MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

This review aimed to assess the therapeutic efficacy of Reiki therapy in alleviating anxiety.

In adherence to academic standards, a thorough search was conducted across esteemed databases such as PubMed, Web of Science, Science Direct, and the Cochrane Library. The primary objective of this search was to pinpoint peer-reviewed articles published in English that satisfied specific criteria: (1) employing an experimental or quasi-experimental study design, (2) incorporating Reiki therapy as the independent variable, (3) encompassing diverse patient populations along with healthy individuals, and (4) assessing anxiety as the measured outcome.

The study involved 824 participants, all of whom were aged 18 years or older. Reiki therapy was found to have a significant effect on anxiety intervention(SMD=-0.82, 95CI -1.29∼-0.36, P = 0.001). Subgroup analysis indicated that the types of subjects (chronically ill individuals and the general adult population) and the dosage/frequency of the intervention (≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions) were significant factors influencing the variability in anxiety reduction.

The authors concluded that short-term Reiki therapy interventions of ≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing health and procedural anxiety in patients with chronic conditions such as gastrointestinal endoscopy inflammation, fibromyalgia, and depression, as well as in the general population. It is important to note that the efficacy of Reiki therapy in decreasing preoperative anxiety and death-related anxiety in preoperative patients and cancer patients is somewhat less consistent. These discrepancies may be attributed to individual pathophysiological states, psychological conditions, and treatment expectations.

_______________________

This is a truly stunning finding considering that few treatments are less plausible that Reiki. I strongly suspect that these conclusions are not tenable. To see whether this is true, we must look at the primary studies (tedious, I know, but can’t be helped). Here are the abstracts of the 13 studies included in this review:

STUDY No 1

Purpose: The purpose of the study was to investigate changes in the anxiety levels of patients receiving preoperative Reiki.

Material and methods: This study used a quasi-experimental model with a pretest-posttest control group.

Methods: Subjects (n = 210) were recruited from a hospital in Turkey, from June 2013 to July 2014. Subjects were then assigned to experimental (n = 105) and control (n = 105) groups.

Results: The level of anxiety of experimental group patients did not change according to their state anxiety scores (p > 0.10); however, the anxiety level of control group patients increased (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: The results of this study imply that the administration of Reiki is effective in controlling preoperative anxiety levels and in preventing them from increasing.

I am not sure what is meant by “a quasi-experimental model with pretest- posttest control group”. Yet, I suspect this was not a properly randomised trial and should thus have been exclused from the review. There was no control of placebo effects.

STUDY No 2

Fatigue is an extremely common side effect experienced during cancer treatment and recovery. Limited research has investigated strategies stemming from complementary and alternative medicine to reduce cancer-related fatigue. This research examined the effects of Reiki, a type of energy touch therapy, on fatigue, pain, anxiety, and overall quality of life. This study was a counterbalanced crossover trial of 2 conditions: (1) in the Reiki condition, participants received Reiki for 5 consecutive daily sessions, followed by a 1-week washout monitoring period of no treatments, then 2 additional Reiki sessions, and finally 2 weeks of no treatments, and (2) in the rest condition, participants rested for approximately 1 hour each day for 5 consecutive days, followed by a 1-week washout monitoring period of no scheduled resting and an additional week of no treatments. In both conditions, participants completed questionnaires investigating cancer-related fatigue (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Fatigue subscale [FACT-F]) and overall quality of life (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy, General Version [FACT-G]) before and after all Reiki or resting sessions. They also completed a visual analog scale (Edmonton Symptom Assessment System [ESAS]) assessing daily tiredness, pain, and anxiety before and after each session of Reiki or rest. Sixteen patients (13 women) participated in the trial: 8 were randomized to each order of conditions (Reiki then rest; rest then Reiki). They were screened for fatigue on the ESAS tiredness item, and those scoring greater than 3 on the 0 to 10 scale were eligible for the study. They were diagnosed with a variety of cancers, most commonly colorectal (62.5%) cancer, and had a median age of 59 years. Fatigue on the FACT-F decreased within the Reiki condition (P=.05) over the course of all 7 treatments. In addition, participants in the Reiki condition experienced significant improvements in quality of life (FACT-G) compared to those in the resting condition (P <.05). On daily assessments (ESAS) in the Reiki condition, presession 1 versus postsession 5 scores indicated significant decreases in tiredness (P <.001), pain (P <.005), and anxiety (P<.01), which were not seen in the resting condition. Future research should further investigate the impact of Reiki using more highly controlled designs that include a sham Reiki condition and larger sample sizes.

