It has been reported that Brazil and India will collaborate in the promotion of quackery! Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have just signed several agreements on collaboration. Agreement 8 is particularly intriguing:
8. Memo of agreement for cooperation in Traditional Medicine and Homeopathy
We seek to promote and develop bilateral cooperation in the field of traditional medicine and homeopathy. The areas of cooperation provided for in the instrument include exchange of experience in teaching regulations, practices, medicines and non-medicine therapies; knowledge promotion, exchange of training for therapists, health professionals, scientists, teaching professionals and students; and development of joint research, besides educational and training programs.
Homeopathy, already a recognized medical specialty in Brazil, is currently offered for free by the Brazilian national healthcare system. Other so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) employed in the Brazilian healthcare system include:
- spiritual healing,
- crystal healing,
Homeopathy and acupuncture are also recognized by the Brazilian Federal Council and both are taught in the most prestigious public Universities, in medical, veterinary, public health and nursing schools.
India has gone one step further by establishing its AYUSH ministry. It registers SCAM practitioners considered ‘indigenous’ by the Indian government under a separate board. The SCAMs thus regulated are:
- Yoga and Naturopathy,
- Unani and Tibbi,
In India, practitioners are taught some of these subjects as MBBS ( Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery). The graduates are then considered to be ‘doctors’. In Brazil, homeopathy and acupuncture are practiced by medical doctors. Brazilian citizens are thus misled to believe that these SCAMs are evidence-based.
So, what this ‘bilateral co-operation’ is going to achieve? Narendra Nayak (President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and former Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in Mangalore) and Natalia Pasternak (President of the Instituto Questão de Ciência in São Paulo) are less than optimistic:
Exchange of ‘technology’ of so called ‘psychic surgery’ of quacks like the late José Arigo, “the surgeon with the rusty knife”, with specialists of gaumutra (urine of India’s allegedly indigenous cows) whose concoction is supposed to be a panacea for 440 diseases? Is Brazil going to export to India the peculiar surgical techniques of the “medium” John of God, recently arrested, not for years of practicing unlicensed medicine and hurting people, but for sexual harassment and rape? Don’t get the wrong message, we are very glad John of God was convicted, and very glad for the brave women who came forward, but we cannot ignore the fact that he was never bothered by the authorities for placing people under his (usually not quite clean) knife.
Since India and Brazil are leaders in sugar production, are they going to support Homeopathy? Also the use of alcohol to produce their tinctures?
Again, we wonder why India and Brazil are going for an alleged system of medicine called homeopathy which is nowhere in the mainstream in the country of its origin -Germany. And why do they embrace it while the rest of the world is pushing back against homeopathy, after several scientific papers, reviews and meta-analyses showed beyond any reasonable doubt that it doesn’t work?
Brazil and India have much in common, both are rising developing economies, with a diverse population, trying to be true to their democratic ideals. Unfortunately, another similarity comes to light: the fact that presently both our countries are governed by rulers that have shown total disregard by scientific knowledge and evidence in many of their public policy decisions.
As heads of organizations that promote science and rational thinking in Brazil and India, we regret the decision of our governments to promote quackery as a legitimate subject of an international agreement.
I feel that individuals and organisations promoting critical thinking in other parts of the world should lend their support to these two courageous people.
I have recently gone to the trouble of evaluating 150 different modalities from the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) in a book. This is what it tells you about Reiki:
Reiki is a form of paranormal or energy healing popularised by Japanese Mikao Usui (1865-1926). Rei means universal spirit (sometimes thought of as a supreme being) and ki is the assumed universal life energy.
- Reiki is based on the assumptions of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the existence of ‘chi’, the life-force that determines our health.
- Reiki practitioners believe that, with their hands-on healing method, they can transfer ‘healing energy’ to a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing properties of the body. They assume that the therapeutic effects of this technique are obtained from a ‘universal life energy’ that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind.
- There is no scientific basis for such notions, and reiki is therefore not plausible.
- Reiki is used for a number of conditions, including the relief of stress, tension and pain.
- There have been several clinical trials testing the effectiveness of reiki. Unfortunately, their methodological quality is usually poor.
- A systematic review summarising this evidence concluded that the evidence is insufﬁcient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore, the value of reiki remains unproven. And a Cochrane review found that there is insufficient evidence to say whether or not Reiki is useful for people over 16 years of age with anxiety or depression or both.
