Does Reiki Deliver The Healing Touch? (Part II)

September 20, 2006 - This is part 2 of a two-part article on Reiki. Part 1 was published in last's month's newsletter. Again, Reiki is a form of healing touch involving the direction of life force energy. It is non-invasive, does not involve manipulation, and is administered by masters and practitioners. It is not regulated by the government so anyone is free to claim that they can heal using it and offer their services for any fee that the market will bear.

In part 1, I reviewed clinical studies reported in the medical literature and could not find sufficient evidence that Reiki treatment was effective. For Part 2, I indicated that I would complete my evaluation by reviewing the remainder of the medical literature which offers what I would term softer evidence. I also promised that I would discuss my own personal experience in receiving Reiki treatment.

As usual, I started with a Pubmed search. I searched for the term "Reiki" but required that it appear in either the title or abstract of the publication. This requirement would assure that I captured publications where Reiki was a focus. The search produced about 60 references. About one-third of the papers were published in journals dedicated to alternative medicine. Another third were published in various nursing journals. None of the papers were published in main stream medical journals.

Most of the papers, about 90%, had nothing to offer along the lines of evidence that Reiki was effective. Most either reviewed the history, theory or use of Reiki. Many were papers pertaining to complementary and alternative medical treatments in general where Reiki was merely mentioned as one of many types of treatments. Some were essentially satisfaction surveys which can not be used as evidence of effectiveness. Finally, a few focused on the how to's of implementing Reiki in a practice.

After sorting through the 60 or so publications, I could only find 6 papers that offered evidence on the effectiveness of Reiki. The first paper comes from the Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, and is published in the American Journal of Hospital Palliative Care1. It is an anecdotal report about a patient named Tom who was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer and whose life expectancy was very limited. With Reiki and his "intent", Tom was able to achieve long-term stability free of immobilizing pain and swelling. The paper mentions the importance of the patient's "intent" in obtaining results and indicates that the results seen with Tom are often seen with others. Take it for what it is worth.

The second paper comes from P. Kennedy, a self proclaimed Reiki Master from Glasgow, England, and is published in Complementary Therapeutic Nursing Midwifery2. The paper is a personal account of the author's experience as a nurse administering Reiki to torture survivors in Sarajevo. The author tells his/her story and claims that the people and patients involved were delighted and that the ground is now broken to establish the benefit of using Reiki for other traumatized patients. Again, consider the source, the journal, and the impact that any caring person can have on a traumatized individual, and take the paper for what it is worth.

The third publication comes from the Institute of Human Development in Toronto, Canada, and is published in Complementary Therapeutic Medicine3. The paper reports on the results of interviews conducted on different groups practicing complementary and alternative medicine aimed at their need to demonstrate that the techniques they practice are effective, safe and cost-effective. Twenty-two representatives from three complementary and alternative medicine groups (chiropractic, homeopathy, and Reiki) were interviewed. The chiropractors thought that it was essential to provide scientific evidence that their interventions were effective. The homeopathy group was divided on this need and the Reiki respondents did not believe it was necessary at all.

The fourth paper comes from the Center for Frontier Medicine in Biofield Science at the University of Arizona and is published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine4. The paper doesn't "count" strictly speaking because it pertains to Johrei not Reiki and it is also more of a survey than a study. Johrei is similar to Reiki but different. According to one reference I read, Johrei does not involve touch and is superior to Reiki for clearly negative emotional energy. This paper was essentially a survey. It asked 236 individuals (receivers and givers) how they felt before and after Johrei treatment. Receivers experienced a decrease in negative emotional state after treatment whereas receivers and givers experienced an increase in positive emotional state and overall well-being after treatment. The study was uncontrolled. There were no objective measures assessed.

