MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Reiki is a form of energy healing that evidently has been getting so popular that, according to the ‘Shropshire Star’, even stressed hedgehogs are now being treated with this therapy. In case you argue that this publication is not cutting edge when it comes to reporting of scientific advances, you may have a point. So, let us see what evidence we find on this amazing intervention.

A recent systematic review of the therapeutic effects of Reiki concludes that the serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness. High-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to address the effectiveness of Reiki over placebo. Considering that this article was published in the JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE, this is a fairly damming verdict. The notion that Reiki is but a theatrical placebo recently received more support from a new clinical trial.

This pilot study examined the effects of Reiki therapy and companionship on improvements in quality of life, mood, and symptom distress during chemotherapy. Thirty-six breast cancer patients received usual care, Reiki, or a companion during chemotherapy. Data were collected from patients while they were receiving usual care. Subsequently, patients were randomized to either receive Reiki or a companion during chemotherapy. Questionnaires assessing quality of life, mood, symptom distress, and Reiki acceptability were completed at baseline and chemotherapy sessions 1, 2, and 4. Reiki was rated relaxing and caused no side effects. Both Reiki and companion groups reported improvements in quality of life and mood that were greater than those seen in the usual care group.

The authors of this study conclude that interventions during chemotherapy, such as Reiki or companionship, are feasible, acceptable, and may reduce side effects.

This is an odd conclusion, if there ever was one. Clearly the ‘companionship’ group was included to see whether Reiki has effects beyond simply providing sympathetic attention. The results show that this is not the case. It follows, I think, that Reiki is a placebo; its perceived relaxing effects are the result of non-specific phenomena which have nothing to do with Reiki per se. The fact that the authors fail to spell this out more clearly makes me wonder whether they are researchers or promoters of Reiki.

Some people will feel that it does not matter how Reiki works, the main thing is that it does work. I beg to differ!

If its effects are due to nothing else than attention and companionship, we do not need ‘trained’ Reiki masters to do the treatment; anyone who has time, compassion and sympathy can do it. More importantly, if Reiki is a placebo, we should not mislead people that some super-natural energy is at work. This only promotes irrationality – and, as Voltaire once said: those who make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

10 Responses to Reiki: the gullible belief in the super-natural

  • Well, one of the researchers is definitely also a promoter of reiki. Arlene M. Stevens from Reiki Spirit and Life, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, is a trained Reiki Master who “believes that the calming and centering energy of Reiki should be shared”.

    http://www.reikispiritandlife.com/reiki/?page_id=10

  • I have serious concerns that Reiki practitioners are, if their claims are to accepted, playing with fire.
    Being able to conjure energies capable of affecting a pathological process is wonderful, but are patients told that if the hand positioning is just a little ‘off’, harm could be caused by the energy affecting normal tissue?
    Do patients give informed consent with this understanding?
    If it is claimed Reiki energies can never be misapplied, we have to accept they cannot be applied at all. That is what I believe, but we must listen to therapists who claim otherwise, and ask them to provide the evidence.

    If Reiki is funded by the NHS, NHS managers and doctors with reponsibility for the clinical care of patients are legally obliged to ensure the powerful energies are safe, have been reviewed as ‘an innovation’ and have the approval of the ethics committee. They are duty bound to determine the nature of the energy for which approval is being sought. Is it possible staff standing nearby can be affected? How do we know they are not? What protection do they need?Reiki practitioners claim they can send their energy over considerable distances. I cannot proove they cannot do so.

    When Ashya King’s parents took him to Prague recently for proton beam therapy, NHS England initially declined, but then determined to pay for the trreatment on the grounds that “Given that Ashya had travelled to Prague, it was clearly best that he continue to be treated uninterupted.” (Daily Telegraph report 13.11.14). But given NHS consultants had already determined that form of therapy would not be beneficial, the only rationing rule NHS England appear to have applied is that Ashya had ‘travelled to Prague.’ A very bizarre rule but a principle which I assume can now be adopted by all NHS patients who wish. Whether NHS England will give approval and pay for patients to travel to cities other than Prague (contrary to their NHS consultants approval) remains to be seen. If not, why not?
    But you may have noted that photographs of Ashya in his bed on the trip show his mother positioning her hands very much in one of the Reiki positions. If she was not applying Reiki, perhaps she was applying another form of healing energy. Sensitivities may preclude discovering what she was doing, but she might have had a very beneficial effect. At least as good as proton beams which NHS consultants had said were not appropriate. We should be told. The NHS has paid enough.

    These energies, whether proton beams, radiotherapy or healing energy are held to be very powerful. The NHS is prepared to pay for their application. We must know more of their nature.