This was a pilot study which should not report efficacy outcomes merely test the feasibility of a definitive trial. There was no control of placebo effects.

STUDY No 3

Purpose: This study’s aim is to determine the effect of Reiki when applied before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy on levels of anxiety, stress, and comfort.

Design: This single-blind, a pretest and post-test design, randomized, sham-controlled study was held between February and July 2021.

Methods: Patients who met the inclusion criteria were separated by randomization into three groups: Reiki, sham Reiki, and control. A total of 159 patients participated in the study. In the intervention groups (Reiki and sham Reiki), Reiki and sham Reiki were applied once for approximately 20 to 25 minutes before gastrointestinal endoscopy.

Findings: When the Reiki group was compared to the sham Reiki and control groups following the intervention, the decrease in the levels of patient stress (P < .001) and anxiety (P < .001) and the increase in patient comfort (P < .001) were found to be statistically significant.

Conclusions: Reiki applied to patients before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy was effective in reducing stress and anxiety and in increasing comfort.

Here an attempt was made to control for placebo effects and to blind patients. Whether the latter was successful was not tested. Thus a placebo effects cannot be excluded.

STUDY No 4

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of Reiki as an alternative and complementary approach to treating community-dwelling older adults who experience pain, depression, and/or anxiety. Participants (N = 20) were randomly assigned to either an experimental or wait list control group. The pre- and posttest measures included the Hamilton Anxiety Scale, Geriatric Depression Scale-Short Form, Faces Pain Scale, and heart rate and blood pressure. The research design included an experimental component to examine changes in these measures and a descriptive component (semi-structured interview) to elicit information about the experience of having Reiki treatments. Significant differences were observed between the experimental and treatment groups on measures of pain, depression, and anxiety; no changes in heart rate and blood pressure were noted. Content analysis of treatment notes and interviews revealed five broad categories of responses: Relaxation; Improved Physical Symptoms, Mood, and Well-Being; Curiosity and a Desire to Learn More; Enhanced Self-Care; and Sensory and Cognitive Responses to Reiki.

No attempt to control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 5

Purpose: The purpose of this randomized pilot was to determine feasibility of testing Reiki, a complementary therapy intervention, for women undergoing breast biopsy (BB).

Background: Increasingly women face the possibility of BB, the definitive test for breast cancer. Psychological distress associated with BB includes anxiety and depression. Reiki was proposed as an intervention to decrease anxiety and promote relaxation.

Method: Thirty-two women scheduled for BB were randomized to Reiki intervention versus conventional care control. Anxiety and depression were evaluated using self-report questionnaires.

Findings: Analysis found no significant mean differences between groups over time. Comparably low baseline anxiety levels (possible selection bias) decreased naturally with time allowing little room for observing treatment effect.

Conclusions: Reiki, when administered in the naturalistic setting of a complementary therapy office, did not suggest evidence of efficacy. An intervention offered within the bounds of the conventional care setting may be more feasible for addressing BB distress.

The study failed to produce a positive finding.

STUDY No 6

The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of Reiki on pain, anxiety, and hemodynamic parameters on postoperative days 1 and 2 in patients who had undergone cesarean delivery. The design of this study was a randomized, controlled clinical trial. The study took place between February and July 2011 in the Obstetrical Unit at Odemis Public Hospital in Izmir, Turkey. Ninety patients equalized by age and number of births were randomly assigned to either a Reiki group or a control group (a rest without treatment). Treatment applied to both groups in the first 24 and 48 hours after delivery for a total of 30 minutes to 10 identified regions of the body for 3 minutes each. Reiki was applied for 2 days once a day (in the first 24 and 48 hours) within 4-8 hours of the administration of standard analgesic, which was administered intravenously by a nurse. A visual analog scale and the State Anxiety Inventory were used to measure pain and anxiety. Hemodynamic parameters, including blood pressure (systolic and diastolic), pulse and breathing rates, and analgesic requirements also were recorded. Statistically significant differences in pain intensity (p = .000), anxiety value (p = .000), and breathing rate (p = .000) measured over time were found between the two groups. There was a statistically significant difference between the two groups in the time (p = .000) and number (p = .000) of analgesics needed after Reiki application and a rest without treatment. Results showed that Reiki application reduced the intensity of pain, the value of anxiety, and the breathing rate, as well as the need for and number of analgesics. However, it did not affect blood pressure or pulse rate. Reiki application as a nursing intervention is recommended as a pain and anxiety-relieving method in women after cesarean delivery.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 7

Objective: to evaluate the effectiveness of massage and reiki in the reduction of stress and anxiety in clients at the Institute for Integrated and Oriental Therapy in Sao Paulo (Brazil).