- Reiki appears to be generally safe, and serious adverse effects have not been reported. Some practitioners advise caution about using reiki in people with psychiatric illnesses because of the risk of bringing out underlying psychopathology.
So, Reiki is both implausible and unproven. Now a new, large trial has emerged that might change this verdict. The main purpose of this study (published in JCAM) was to measure the effect of a single session of Reiki on physical and psychological health in a large nonclinical sample.
The study design was a single arm effectiveness trial with measures at pre-and postintervention. The study took place at private Reiki practices across the United States. Reiki practitioners were recruited from an online mailing list to participate in the study with their Reiki clients. A total of 99 Reiki practitioners met the inclusion criteria and participated in the study. Reiki practitioners were instructed to give a flyer to each of their Reiki clients that contained information about the study and invited the client to complete a survey before and after their Reiki session.
Trained and certified Reiki Masters conducted the Reiki sessions in person, with each session lasting between 45 and 90 min. The 20-item Positive and Negative Affect Schedule was used to assess affect, and brief, single-item self-report measures were used to assess a wide range of physical and psychological variables immediately before (pre) and after (post) the Reiki session.
A total of N = 1411 Reiki sessions were conducted and included in the analysis. Statistically significant improvements were observed for all outcome measures, including positive affect, negative affect, pain, drowsiness, tiredness, nausea, appetite, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, and overall well-being (all p-values <0.001).
The authors concluded that the results from this large-scale multisite effectiveness trial suggest that a single session of Reiki improves multiple variables related to physical and psychological health.
This ‘large scale’ effectiveness trial’ could make you laugh and cry at the same time.
- Laugh, because it is almost comically daft.
- Cry, because the conclusion is bound to mislead a lot of gullible people.
Without a control group, the study cannot even attempt to determine anything like the effectiveness of Reiki. What the results truly show is that consumers who consult (and pay) a Reiki master expect to have a positive effect. The expectation translates into a sizable placebo response. The investigators seem to be clueless scientists, or they wilfully mislead the public (the senior author is from the ‘The Center for Reiki Research‘ which, according to its mission statement, is dedicated to gaining acceptance for the practice of Reiki by the medical community).
The only conclusion that can honestly be drawn from the data is that consumers who pay for a serivce often like this service (otherwise they would not use it!). It’s a bit like the thing with the hamburger joint that I often cite: if you ask people eating in a McDonalds whether they enjoy hamburgers, most will answer in the affirmative.
But there might be a valuable lesson in this paper after all: never trust the JACM further than you can throw it.
The UK Reiki Federation (UKRF) is an independent organisation of individuals who have been attuned to Reiki, with the objective of providing support and guidance to Reiki professionals and to the public, with particular reference to education and training, and the public practice of Reiki. Some of their members give of their time each week to send Reiki healing to anyone who makes a request from anywhere in the world.
Each week the volunteers receive a list of those people/animals/events that have requested healing and they all collectively send positive Reiki healing to everyone on the list.
The UKRF claim that Reiki distant healing (RDH) has now been scientifically proven by Lynne McTaggart in these articles http://www.shareguide.com/McTaggart.html and https://lynnemctaggart.com/the-intention-experiment/ that healing is magnified when many healers are involved, so we are contributing an amazing vibration of positivity into our world and doing so much good, with so little effort. Imagine how brilliant it would be if even more members decided they too wanted to support other people, with minimum effort. It’s so simple just to place your hands on the list and send Reiki to everyone on it. It can be so quick if time is an issue for you and yet so powerful.
A group of UKRF members send Reiki to each other at specific times of the week. They state that we have a list of members’ names and allocated time slots in the week when we can send and receive Reiki energy to each other. The intention is to send Reiki for all the different time slots and then sit down and receive the energy whenever it is convenient for us to do so. Those members who have given me feedback all say they can feel the energy flowing during these times.
I urge you to look up the two ‘scientific proofs’ by McTaggart – I promise, you will not regret the effort. For those who might like to see real evidence for or against RDH, I ran a quick Medline search. Somewhat to my surprise, I did find a rigorous study RDH. Here is its abstract:
In this randomised, double-blinded study, women who underwent an elective C-section were allocated to either usual care (control, n=40) or three distant reiki sessions in addition to usual care (n=40). Pain was assessed using a visual analogue scale (VAS). The primary endpoint was the Area Under the VAS-Time Curve (AUC) for days 1-3. Secondary measures included: the proportion of women who required opioid medications and dose consumed, rate of healing and vital signs.