    Of course it could be there is no such entity as ‘Reiki energy’ and the effects of time spent with a Reiki practitioner are due to its presentation as a theatrical placebo. If so, patients must be told that is the case – or they cannot give properly informed consent.

    Professor Ernst’s last paragraph must be taken as the bed-rock of good medical practice, and of NHS care.

    • I can’t see you point Richard Rawlins.
      We know for sure that no such thing as energy healing exist, because it go beyond every law of nature and physics and it has been assessed for sure. It’s nothing comparable to radiotherapy with REAL and quantifiable radiation AND quantifiable effect at atomic AND molecular AND macromolecular scale. Reiki promoter say what they want : that it can’t be detected and that it can’t be harmful, of course they won’t say that it could be dangerous because it the marvellous land of the marvellous invisible energy – side effect are no good for business.
      Trying to know the potential ‘side-effect’ of reiki is another huge waste of time and money and worse, it’s aknowledging that reiki is plausible in the first place. It’s like wondering ‘how santa is giving present all over the world in one day’ before asking ‘do santa exist ?’. If it don’t exist then the first question is a non sequitur. Reiki is a fantasm, so we need to tell people that is a fantasm and inform them they will just need a good company – a good free of charge company like family – and keep their wallet out of reach of the greedy hand of quackmaster.

      • I think you’re missing the wonderfully ironic and humorous point Richard Rawlins is making. If the Reiki “energies” are real then they need to be subject to the same regulation as genuine energies such as X-rays, proton beams and the rest.

        There’s a parallel with homeopathy: the homeopathic bomb. For some reason airport security doesn’t seem to be troubled at all; but if the theories of homeopathy are correct, it should be possible to make an ultra-powerful bomb by massive multiple sequential dilutions of something like nitroglycerine (all properly potentized at each step by shaking and banging on a leather-bound bible). The final dilution could easily be taken in a small volume on an aeroplane.

        The point being that, like Reiki, homeopathy is usually regarded as free of side effects (because it consists of nothing). Yet, surely, if the theories of homeopathy are correct, a patient treated with the “wrong” homeopathic product might be harmed. If the “medicines” really have physiological effects, surely they should be thoroughly investigated to make sure those effects can’t be misdirected?

        • Yeah i’ve understand the irony of the situation -another classic is that the homeopathic remedies don’t need full market autorisation but are covered by the social security in France like true medicine (and the law state that a medicine, to be covered by social security, need to have an full mark autorisation, so homeopathy get bread and butter… More, I PAID with MY TAXES for the quackery choice of other, isn’t that fabulously ironic ?)- . But I don’t get the humorous part, I though he was serious in the evaluating process. Is that what they call british sense of humor ? (this is also irony).

          • For the purposes of this piece I stated “IF it is claimed Reiki energies can never be misapplied…”.
            So, over to the Reiki Masters and fairymongers.
            If they make claims about Reiki energy, what do they say about misapplication? Even by a rogue Reiki Master. (I like the idea of a homeopathic bomb, though what would happen on the first succussion of nitroglycerine I am not sure…)

            Why is it no authority or government has the honesty and integrity to simply say ‘this is bunkum. We are not going to fund bunkum. We are going to protect children from wasting their time on bunkum therapies, and the gullible and vulnerable from fraud.’
            Why is that a problem?
            The GMC are currently determining whether or not a dotor who uses an alternative system is in fact fit to practice. So steps can be taken. Small though they are.
            Just how we we to tell if a Reiki practitioner is fraud or not?
            There can never be evidence they cannot generate ‘energies’.
            Though such abilities would contradict the second law of thermodynamics.

  • Once again you foolishly challenge the great and powerful (Dr.) Oz!

    “Oz’s wife, Lisa Oz, knows firsthand the benefits of Reiki and its great potential as a catalyst for medical breakthroughs. As a Reiki master, she wholly embraces energy healing, pointing out in a recent interview that “the next wave of medical advances will be when we come to recognize the body as an energetic system.”

    http://iarp.org/dr-oz-and-the-healing-power-of-reiki/

    • well smudge i went to the link that you supplied and it did not provide evidence that reiki works. dr oz likes reiki only because his wife is a reiki master, reiki therapy was debunked many years ago.

      • From reading Oz’s website, in part, and watching a YouTube of his wife, they are both fruitloops; sure, confident and articulate but fruitloops, nonetheless. When Reiki Master Lisa discovers what the “energy” is, apart from some vague god notion, maybe she should enlighten the world about it. James Randi for one could give her a big payout. 🙂

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