Method: clinical tests randomly done in parallel with an initial sample of 122 people divided into three groups: Massage + Rest (G1), Massage + Reiki (G2) and a Control group without intervention (G3). The Stress Systems list and the Trace State Anxiety Inventory were used to evaluate the groups at the start and after 8 sessions (1 month), during 2015.

Results: there were statistical differences (p = 0.000) according to the ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) for the stress amongst the groups 2 and 3 (p = 0.014) with a 33% reductions and a Cohen of 0.78. In relation to anxiety-state, there was a reduction in the intervention groups compared with the control group (p < 0.01) with a 21% reduction in group 2 (Cohen of 1.18) and a 16% reduction for group 1 (Cohen of 1.14).

Conclusion: Massage + Reiki produced better results amongst the groups and the conclusion is for further studies to be done with the use of a placebo group to evaluate the impact of the technique separate from other techniques.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 8

This randomized controlled study aimed to determine the effect of Reiki and aromatherapy on vital signs, oxygen saturation, and anxiety level in patients undergoing upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. The sample consisted of 100 patients divided into Reiki (n = 34), aromatherapy (n = 33), and control (n = 33) groups. Data were collected 3 times (before, during, and after the procedure) using a descriptive characteristics questionnaire, a follow-up form, and the State Anxiety Subscale. The Reiki group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 53.59 ± 2.98 and 43.94 ± 4.31 before and after the procedure, respectively. The aromatherapy group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 54.03 ± 4.03 and 43.85 ± 3.91 before and after the procedure, respectively. The control group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 38.79 ± 4.68 and 53.30 ± 7.26 before and after the procedure, respectively (P < .05). The results showed that the Reiki and aromatherapy groups had significantly lower State Anxiety Subscale scores than the control group after the procedure, indicating that Reiki and aromatherapy help reduce anxiety levels. There was a significant difference in the mean respiratory rates and oxygen saturation levels between the groups (P < .05). In conclusion, patients who do Reiki or undergo aromatherapy are less likely to experience anxiety before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 9

The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of Reiki application on pain, anxiety, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. The study was completed with a total of 50 patients: 25 in the experimental group and 25 in the control group. Reiki was applied to the experimental group and sham Reiki to the control group once a week for 4 weeks. Data were collected from the participants using the Information Form, Visual Analog Scale, McGill-Melzack Pain Questionnaire, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Short Form-36. There was a significant difference between the mean Visual Analog Scale pain scores during and before the first week (P = .012), second week (P = .002), and fourth week (P = .020) measurements of the individuals in the experimental and control groups, after application. In addition, at the end of the 4-week period, the State Anxiety Inventory (P = .005) and the Trait Anxiety Inventory (P = .003) were significantly decreased in the Reiki group compared with the control group. Physical function (P = .000), energy (P = .009), mental health (P = .018), and pain (P = .029) subdimension scores of quality of life in the Reiki group increased significantly compared with the control group. Reiki application to patients with fibromyalgia may have positive effects on reducing pain, improving quality of life, and reducing state and trait anxiety levels.

Here an attempt was made to control for placebo effects and to blind patients. Whether the latter was successful was not tested. Thus a placebo effects cannot be excluded. The sample size was small.

STUDY No 10

Background: Reiki is a biofield therapy which is based on the explanatory model that the fields of energy and information of living systems can be influenced to promote relaxation and stimulate a healing response.

Objective: To conduct a pragmatic within-subject pilot trial of a remote Reiki program for frontline healthcare workers’ health-related symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Healthcare professionals in the UK (eg, physicians, nurses, and paramedics) were eligible to sign up for a distance Reiki program and were also invited to participate in the research study. Eight Reiki practitioners simultaneously gave each participant Reiki remotely for 20 minutes on 4 consecutive days. Feasibility of the research was assessed, including recruitment, data completeness, acceptability and intervention fidelity, and preliminary evaluation of changes in outcome measures. Participants’ stress, anxiety, pain, wellbeing, and sleep quality were evaluated with 7-point numerical rating scales. Measures were completed when signing up to receive Reiki (pre) and following the final Reiki session (post). Pre and post data were analyzed using Wilcoxon signed ranks tests.

