The founder of Johrei Healing (JH), Mokichi Okada, believed that “all human beings have toxins in their physical bodies. Some are inherited, others are acquired by ingesting medicines, food additives, unnatural food, unclean air, most drugs, etc. all of these contain chemicals which cannot be used by the body and are treated as poisons…….. Illness is no more than the body’s way of purifying itself to regain health…… The more we resist illness by taking suppressive medications, the harder and more built up the toxins become…… If we do not allow the toxins to be eliminated from the body, we will suffer more, and have more difficult purification…..on the other hand, if we allow illness to take its course by letting the toxins become naturally eliminated from our bodies, we will be healthier.”

Johrei healers channel light or energy or warmth etc. into the patient’s or recipient’s body in order to stimulate well-being and healing. Sounds wacky? Yes!

Still, at one stage my team conducted research into all sorts of wacky healing practices (detailed reasons and study designs can be found in my recent book ‘A SCIENTIST IN WONDERLAND‘). Despite the wackiness, we even conducted a study of JH. Dr Michael Dixon, who was closely collaborating with us at the time, had persuaded me that it would be reasonable to do such a study. He brought some Japanese JH-gurus to my department to discuss the possibility, and (to my utter amazement) they were happy to pay £ 70 000 into the university’s research accounts for a small pilot study. I made sure that all the necessary ethical safe-guards were in place, and eventually we all agreed to design and conduct a study. Here is the abstract of the paper published once the results were available and written up.

Johrei is a form of spiritual healing comprising “energy channelling” and light massage given either by a trained healer or, after some basic training, by anyone. This pilot trial aimed to identify any potential benefits of family-based Johrei practice in childhood eczema and for general health and to establish the feasibility of a subsequent randomised controlled trial. Volunteer families of 3-5 individuals, including at least one child with eczema were recruited to an uncontrolled pilot trial lasting 12 months. Parents were trained in Johrei healing and then practised at home with their family. Participants kept diaries and provided questionnaire data at baseline, 3,6 and 12 months. Eczema symptoms were scored at the same intervals. Scepticism about Johrei is presently an obstacle to recruitment and retention of a representative sample in a clinical trial, and to its potential use in general practice. The frequency and quality of practise at home by families may be insufficient to bring about the putative health benefits. Initial improvements in eczema symptoms and diary recorded illness, could not be separated from seasonal factors and other potential confounders. There were no improvements on other outcomes measuring general health and psychological wellbeing of family members.”

Our findings were hugely disappointing for the JH-gurus, of course, but we did insist on our right to publish them. Dr Dixon was not involved in the day to day running of our trial, nor in evaluating its results, nor in writing up the paper. He nevertheless showed a keen interest in the matter, kept in contact with the Japanese sponsors, and arranged regular meetings to discuss our progress. It was at one of those gatherings when he mentioned that he was about to fly to Japan to give a progress report to the JH organisation that had financed the study. My team felt this was odd (not least because, at this point, the study was far from finished) and we were slightly irritated by this interference.

When Dixon had returned from Japan, we asked him how the meeting had been. He said the JH sponsors had received him extremely well and had appreciated his presentation of our preliminary findings. As an ‘aside’, he mentioned something quite extraordinary: he, his wife and his three kids had all flown business class paid for by the sponsors of our trial. This, we all felt, was an overt abuse of potential research funds, unethical and totally out of line with academic behaviour. Recently, I found this fascinating clip on youtube, and I wonder whether it was filmed when Dr Dixon visited Japan on that occasion. One does get the impression that the Johrei organisation is not short of money.

A few months later, I duly reported this story to my dean, Prof Tooke, who was about to get involved with Dr Dixon in connection with a postgraduate course on integrated medicine for our medical school (more about this episode here or in my book). He agreed with me that such a thing was a most regrettable violation of academic and ethical standards. To my great surprise, he then asked me not to tell anybody about it. Today I feel very little loyalty to either of these two people and have therefore decided to publish my account – which, by the way, is fully documented as I have kept all relevant records and a detailed diary (in case anyone should feel like speaking to libel lawyers).

10 Responses to Johrei healing and the amazing Dr Dixon (presidential candidate for the RCGP)

  • It’s amazing the elaborate stories naturopaths weave about the mystical properties of the body. To people who have no formal scientific training, like me, those can sound appealing, since it implies that naturopathy can help us detect and “cure” those imaginary problems. I believed many of these things for too long and am now reading about the pseudoscience of it all. I just finished your “Scientist in Wonderland” book, pretty much in one sitting. Fabulous!

    When I got caught up in the natural healing myths, it was empowering to think that I could simply “listen to my body,” then diagnose and cure what I figured was wrong, using any one of a number of random remedies I could buy right there at the co-op. That’s where the problem starts–a person can go pretty far afield grabbing bad theories here and there trying to make sense out of their health, in the absence of actual knowledge. Life has become so much simpler since I remembered there are these people called doctors who study healing for years, and who can easily diagnose and treat anything that ails me.

  • Lovely post, WinnieMae. You’ve touched all the problems very concisely. I’m not sure doctors can yet always diagnose and treat anything that may ail us, but they’ve a darn sight better chance than people who rely on witchcraft.

  • Reading the abstract through the link you provided and the more detailed PMC article therein, the description of the “research” is a testimonial on how NOT to do a clinical trial, especially when researching “energy healing.”

    From the article, “Parents were trained in Johrei healing and then practised at home with their family. Participants kept diaries and provided questionnaire data at baseline, 3,6 and 12 months.” Just reading this line ought to drive any scientist interested in real research to throw the article in the trash bin.

    I also find it interesting that while it is obvious there is no love lost between Dr Ernst and Dr Dixon, these former colleagues had no problem accepting the generous funding from the Japanese organization.

    Talking about ethics, you say they “paid 70,000 pounds into the university accounts.” How much of that research funding benefited you personally?

    By the way, I am very much familiar with research funding at clinical trials at one of the top research institutions in the United States so I know the racket.

  • Dr Dixon was not successful in his attempt to be elected as President of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
    Quite what the constitution of the ‘NHS Alliance’ and of the ‘College of Medicine’ is in respect to his election (?) to positions in those institutions I am unclear.
    Announcement of his knighthood is awaited.

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