This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Color therapy is the use of color in a variety of ways to promote health and healing. The different colors we see in the world around us are the result of the eye perceiving light vibrating at different frequencies. Sunlight, or full-spectrum light, holds all the wavelengths of color in the visible spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and magenta) as well as infrared and ultraviolet light, which cannot be seen. Used to treat both physical and emotional problems, color therapy may involve exposure to colored lights, massages using color-saturated oils, contemplating and visualizing colors, even wearing colored clothing and eating colored foods.
Not surprisingly, color has played a role in healing for centuries. At the temple of Heliopolis in ancient Egypt, patients were treated in rooms specifically designed to break up the sun's rays into the colors of the spectrum. People also made regular pilgrimages to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world, to take advantage of the healing colors of the exotic plants and flowers found there. In India, practitioners of Ayurveda (now the oldest health-care system in the world), taught that specific colors corresponded with each of the seven chakras, the energy centers that represent organs, emotions, and aspects of the spirit. (Today Ayurvedic medicine continues to use color today to treat a wide range of mental and physical imbalances.)
It wasn't until the late 17th century, however, that modern-day color theory was born. when English philosopher and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton conducted his prism experiments and showed that light is truly a mixture of colors from the visible spectrum.
Although doctors used color to treat everything from psychological problems to smallpox over the next hundred years, interest in color's effects on healing didn't really pick up until 1878, when Dr. Edwin D. Babbitt published his book Principles of Light and Color. Here he described his work in chromatotherapy (healing with colored lights), suggesting it as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including burns, nervous excitability, and cold in the extremities.
Probably the most extensive and detailed work on colored light therapy, however, was done by Dr. Dinshah P. Ghadiali (1873-1966), a naturalized American from India, who had studied Babbitt's work. The doctor spent many years researching the effects of color on disease and developing colored filters. In 1920, he introduced a system of colored lights, which he sold under the name "Spectro-Chrome" lamps. Touted as a treatment for such diseases as diabetes, tuberculosis, and chronic gonorrhea, the healing lamps were considered preposterous by many M.D.s and miraculous by others who claimed success with them. Although controversial (Dinshah spent much time in court defending his product), his work continues to inspire many color therapists today.
In 1947, Swiss psychologist Dr. Max Lüscher introduced the Lüscher Color Test, a form of color therapy still widely used by many psychologists. The test consists of choosing 43 colors from a total of 73 possibilities, although there are simpler variations. By observing the colors a person chooses or rejects, the therapist can learn a good deal about a subject's psychological state. For example, if a person selects darker colors, it suggests a need for rest and stress reduction.
At about the same time, Russian researcher S.V. Krakov was conducting a series of experiments in which he separated the different wavelengths in the light spectrum to show how color can affect the nervous system. He observed that red light stimulated the adrenal glands, raising blood pressure and pulse rate, and that blue and white light had a calming effect. Although there are still no rigorous studies supporting Krakov's work, many practitioners today commonly recommend color therapy for stress and for stress-related pain.
In recent years interest in color therapy has grown as studies have shown the positive effects of full-spectrum light on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other forms of depression. Mainstream researchers are looking into its use for a variety of other ailments as well, from sleep disorders to hormonal problems.
More unusual color therapies also continue to be utilized. Over the past decade Aura-Soma (an Eastern-influenced therapy that uses colored bottles of essential oils and extracts to shed light on a person's "true inner self") has gained a following. And Esogetic Colorpuncture Therapy (ECT), which focuses colored light on acupuncture points, is being studied as a treatment for a variety of health problems, including migraines, bronchitis, and uterine fibroids.