Results: Seventy-nine healthcare professionals signed up to receive Reiki and took the baseline measures. Of those, 40 completed post-measures after the 4-day intervention and were therefore included in the pre-post analysis. Most participants were female (97.5%), and the mean age was 43.9 years old (standard deviations = 11.2). The study was feasible to conduct, with satisfactory recruitment, data completeness, acceptability, and fidelity. Wilcoxon signed ranks tests revealed statistically significant decreases in stress (M = -2.33; P < .001), anxiety (M = -2.79; P < .001) and pain (M = -.79; P < .001), and significant increases in wellbeing (M = -1.79; P < .001) and sleep quality (M = -1.33; P = .019).

Conclusions: The Reiki program was feasible and was associated with decreased stress, anxiety and pain, and increased wellbeing and sleep quality in frontline healthcare workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pilot study should not report efficacy findings and should be excluded.

STUDY No 11

Background: There is a scarcity of studies in the international literature regarding alternative treatment to the pharmacological and psychotherapeutic intervention in the face of depression symptoms. This study aimed to test a protocol based on natural therapy, alternatives to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic, through Mindfulness Meditation, Reiki, Acupuncture and Auriculotherapy, to treat the symptoms of depression for those who were with no pharmacological or psychotherapeutic treatment for these symptoms.

Methods: this is a randomized single-blind controlled pilot study. The final sample was 21 participants divided in two groups: experimental and control. Participants were evaluated by validated instruments during the screening process and after the intervention. The instruments were: Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale and Beck Depression Inventory. Intervention was performed in eight sessions, during two months. All the techniques were used in the experimental group. Analysis of variance with repeated measures was used to compare pre-intervention to post-intervention moments.

Results: the result of analysis indicates a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression after the intervention among the experimental group.

Limitations: there is no way to determine which of the techniques used produced the most significant result.

Conclusions: The protocol proposed in this study was effective in reducing the symptoms of depression to whom are not eligible for traditional treatment.

This is a pilot study and should not report efficacy findings. It is also not a study of just Reiki. It should have been excluded.

STUDY No 12

This is a constructive replication of a previous trial conducted by Bowden et al. (2010), where students who had received Reiki demonstrated greater health and mood benefits than those who received no Reiki. The current study examined impact on anxiety/depression. 40 university students-half with high depression and/or anxiety and half with low depression and/or anxiety-were randomly assigned to receive Reiki or to a non-Reiki control group. Participants experienced six 30-minute sessions over a period of two to eight weeks, where they were blind to whether noncontact Reiki was administered as their attention was absorbed in a guided relaxation. The efficacy of the intervention was assessed pre-post intervention and at five-week follow-up by self-report measures of mood, illness symptoms, and sleep. The participants with high anxiety and/or depression who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.

No control for placebo effects

STUDY No 13

This is a constructive replication of a previous trial conducted by Bowden et al. (2010), where students who had received Reiki demonstrated greater health and mood benefits than those who received no Reiki. The current study examined impact on anxiety/depression. 40 university students-half with high depression and/or anxiety and half with low depression and/or anxiety-were randomly assigned to receive Reiki or to a non-Reiki control group. Participants experienced six 30-minute sessions over a period of two to eight weeks, where they were blind to whether noncontact Reiki was administered as their attention was absorbed in a guided relaxation. The efficacy of the intervention was assessed pre-post intervention and at five-week follow-up by self-report measures of mood, illness symptoms, and sleep. The participants with high anxiety and/or depression who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.

