Reiki practice has no known medical contraindications and is not considered dangerous in any situation as long as people are getting appropriate medical care.
Why is Reiki practice considered so safe? Reiki touch is light and non-manipulative. When necessary, as in the case of burns or sensitive IV sites, Reiki can be practiced just off the body. While there is no time when Reiki practice is deemed dangerous, even low-risk, non-invasive treatments should be used with common sense. Patients whose lives depend on pharmaceuticals or procedures require consistent monitoring. It’s possible that the self-healing fostered by Reiki practice might lessen the need for these interventions. Patients receiving Reiki treatment often require less pain medication, an advantage at any time, but particularly at end of life for those who want to maintain mental clarity through the dying process.
Reiki practice does not target disease in the way conventional medicine does. Rather, it supports the person experiencing the disease by gently encouraging his or her system toward its unique state of balance, optimizing the system’s self-healing mechanisms. Given that so much in of contemporary living pulls us off kilter, the self-healing response to Reiki practice can be useful at any time. The balancing effect of Reiki practice can be particularly valuable while people are undergoing necessary, but invasive, medical treatments, at which time patients typically find Reiki treatment comforting and relaxing. By encouraging the patient’s system toward balance and engaging self-healing, Reiki treatment can lighten the distress of side effects and increase tolerance to arduous medical treatments.
Science and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
The field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is receiving increased attention in conventional medical environments. Research has shown that by 1997, nearly half the American public was using some form of CAM, and usage continues to rise (Eisenberg 1993, 1998). These studies and others done since indicate that many patients supplement their conventional medical care with CAM on their own, without involving their physicians. Another study found that people seek CAM not out of dissatisfaction with conventional medicine, but because CAM more deeply reflects their values and beliefs. Energy medicine is particularly popular, and is largely regarded as non-invasive and low risk.
The National Institutes of Health created the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) to study diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products not considered as part of conventional evidence-based medicine. With few exceptions, such as the unapproved use of pharmaceuticals, healthcare practices that aren’t part of conventional medicine didn’t develop within the scientific paradigm. Most CAM practices trace their roots to traditional, indigenous medical systems such as Ayurveda (India), Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, African medicine and Native American medicine, which developed through observation and predated science as we know it. The foundations of traditional medical systems cannot be defined by scientific parameters, and it is interesting to note that their developments build on rather than refute earlier knowledge. One can, for example, practice rudimentary but sound acupuncture on the basis of the first acupuncture text, the Nei Ching Emporer (Yellow Emporer’s Inner Classic), which was recorded 2000 years ago from an oral tradition twice as old.
Although a scientific understanding of CAM is needed, respected researchers question whether reductionist techniques can adequately investigate holistic systems. The design of the randomized controlled trial used to test the linear effects of pharmaceuticals doesn’t fit the multifactorial therapeutics used by traditional medical systems. A valid scientific understanding of CAM can only be built on the profound understanding of foundational CAM principles.
Research data accumulates slowly at best, and the complications of CAM research have slowed the process considerably. Meanwhile, patients are availing themselves of the array of techniques available outside mainstream medicine. Either for fear of alienating their physicians, or because they understandably don’t trust their doctors’ knowledge in this area, or for lack of time, patients don’t usually discuss their extra-medical activities with their physicians. Although there may be legitimate concern for certain drug-herb interactions, notably when a patient is taking blood-thinners, CAM interventions are generally low risk. Empirical understanding of CAM mechanisms might not be available any time soon. Nonetheless, we can investigate the impact of CAMs on patients’ subjective markers such as anxiety, depression and pain. There is already adequate evidence that subjective states precipitate physiological changes that can influence medical outcomes.
The goals of CAM treatment are primarily to return the system to balance, to strengthen—or in auto-immune disorders, balance—immune function and to support continued well-being. Measures to destroy pathogens may be used as part of a comprehensive care program. Rather than being passively done to the patient, CAM treatment generally involves the patient, empowering him or her to tap inner resources for healing.
Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C, et al. Unconventional medicine in the United States-Prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. NEJM 328(4): 246-252 1993.
Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C, et al. Unconventional medicine in the United States-Prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. NEJM 328(4): 246-252 1993.
No large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) focused on the clinical effects of Reiki treatment have been published at this time, and the appropriateness of linear model of RCTs to measure the multifaceted effects of therapies such as Reiki is being debated (Block 2004). While a number of small studies have reported interesting data, we don’t yet have an evidence base for Reiki practice. That might remain the case given that the paucity of research funds.
Studies looking at various biological markers have yielded preliminary evidence that Reiki treatment influences the body toward relaxation and enhanced immune response (Wardell and Engebretson 2001; MacKay, Hansen, McFarlane 2004). Two studies have shown Reiki practice can be blinded, which opens the door for more rigorous investigations. One feasibility study demonstrated the possibility of single blinding (Mansour 1999). For our NIH-funded study of Reiki and stroke, I designed the training so Reiki treatments were double blinded (Shiflett 2002). A program evaluation of a hospital-based HIV First degree Reiki classes showed significant reduction in anxiety and pain after 20 minutes of Reiki treatment. Self-treatment was as effective as treatment received from another student (Miles 2003). Other studies support the usefulness of Reiki practice to reduce pain, anxiety, and fatigue and improve quality of life (Olson and Hanson 1997; Olson, Hanson, Michaud 2003; Vitale and O’Connor 2006; Tsang and Carlson 2007). Reiki practice can help people with depression improve their symptoms and maintain that. improvement over time (Shore 2004). Clearly more research is needed.