AUC for pain was not significantly different in the distant reiki and control groups (mean ± SD; 212.1 ± 104.7 vs 223.1 ± 117.8; p=0.96). There were no significant differences in opioid consumption or rate of healing; however, the distant reiki group had a significantly lower heart rate (74.3 ± 8.1 bpm vs 79.8 ± 7.9 bpm, p=0.003) and blood pressure (106.4 ± 9.7 mmHg vs 111.9 ± 11.0 mmHg, p=0.02) post surgery.
CONCLUSION: Distant reiki had no significant effect on pain following an elective C-section.
This begs at least three questions, in my view:
- Which evidence should I trust, that of McTaggart or that from what seems to be the only RCT on RDH?
- The UK Reiki Foundation state on their website: As the largest Reiki-only professional organisation in the UK and Europe we are setting the highest standard for Reiki. Is the promotion of the McTaggart ‘proof’ combined with the omission from the UKRF site of the only trial of RDH truly in accordance with the highest standards?
- Is a professional organisation that does such things really professional?
Reiki is a form of energy healing popularised by the Japanese Mikao Usui (1865-1926). ‘Rei’ means universal spirit (sometimes thought of as a supreme being), and ‘ki’ is the assumed universal life energy. Reiki is broadly based on some of the obsolete concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Reiki practitioners believe that they can transfer ‘healing energy’ to a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing properties of the body. They assume that the therapeutic effects of this technique are obtained from a ‘universal life energy’ that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind.
This study (entitled ‘ The Power of Reiki’) was conducted to pilot testing the feasibility and efficacy of Reiki to provide pain relief among pediatric patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Paediatric patients undergoing HSCT during the inpatient phase in the Stem Cell Transplantation Unit were eligible to participate. Short and medium effects were assessed investigating the increase or decrease of patient’s pain during three specific time periods (“delta”) of the day: morning of the Reiki session versus assessment before Reiki session (within subjects control period), assessment before Reiki session versus assessment after Reiki session (within subjects experimental period) and assessment after Reiki session versus morning the day after Reiki session (within subject follow-up period). The effect of 88 Reiki therapy sessions in nine patients was analysed following a short, medium, and long-term perspective. Repeated-measures analysis of variance revealed a significant difference among the three periods: a decrease of the pain occurred in the experimental period in short and medium term, while in the follow-up period, the pain level remained stable.
The authors concluded that this study demonstrates the feasibility of using Reiki therapy in pediatric cancer patients undergoing HSCT. Furthermore, these findings evidence that trained pediatric oncology nurses can insert Reiki into their clinical practice as a valid instrument for diminishing suffering from cancer in childhood.
This is an unusual conclusion in that it is strictly speaking correct. What is wrong, however, that the abstract reports findings related to the alleged effectiveness of Reiki. A feasibility study is not designed for that purpose. I therefore suggest to ignore all allusions to therapeutic effects.
This, I think, begs the question as to why it is necessary or productive to study Reiki in clinical trials.
- The treatment is not plausible.
- There have been many trials already.
- The ones that are sufficiently rigorous fail to show that it has any effects beyond placebo.
- The medical literature is already highly polluted with Reiki studies reporting false-positive results.
- This can only confuse researchers who attempt to conduct reviews on the subject.
- Reiki studies discredit clinical research.
- They are a waste of valuable resources.
- Arguably, they are even unethical.
If you ask me, it is high time to stop researching such implausible nonsense.
Please bear with me and have a look at the three short statements quoted below:
… a Reiki practitioner channels this pure ‘chi’, the ‘ki’ in Reiki, or energy through her hands to the recipient, enhancing and stimulating the individual’s natural ability to restore a sense of wellbeing. It is instrumental in lowering stress levels, and therefore may equip the recipient with increased resources to deal with the physical as well as the emotional, mental and spiritual problems raised by his/her condition. It is completely natural and safe, and can be used alongside conventional medicine as well as other complementary therapies or self-help techniques.
It has been documented that patients receiving chemotherapy have commented on feeling less distress and discomfort when Reiki is part of their care plan. Besides feeling more energy, hope and tranquillity, some patients have felt that the side-effects of chemotherapy were easier to cope with. Reiki has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, to raise energy levels in tired and apathetic patients. It is of great value in degenerative disease for the very reasons that pain and anxiety can be reduced.