This is the only rigorous study included in the review. Its findings are not easy to interpret (“For the sample as a whole, as can be seen from the total group means, there was little change over the course of the study”)

__________________________

Even though I did not have access to the full text of all of these RCTs, this analysis tells me a few important things; here are some of the main points I discovered:

  • the new review is fatally flawed;
  • the authors’ statement that their “article presents a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that were conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines” is nonsensical;
  • PRISMA guidelines were certainly not adhered to;
  • there is no truly critical assessment of the primary studies;
  • the literature searches were incomplete;
  • the risk of bias tool for evaluating the primary studies was employed incorrectly;
  • the review did not include all RCTs of Reiki (our own 2008 review included several trials that are not included here, and this blog has a few more);
  • the review includes several studies that should have been excluded;
  • most Reiki studies are of poor quality;
  • with both the review and most of the primary studies, one feels a strong bias towards trying to prove that Reiki works;
  • Reiki research is firmly in the hands of nurses (almost all the studies were conducted by nurses);
  • almost all of the RCTs test Reiki versus no treatment, and this means that most do not control for placebo (or other non-specific) effects. In other words, the conclusions stating that Reiki is effective are simply wrong.

I am dismayed to see that a decent journal (BMC Palliative Care) published such a fatally flawed review. The paper fails to discuss any of its obvious flaws. Specifically, it does not even specify what interventions were used in the various control groups. Do the journal editors, peer-reviewers and authors not appreciate that, without such information, the findings are uninterpretable? Or do they perhaps deliberately try to mislead us?

If you ask me, this paper should be best withdrawn.

Our own review of Reiki is no longer up-to-date. Yet, it’s conclusion is, in my view, far more accurate than the one offered by the authors of the fatally flawed new review:

the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.

11 Responses to A new review and meta-analysis suggests that Reiki “demonstrated effectiveness” – but I beg to differ

  • This is the journal which very quickly rejected my survey of pseudoscientific therapies in NHS cancer departments. Reiki was one of the commonest modalities in my survey. The journal said my paper was out of scope. However I focused specifically on palliative care, whereas this published paper did not. It very much looks as if this is a case of publication bias.

  • I am very concerned, frightened even.
    Apparently, Reiki therapists can generate a new and hitherto unidentified form of universal energy which is capable not only of affecting patients in the immediate vicinity, but (as Reiki Masters II claim), can be transmitted international distances.

    Could it be that a slight mal-positioning of the hands could actually make a clients anxiety, cancer or any other condition worse?
    How do we know?

    Could it be that it this universal energy has been harnessed by some malign Reiki Masters and has led to so much of the conflicts we see around the world?

    How safe is Reiki energy?
    How do we know?
    We must be told!

  • STUDY No 1
    “I am not sure what is meant by ‘a quasi-experimental model with pretest- posttest control group’. Yet, I suspect this was not a properly randomised trial and should thus have been exclused from the review. There was no control of placebo effects.”

    A quasi-experiment is an empirical interventional study used to estimate the causal impact of an intervention on target population without random assignment.

    Quasi-experimental research shares similarities with the traditional experimental design or randomized controlled trial, but it specifically lacks the element of random assignment to treatment or control. Instead, quasi-experimental designs typically allow the researcher to control the assignment to the treatment condition, but using some criterion other than random assignment (e.g., an eligibility cutoff mark).

    Quasi-experiments are subject to concerns regarding internal validity, because the treatment and control groups may not be comparable at baseline. In other words, it may not be possible to convincingly demonstrate a causal link between the treatment condition and observed outcomes.

    Disadvantages
    Quasi-experimental estimates of impact are subject to contamination by confounding variables…

    Internal validity
    Internal validity is the approximate truth about inferences regarding cause-effect or causal relationships. This is why validity is important for quasi experiments because they are all about causal relationships… The question you would want to ask while trying to keep internal validity high is “Are there any other possible reasons for the outcome besides the reason I want it to be?” If so, then internal validity might not be as strong.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasi-experiment

    [my emphasis]

  • Oops, my mistake. My paper was rejected by BMJ Palliative Care not BMC Palliative Care.

  • Time to point out yet again that, certainly in the UK, nurses have no sensible training in scientific methods, statistics, critical thinking, reading research papers, let alone conducting research…

    Yours, a disgruntled former senior nurse with 30 years expereince of UK nursing, including placement supervision, lecturing and the rest, while having already being equipped with a sciernce degree.

  • “dosage/frequency of the intervention (≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions) were significant factors influencing the variability in anxiety reduction”

    And the 4–6 sessions of reiki subgroup was noteworthy because it did not show any benefit. This absurd finding ought to have alerted the peer reviewers and the journal editor to the notion that: either reiki possesses a hitherto unknown bimodal dose–response relationship; or this review is dire.

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12904-024-01439-x/tables/2

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