The fifth paper was from the Institute of Frontier Science in Oakland, California, and was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine5. The paper reports on a study that assessed the effect of Reiki on the growth of heat-shocked bacteria specifically E. coli K12. The bacteria were heat-shocked before treatment and divided into three groups. The first group of 42 samples received Reiki treatment by fourteen practitioners (each treated 3 samples). The second group of 28 samples received Reiki treatment by fourteen Reiki practitioners (each treated 2 samples) but only after the practitioners first treated a pain patient for 30 minutes. The third group consisted of paired controls and did not receive Reiki treatment. No difference was observed with respect to bacterial culture growth between the first group and its paired controls. However, significant bacterial growth was observed in the second group compared to its paired controls. Practitioners were also evaluated for their social, physical and emotional well-being. The initial level of well-being of the Reiki practitioners was found to correlate with the outcome on bacterial culture growth. This study is so unconventional it's difficult to decide where to begin in discussing its flaws. In normal medical science, evidence that a treatment is effective in a non-human species is never taken as proof that it works in humans until the non-human model is validated against similar outcomes for humans receiving the same treatment. The E. coli heat-shocked model reported in this paper has not been validated.

The sixth and last paper was submitted to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine6 by investigators at the Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, University of Arizona. This paper reports on a study using excessive noise to induce microvascular leakage in rats. The investigators treated three groups of rats. Each group consisted of four rats. The first group received excessive noise and Reiki treatment. The second group received excessive noise and "sham" Reiki treatment. The third group received excessive noise and no Reiki or sham Reiki treatment. Significant microvascular leakage was observed in the group receiving Reiki treatment compared to the sham Reiki and noise alone groups. The conclusion of the study was that Reiki significantly reduces noise-induced microvascular leakage in rats. Once again, my comment on the study above applies in that this animal model has not been validated to the human condition. There are also no reports in the literature where these results have been duplicated.

Once again, I have been unable to find any substantial scientific proof in the medical literature that Reiki actually works beyond making people feel well emotionally. The little evidence that is published is highly flawed. Perhaps the evidence is scant in the first place because as was reported in the third paper above, Reiki practitioners do not feel it necessary to prove that their interventions are effective.

There is an old saying that goes something like this, "Don't knock it until you try it." About five years ago, I attended a local Chiari support group meeting. At the time, I was about one year postop and still feeling quite ill. One of the members showed up at the meeting proclaiming that he was a recently trained Reiki practitioner and offered to demonstrate his healing abilities. One lady in the group took him up on his offer. He extended his hands over her head and asked her to verbalize what color came to mind. He interpreted the colors that came to her mind as evidence that she was indeed ill and that his healing powers were having a positive effect. I then asked him to treat me. He went through the same routine. At the end of his demonstration he asked the two of us if we felt any better. I didn't feel any different and I told him so. The lady told him that she didn't feel better but that she had sensed something positive and that perhaps additional treatments might work. He then began to back peddle by explaining that he was only a practitioner and that a Reiki master would likely get better results.

In summary, I'll return to the hair cut analogy I used in Part 1. Next Saturday I'll go to Barry's. He'll cut my hair. We'll have a good conversation about the American Revolution as we are both interested in that period of history. I'll relax. As usual, I'll enjoy the sensation at the end when he uses his portable vacuum to clean off my neck and shirt. I'll pay him only $11.00 for the hair cut itself plus a $2.00 tip and I'll leave the shop feeling like a million bucks. If Reiki really worked, the word would be out and everyone would seek it out. After all, just about everyone I know enjoys a good hair cut.

1 Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 1997 Jan-Feb;14(1):31-3.
2 Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2001 Feb:7(1):4-7.
3 Complement Ther Med. 2002 Dec;10(4):235-9.
4 J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Jun;11(3):455-7.
5 J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Jan-Feb;12(1):7-13.
6 J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Jan-Feb;12(1):15-22

Ed. Note: The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author. They do not represent the opinions of the editor, publisher, or this publication. Mr. D'Alonzo is not a medical doctor and does not give medical advice. Anyone with a medical problem is strongly encouraged to seek professional medical care.