The treatment is gentle, supportive and non-invasive, the patient always remains clothed. Even though the origins of reiki are spiritual in nature, Reiki imposes no set of beliefs. It can be used by people of different cultural backgrounds and faith, or none at all. This makes it particularly suitable in medical settings. Predicting who would or would not like to receive Reiki is impossible.
EMMETT is a gentle soft tissue release technique developed by Australian remedial therapist Ross Emmett. It involves the therapist using light finger pressure at specific locations on the body to elicit a relaxation response within the area of concern.
Cancer impacts people in different ways throughout the journey of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Many have found the EMMETT Technique to be very beneficial in a number of ways. Although pressure therapy isn’t new (e.g. acupressure and trigger point therapy are already well known), the amount of pressure required with EMMETT is much lighter and the placement of the pressure is unique to EMMETT Therapy.
Many cancer patients undergo surgery and experience post-surgery tightness and tension around the surgery site in the scar tissue and further afield through the connective tissue or fascia as the body heals. They experience restricted range of movement that may be painful too. Mastectomy patients as an example will usually experience pain or tenderness, swelling around the surgery site, limited arm or shoulder movement, and even numbness in the chest or upper arm. Here’s where EMMETT can assist. With gentle pressure to specific points, many women have received relief from the pain, reduced swelling and much improved range of movement. There are multiple EMMETT points that are used to help these women and that give the therapist a range of options depending on the patient’s specific concern.
Many cancer patients also experience fatigue, increased risk of infection, nausea, appetite changes and constipation as common side effects of chemotherapy. These symptoms can also be greatly supported with a designated sequence where the EMMETT Therapist gently stimulates areas all around the body for an overall effect. Patients report reduction in swelling, feelings of lightness, increased energy, more robust emotional well-being, less pain and feeling better generally within themselves.
3 Daoyin Tao
The theory behind this massage lies in traditional Chinese medicine, so covers yin and yang, five elements and Chinese face reading from a health perspective. It enables the emotional elements behind disease to be explored. For example, the Chinese will say that grief is held in the Lung, anger in the liver, and fear in the kidney.
For this half hour massage there is no need for the patient to remove clothes, so it is a lovely way of receiving a massage where body image may be an issue, or where lines and feeds are in place, making removal of clothes difficult. This massage therapy can be given not only in a clinic, but also on the day unit, on hospital wards and even in an intensive care unit.
In working the meridian system the therapist is able to work the whole body, reaching areas other than the contact zone. Patients have commented that this deeply relaxing and soothing massage is; “one of the best massages I have ever had”. It has been proven to be beneficial with problems of; sleep, headaches, anxiety, watery eyes, shoulder and neck tension, sinusitis and panic attacks, jaw tension, fear, emotional trauma/distress.
END OF QUOTES
Where do you think these statements come from?
They sound as though they come from a profoundly uncritical source, such as a commercial organisation trying to persuade customers to use some dodgy treatments, don’t they?
They come from the NHS! To be precise, they come from the NHS NATURAL HEALTH SCHOOL in Harrowgate, a service that offers a range of free complementary therapy treatments to patients and their relatives who are affected by a cancer diagnosis and are either receiving their cancer treatment at Harrogate or live in the Harrogate and Rural District.
This NHS school offers alternative treatments to cancer patients and claim that they know from experience, that when Complementary Therapies are integrated into patient care we are able to deliver safe, high quality care which fulfils the needs of even the most complex of patients.
In addition, they also run courses for alternative practitioners. Their reflexology course, for instance, covers all of the following:
- Explore the history and origins of Reflexology
- Explore the use of various mediums used in treatment including waxes, balms, powders and oils
- Explore the philosophy of holism and its role within western bio medicine
- Reading the feet/hands and mapping the reflex points
- Relevant anatomy, physiology and pathology
- Managing a wide range of conditions
- Legal implications
- Cautions and contraindications
- Assessment and client care
- Practical reflexology skills and routines
- Treatment planning
I imagine that the initiators of the school are full of the very best, altruistic intentions. I therefore have considerable difficulties in criticising them. Yet, I do strongly feel that the NHS should be based on good evidence; and that much of the school’s offerings seems to be the exact opposite. In fact, the NHS-label is being abused for giving undeserved credibility to outright quackery, in my view.
