since she started treatment.
Sternberger said she sees light therapy as a growing field for both patients and practitioners. She calls light the 21st-century medicine.
“I feel it has a place alongside traditional medicine,” she said. “For many people nowadays having choices is important, because not everybody can tolerate all the treatments out there.”
History of healing light
Colorpuncture is just one of the latest ways in which light has been used to heal. Let’s take a look back at a few of the other instances throughout history when light’s healing powers were documented:
Ancient Greece: In Heliopolis, the Greek city of the sun, healing temples were created to break up sunlight into spectra, with each color in the spectrum used to treat different medical issues.
1877: English scientists Arthur Downes and Thomas Blunt discovered sunlight can destroy harmful bacteria.
1920: Dinshah Ghadiali introduced a healing system called Spectro-Chrome that used colored lights.
1958: Dr. R.J. Cremer, a British physician, published research showing phototherapy, a colored light therapy, treats infant jaundice, a liver disorder that causes yellowing of the skin.
1984: Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal of the National Institutes of Mental Health published research naming Seasonal Affective Disorder (seasonal depression), his conclusion that less light in the winter causes the condition, and a treatment regimen of light therapy.
2000: Doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin discovered that LED technology (light-emitting diode), originally developed for NASA to research plant growth in space, helps heal wounds such as diabetic skin ulcers, serious burns and oral sores caused by chemotherapy and radiation.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun