MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

The authors of a recent paper inform us that Reiki is a Japanese system of energy healing that has been used for over 2 500 years. It involves the transfer of energy from the practitioner to the receiver, which promotes healing, and can be done by either contact or non-contact methods. Both the receiver and the practitioner may feel the energy in various forms (warmth, cold, tingling, vibration, pulsations and/or floating sensations). Reiki can also be self-administered if one is a Reiki practitioner. Reiki is mainly used to address stress, anxiety, and pain reduction while also promoting a sense of well-being and improving quality of life.

Such statements should make us weary: what is presented here as fact is nothing more than conjecture – and very, very implausible conjecture too. Anyone who writes stuff like this in the introduction of a scientific paper is, in my view, unlikely to be objective and could be well on the way to present some nasty piece of pseudo-science.

But I am, of course, pre-judging the issue; let’s have a quick look at the article itself.

The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a 20-week structured self-Reiki program on stress reduction and relaxation in college students. Students were recruited from Stockton University and sessions were conducted in the privacy of their residence. Twenty students completed the entire study consisting of 20 weeks of self-Reiki done twice weekly. Each participant completed a Reiki Baseline Credibility Scale, a Reiki Expectancy Scale, and a Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) after acceptance into the study. The PSS was completed every four weeks once the interventions were initiated. A global assessment questionnaire was completed at the end of the study. Logs summarizing the outcome of each session were submitted at the end of the study.

With the exception of three participants, participants believed that Reiki is a credible technique for reducing stress levels. Except for two participants, participants agreed that Reiki would be effective in reducing stress levels. All participants experienced stress within the month prior to completing the initial PSS. There was a significant reduction in stress levels from pre-study to post-study. There was a correlation between self-rating of improvement and final PSS scores. With one exception, stress levels at 20 weeks did not return to pre-study stress levels.

The authors concluded that this study supports the hypothesis that the calming effect of Reiki may be achieved through the use of self-Reiki.

QED – my suspicions were fully confirmed. This study shows precisely nothing, and it certainly does not support any hypothesis regarding Reiki.

If we recruited 20 volunteers who were sufficiently gullible to believe that watching an ice-cube slowly melting in the kitchen sink, or anything else that we can think of, has profound effects on their vital energy, or chi, or karma, or anything else, we would almost certaily generate similar results.

My conclusion is therefore very different from those of the original authors: THIS STUDY SUPPORTS THE HYPOTHESIS THAT GULLIBLE PEOPLE CAN BE EASILY MISLEAD ABOUT BOGUS THERAPIES WITH PSEUDO-SCIENTIFIC STUDIES BY IRRESPONSIBLE WOULD-BE SCIENTISTS.

5 Responses to Reiki = evidently bogus; Self-Reiki = self-evidently bogus

  • How is it that these studies of alternative therapies cannot follow a simple methodology that will lend credibility to their reported outcomes; that is include a control group. Throw all the statistical analysis you want at the outcomes collected, but without a control group you cannot draw an objective conclusion. You certainly can’t put forward an assessment of a therapy’s efficacy that warrants entry into the body of science.

    However, what you will achieve (as Edzard succinctly concludes) is that “gullible people can be easily mislead about bogus therapies”. What’s worse is that pseudo-scientific studies allowed to propagate from within the confines of a university is an egregious dereliction of academic duty. How is it possible that the university’s internal review board didn’t note this fundamental flaw in the study before it began? Stockton University needs to reconsider how its review board operates and reaches its decisions. This shoddy work adds nothing to our body of knowledge, except confirms how widespread the lack of critical thinking pervades academic institutions.

  • Stockton University should be ashamed at allowing its staff to play around with the powerful energies produced by Reiki when they clearly have minimal understanding of them. I doubt properly informed consent was obtained from the participants.

    The initial stated premise of this article is misleading at best and factually wrong. Whilst the concepts of Reiki and the mind-set of those who practise it may be 2500 years old and derive from a variety of philosophies such as Buddism and Shintoism (which recognises spirits and deities in animals, trees, mountains), the ‘healing modality of Reiki’ itself is decidedly modern. In 1922 Mikao Usui encountered financial problems with his businesses, stepped back, and took a twenty one day Buddhist training course at a mountain retreat involving prayer, fasting and meditation. Usui claimed he had a mystical revelation which empowered him with energy and enabled him to develop his Reiki Ryoho Gakkai (‘Spiritual Energy Therapy Society’).

    In 1923 an earthquake devastated the Kanto region of Japan including Tokyo and Yokohama. Up to 145,000 people were killed. There was a great demand for medical attention and for emotional and psychological support. Fully qualified medical practitioners were in short supply and given the demand for care, Usui quickly trained students in his methods of transmitting ‘spiritual energy’ to patients.

    Two conventions have emerged – one based on the traditional Japanese practices and the other referred to as ‘Western Reiki’. Some suggest that Usui’s inner teachings are secret, hermetic, and known only to selected initiates. The principles however, are clear: the practitioner’s hands are held on or near the patient in a variety of different positions and energy is channelled from practitioner to patient, activating natural healing processes at physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.

    Hawaiian born Madam Hawayo Takata (1990-1980) trained with Usui and then developed a different set of hand positions and a system which better suited Western patients and practitioners. Usui Reiki Shiki Ryoho, Usui’s Spiritual Energy Style of Medical Treatment, was initially set up by Takata in the 1970s. Her fee for a course of study leading to the degree of Master and to ‘call out a student’s commitment and lead the student into a deeper understanding of the energy of money’ was $10,000.

    The nature of this ‘energy’ has never been determined but it is obviously very powerful if it can affect diseased cells. There is concern that a slight malposition of the hands might cause damage. Institutions offering Reiki must have good health and safety procedures to ensure patients are not harmed by these powerful energies as there is no explanation as to how practitioners can switch them off. We should all be very afraid.

  • Edzard I am not going into a lengthy discussion with the pros and cons of the system of Reiki and as to how it may work My comment focuses on an undeniably simple fact, frw really can make it work but, the majority can not.

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