I am sure the people behind this initiative only want to help desperate patients. I also suspect that most patients are very appreciative of their service. But let me put it bluntly: we do not need to make patients believe in mystical life forces, meridians and magical energies; if nothing else, this undermines rational thought (and we could do with a bit more of that at present). There are plenty of evidence-based approaches which, when applied with compassion and empathy, will improve the well-being of these patients without all the nonsense and quackery in which the NHS NATURAL HEALTH SCHOOL seems to specialise.
It is bad enough, I believe, that such nonsense is currently popular and increasingly politically correct, but let’s keep/make the NHS evidence-based, please!
Amongst all the implausible treatments to be found under the umbrella of ‘alternative medicine’, Reiki might be one of the worst, i. e. least plausible and outright bizarre (see for instance here, here and here). But this has never stopped enthusiasts from playing scientists and conducting some more pseudo-science.
This new study examined the immediate symptom relief from a single reiki or massage session in a hospitalized population at a rural academic medical centre. It was designed as a retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data on demographic, clinical, process, and quality of life for hospitalized patients receiving massage therapy or reiki. Hospitalized patients requesting or referred to the healing arts team received either a massage or reiki session and completed pre- and post-therapy symptom questionnaires. Differences between pre- and post-sessions in pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and overall well-being were recorded using an 11-point Likert scale.
Patients reported symptom relief with both reiki and massage therapy. Reiki improved fatigue and anxiety more than massage. Pain, nausea, depression, and well being changes were not different between reiki and massage encounters. Immediate symptom relief was similar for cancer and non-cancer patients for both reiki and massage therapy and did not vary based on age, gender, length of session, and baseline symptoms.
The authors concluded that reiki and massage clinically provide similar improvements in pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and overall well-being while reiki improved fatigue and anxiety more than massage therapy in a heterogeneous hospitalized patient population. Controlled trials should be considered to validate the data.
Don’t I just adore this little addendum to the conclusions, “controlled trials should be considered to validate the data” ?
The thing is, there is nothing to validate here!
The outcomes are not due to the specific effects of Reiki or massage; they are almost certainly caused by:
- the extra attention,
- the expectation of patients,
- the verbal or non-verbal suggestions of the therapists,
- the regression towards the mean,
- the natural history of the condition,
- the concomitant therapies administered in parallel,
- the placebo effect,
- social desirability.
Such pseudo-research only can only serve one purpose: to mislead (some of) us into thinking that treatments such as Reiki might work.
What journal would be so utterly devoid of critical analysis to publish such unethical nonsense?
Ahh … it’s our old friend the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Say no more!
Reiki is a Japanese technique administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy (because it is such a clear-cut case of nonsense, we have discussed Reiki regularly; see for instance here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).
But nonsense does not stop researchers from conducting trials. In this new clinical trial, conducted in Physiotherapy Clinic of Khatam Al-Anbia Hospital in Iran, 60 patients with pain due to inter-vertebral disc herniation (IVDH) were randomly assigned to one of three groups.
- The Reiki group received three 15-minute Reiki sessions on consecutive days by a master of Reiki plus Indomethacin and Methocarbamol (as in group 3).
- The physiotherapy group underwent 7 to 10 sessions of physiotherapy of 60 to 90 minutes (heat therapy, TENS, pelvic traction, and physical exercises) plus Indomethacin and Methocarbamol (as in group 3).
- The drug group received Indomethacin capsules 75 mg and Methocarbamol tablets 500 mg every 8 hours daily for one week.
The severity of pain and the activities of daily living (ADL) were measured using visual analogue scales (VAS) and ADL-Instrumental ADL questionnaire before and after the intervention. A significant difference was found in pain intensity and ADL improvement between Reiki and the drug therapy. No significant difference between the Reiki and physiotherapy groups were noted.
The authors concluded that Reiki and physiotherapy are effective methods in managing pain and improving ADL in patients with IVDH; however, Reiki is more cost-effective and faster treatment method than physiotherapy.
This RCT seems fairly well-panned and conducted, and its results are straight forward. My only problem with it is how the findings are interpreted.
