A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What is "color therapy"?

October 21, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

After buying and reading two of your books I finally dredged up a question worthy of your time. Try this on for size:

As a youth I recall visiting a certain doctor's office in my hometown of Salt Lake City. This would have been in the early to mid 70s. This particular doctor was, in retrospect, definitely on the alternative side. It seems whenever I came down with ills of a rather mild nature I would be taken to this doctor by my mother. I have a vivid memory of going into a large room that had been partitioned into separate bedding spaces by curtains.

Within each space was a large lamp which hung over the bed. The doctor would come in, listen to your ailment and based on your ill would then slip the correct, in his estimation, colored film slide filter over the lamp and I was then instructed to lie there for a certain period of time under this colored light.

I would feel better after this bath of colored light and off I would go. My mother and grandmother received the same treatments at other times as well. He was an older doctor and his offices were always busy.

Hope that gives you enough to work with.

My question is: What kind of medical treatment was I experiencing? What was/is it called? Is it still around? What's the theory behind it? I have never seen or heard of this in my adult years. Thanks.

SDStaff VegForLife replies:

Colin, this is a standard treatment, practiced by many doctors of all types (including chiropractors). The Latin term escapes me, but it is known colloquially as "fleecing." It is certainly still around, and the theory behind it was best described by P.T. Barnum when he said, "there's a sucker born every minute." Although he was around long before your mother, apparently he knew someone just like her.

Actually, what you describe is known as "color therapy." In the early 19th century it was discovered that each color vibrates on its own wavelength and frequency. According to someone with entirely too much time on his hands, each human disease corresponds to a particular color. Color therapy is the treatment of diseases by applying the correct colors for healing in a more concentrated form than sunlight. The theory is that to maintain health, the human body requires a minimum of two hours a day of unfiltered, direct sunlight shining directly on the skin and through the eyes, and since this is impossible due to our busy, mostly indoor, lifestyles, light deprivation is becoming a common occurrence in our environment. I'm sure the Coppertone people are pleased to hear this, though any opthalmologists who might be reading this now are likely having coronaries).

Supposedly, the human body has seven main Chakras (energy centers) that vibrate to a particular color. Each Chakra governs a particular organ and bodily process. The Root Chakra is located in the groin (big surprise, eh?), pelvis and sacral area. Its color is red and the primary organs are the kidney/adrenals and sex organs. Therefore red would be the color used to treat someone suffering with chronic kidney disease, low back pain or infertility. It seems to me that we've also found the real reason behind "red light districts." The theory goes on, assigning a color to each area of the body. There's even something called "colorpuncture," which "combines the concept of color and acupuncture as a way to clear blockages and restore healthy energy." I'm sure you could clear a blocked pore or two with a well-placed needle, and you might even see some red while doing so, but I'm skeptical about the "healthy energy" part. In any case, I assume you've heard enough; I know I have.

The reason that you haven't seen this type of treatment around lately is that fleecing in the medical profession has become far more technologically advanced. It shouldn't take much research, however, to find treatments that are similar in that they a) look or sound as though they might have a beneficial effect, and b) are not supported by one piece of scientific evidence. Try typing "homeopathy" into your favorite web search engine.

The fact that you "felt better" after your treatments only points to the complexity of the human mind, and it leads me to believe that you are a very suggestible person and that the "placebo effect" was in full swing. Either that or I'll bet you need velcro tabs on your shoes, that knot-tying thing being just too much to handle.

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