The study design was such that there was no blinding or control for placebo effects. Therefore, the observed outcomes can be interpreted in more than one way. In my view, by far the most plausible explanation is that Reiki (being an exotic, impressive intervention that generates plenty of expectation) produced a powerful placebo effect. Physiotherapy (being entirely normal and routine), on the other hand, was only marginally successful. It is regrettable that the authors do not even consider this interpretation of their results. They should have remembered that a clinical trial test the null-hypothesis (the experimental treatment is not better that the comparator) which can be rejected only, if there is no other reasonable explanation for the results produced.
If I am correct, the conclusions should be re-written as follows:
The addition of Reiki to drug treatment generated better outcomes than drug therapy alone. Physiotherapy was only marginally effective. The effects of Reiki are most likely not due to the treatment per se but to a classical placebo response.
Reiki has been on my mind repeatedly (see for instance here, here, here and here). It is one of those treatments that are too crazy for words and too implausible to mention. Yet a new paper firmly claims that it is more than a placebo.
This review evaluated clinical studies of Reiki to determine whether there is evidence for Reiki providing more than just a placebo effect. The available English-language literature of Reiki was reviewed, specifically for
- peer-reviewed clinical studies,
- studies with more than 20 participants in the Reiki treatment arm,
- studies controlling for a placebo effect.
Of the 13 suitable studies,
- 8 demonstrated Reiki being more effective than placebo,
- 4 found no difference but had questionable statistical resolving power,
- one provided clear evidence for not providing benefit.
The author concluded that these studies provide reasonably strong support for Reiki being more effective than placebo. From the information currently available, Reiki is a safe and gentle “complementary” therapy that activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind. It has potential for broader use in management of chronic health conditions, and possibly in postoperative recovery. Research is needed to optimize the delivery of Reiki.
These are truly fantastic findings! Reiki is more than a placebo – would have thought so? Who would have predicted that something as implausible as Reiki would one day be shown to work?
Now let’s start re-writing the textbooks of physics and therapeutics and research how we can optimize the delivery of Reiki.
Hold on – not so quick! Here are a few reasons why we might be sceptical about the validity of this review:
- It was published in one of the worst journals of alternative medicine.
- The author claimed to include just clinical trials but ended up including non-clinical studies and animal studies.
- Four trials were not double-blind.
- There was no critical assessment of the studies methodological quality.
- The many flaws of the primary studies were not mentioned in this review.
- Papers not published in English were omitted.
- The author who declared no conflict of interest has this affiliation: “Australasian Usui Reiki Association, Oakleigh, Victoria, Australia”.
I think we can postpone the re-writing of textbooks for a little while yet.
Reiki is one of the most popular types of ‘energy healing’. Reiki healers believe to be able to channel ‘healing energy’ into patients’ body thus enabling them to get healthy. If Reiki were not such a popular treatment, one could brush such claims aside and think “let the lunatic fringe believe what they want”. But as Reiki so effectively undermines consumers’ sense of reality and rationality, I feel I should continue informing the public about this subject – despite the fact that I have already reported about it several times before, for instance here, here, here, here, here and here.
A new RCT, published in a respected journal looks interesting enough for a further blog-post on the subject. The main aim of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of two psychotherapeutic approaches, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and a complementary medicine method Reiki, in reducing depression scores in adolescents. The researchers from Canada, Malaysia and Australia recruited 188 adolescent depressed adolescents. They were randomly assigned to CBT, Reiki or wait-list. Depression scores were assessed before and after 12 weeks of treatments/wait list. CBT showed a significantly greater decrease in Child Depression Inventory (CDI) scores across treatment than both Reiki (p<.001) and the wait-list control (p<.001). Reiki also showed greater decreases in CDI scores across treatment relative to the wait-list control condition (p=.031). Male participants showed a smaller treatment effects for Reiki than did female participants. The authors concluded that both CBT and Reiki were effective in reducing the symptoms of depression over the treatment period, with effect for CBT greater than Reiki.
I find it most disappointing that these days even respected journals publish such RCTs without the necessary critical input. This study may appear to be rigorous but, in fact, it is hardly worth the paper it was printed on.
The results show that Reiki produced worse results than CBT. That I can well believe!
However, the findings also suggest that Reiki was nevertheless “effective in reducing the symptoms of depression”, as the authors put it in their conclusions. This statement is misleading!
It is based on the comparison of Reiki with doing nothing. As Reiki involves lots of attention, it can be assumed to generate a sizable placebo effect. As a proportion of the patients in the wait list group are probably disappointed for not getting such attention, they can be assumed to experience the adverse effects of their disappointment. The two phenomena combined can easily explain the result without any “effectiveness” of Reiki per se.
If such considerations are not fully discussed and made amply clear even in the conclusions of the abstract, it seems reasonable to accuse the journal of being less than responsible and the authors of being outright misleading.
As with so many papers in this area, one has to ask: WHERE DOES SLOPPY RESEARCH END AND WHERE DOES SCIENTIFIC MISCONDUCT BEGIN?
The website of the Brighton and Hove News informs us that the Brighton charity Rockinghorse is paying for a Reiki healer to treat young patients at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Kemp Town. They claim that studies suggest that Reiki can relieve symptoms of chronic and acute illness, manage stress levels and aid relaxation and sleep. Rockinghorse has provided funding for an initial three years to therapists from Active LightWorks who have already been treating patients at the Alex as volunteers since 2012. The funding will allow the therapists to double the amount of time that they are able to offer treatments from five hours a week to ten.
One of the HDU patients to receive Reiki therapy is eight-month-old Blake Mlotshwa. He suffered a serious infection when he was 18 days old which led to him having two thirds of his bowel removed. Blake is unable to absorb the food and nutrients that he needed to grow and his condition remains critical. The reiki therapists are working with his doctors and nurses to help keep him as comfortable as possible.
Ali Walters, a Reiki therapist, said: “It is wonderful to be able to give both the children and parents an opportunity to relax and unwind. So often parents tell me they are delighted that during treatment their child drops off to sleep or they see their child become more calm and comfortable. I am delighted that Rockinghorse is now funding our work so we can provide more therapists and treatments to support the critical care that is provided in HDU.”
Kamal Patel, paediatric consultant at the Alex, said: “The reiki treatment has improved sleep, fear, anxiety, distress and pain for children on our Paediatric Critical Care Unit over and above what we can achieve through modern medicine. To have such a fantastic team of people offering reiki really helps our patients get better quicker.”
Yes, we have discussed Reiki several times already on this blog. For instance, I quoted the Cochrane review aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of Reiki for treating anxiety and depression in people aged 16 and over.
Literature searches were conducted in the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL – all years), the Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Review Group’s Specialised Register (CCDANCTR – all years), EMBASE, (1974 to November 2014), MEDLINE (1950 to November 2014), PsycINFO (1967 to November 2014) and AMED (1985 to November 2014). Additional searches were carried out on the World Health Organization Trials Portal (ICTRP) together with ClinicalTrials.gov to identify any ongoing or unpublished studies. All searches were up to date as of 4 November 2014.
Randomised trials were considered in adults with anxiety or depression or both, with at least one arm treated with Reiki delivered by a trained Reiki practitioner. The two authors independently decided on inclusion/exclusion of studies and extracted data. A prior analysis plan had been specified.
The researchers found three studies for inclusion in the review. One recruited males with a biopsy-proven diagnosis of non-metastatic prostate cancer who were not receiving chemotherapy and had elected to receive external-beam radiation therapy; the second study recruited community-living participants who were aged 55 years and older; the third study recruited university students. These studies included subgroups with anxiety and depression as defined by symptom scores and provided data separately for those subgroups. As this included only 25 people with anxiety and 17 with depression and 20 more with either anxiety or depression, but which was not specified, the results could only be reported narratively.
The findings did not show any evidence that Reiki is either beneficial or harmful in this population. The risk of bias for the included studies was generally rated as unclear or high for most domains, which reduced the certainty of the evidence.
The authors of this Cochrane review concluded that there is insufficient evidence to say whether or not Reiki is useful for people over 16 years of age with anxiety or depression or both.
On a different blog post, I concluded that “we do not need a trained Reiki master, nor the illusion of some mysterious ‘healing energy’. Simple companionship without woo or make-believe has exactly the same effect without undermining rationality. Or, to put it much more bluntly: REIKI IS NONSENSE ON STILTS.”
Perhaps someone should tell the guys at Rockinghorse that they are funding nonsense?
Perhaps the charity should have been responsible enough to do a quick search on the evidence BEFORE they committed their funds?
Perhaps the consultant pediatrician should be sent to a refresher course in evidence-based medicine?
So many ‘perhapses’ – and only one certainty: THIS CHARITY IS WASTING ITS FUNDS ON OFFENSIVE NONSENSE.