Professionals and patients who have seen Reiki practice successfully support conventional medical treatment are encouraged to write case reports. Well documented accounts are instructive to those who want to include Reiki treatment in a comprehensive health care regime aimed at either maintaining well-being or managing disease. (Guidelines for writing a medically credible case report are given in “The Bridge to Conventional Medicine: A Call for Reiki Case Reports.”
Ultimately it may be foolish at best to make patients who are suffering wait for rigorous research of a low risk, low cost practice that is already supported by modest research evidence and significant anecdotal evidence (Miles 2007) and which supports the delivery of conventional medical care.
The Reiki & Medicine Intensive trains people who practice Reiki at home or professionally to discuss Reiki practice meaningfully and collaborate with conventional medical providers as a professional or a patient.
Click here for an in-depth review of the medical literature on Reiki, “Reiki–Review of a biofield therapy: history, theory, practice, and research” by Pamela Miles and Gala True, PhD, and other peer-reviewed medical papers discussing Reiki practice.
Miles P. Reiki for Support of Cancer Patients, Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. Fall 2007;22(2):20-26.
Block KI, Cohen AJ, Dobs AS, Ornish D, Tripathy D. The challenges of randomized trials in integrative cancer care. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2004 Jun;3(2):112-27.
Mansour AA, Beuche M, Laing G, Leis A. A study to test the effectiveness of placebo Reiki standardization procedures developed for planned Reiki efficacy study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1999;5(2):153-164.
Miles P. Preliminary report on the use of Reiki for HIV-related pain and anxiety. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2003;9(2):36.
Miles P. Reiki for Mind, Body and Spirit Support of Cancer Patients. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. 2007 Fall;22(2): 20-26.
Olson K, Hanson J. Using Reiki to manage pain: a preliminary report. Cancer Prevention Control. 1997 Jun;1(2):108-13.
Olson K, Hanson J, Michaud M. A phase II trial for the management of pain in advanced cancer patients. Journal of Pain Symptom Management 26(5):990-997, 2003.
Shiflett SC, Nayak S, Bid C, Miles P, Agnostinelli S. Effect of Reiki Treatments on Functional Recovery in Patients in Post-Stroke Rehabilitation: A Pilot Study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2002 Dec;8(6):755-63.
Shore AG. Long-term effects of energetic healing on symptoms of psychological depression and self-perceived stress. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2004 May-Jun;10(3):42-8.
Tsang K, Carlson L. Pilot Crossover Trial of Reiki Versus Rest for Treating Cancer-Related Fatigue. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 6.1 (2007): 25-35.
Vitale A, O’Connor PC. The effect of Reiki on pain and anxiety in women with abdominal hysterectomies: A quasi- experimental pilot study. Holistic Nursing Practice. 20(6):263-272, 2006.
Wardell DW, Engebretson J. Biological correlates of Reiki touch healing. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2001;33(4):439-45).
Clinical Applications of Reiki in Conventional Health Care Settings
Reiki practice treats the patient rather than addressing the condition or disease directly. The response to Reiki practice is rapid and patients typically experience a sense of relief within minutes. Because Reiki practice evokes the person’s self-healing response, a Reiki session can potentially benefit anyone who is suffering. It can also support the well-being of those who are healthy.
Reiki treatment is offered in a wide range of medical settings in the United States and abroad, including obstetrics and neo-natal care, surgery, emergency rooms, psychiatric units, oncology, infectious disease clinics, rehabilitation, organ transplantation units, hospice and palliative care centers. Whereas hospital Reiki programs can disappear with staff and funding changes, a number of well known hospitals have established Reiki programs including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital (NYC), Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (Boston), Yale-New Haven Hospital (New Haven), Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System (Baltimore), M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston), George Washington University Hospital (Washington, DC), California Pacific Medical Center (San Francisco) and Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center (Philadelphia).
Hospital programs vary enormously in terms of approach and availability of treatment. At Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire, one of the first hospitals to offer Reiki treatment to patients, Reiki sessions are available throughout the hospital. In other hospitals, Reiki treatment is offered only in some departments (Miles and True, 2003). Some hospitals sponsor community-based Reiki clinics open to the public. Whereas some physicians invite practitioners to offer Reiki treatment on site, others refer patients to local practitioners for treatment or training.
Reiki practice can be safely offered along with any needed medical intervention. The self-healing response to Reiki treatment can soothe dental and surgical anxiety and improve recovery; reduce side effects of pharmaceuticals, radiation and chemotherapy; improve sleep; strengthen sobriety; relieve anxiety; lessen pain; and support recovery from trauma. The benefits of Reiki treatment can be dramatic for patients awaiting emergency medical treatment.
Some patients who wanted to reduce their dependence on pharmaceutical treatment for depression, anxiety, pain, sleep and diabetes have worked with their doctors and found Reiki self practice helpful in doing so. Adjustments in prescribed medication must be done with the physician’s oversight. One of the patients I treated during heart transplantation surgery and recovery felt his Reiki treatments kept him from needing any pain medication after awakening post-op.
Reiki treatment can be combined with any complementary or alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or homeopathy. Because Reiki treatment optimizes the receiver’s own self-healing mechanisms, it will enhance the effectiveness of other approaches without creating interference.
Miles P, True G. Reiki-Review of a Biofield Therapy: History, Theory, Practice, and Research. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2003;9(2):62-72.
Enhancing the Treatment of HIV/AIDS with Reiki Training and Treatment
Since the introduction of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) in 1996, the rate of death from AIDS in the US and Europe has decreased more than 50 Quality of life and productivity for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) have significantly improved. However, HAART regimens are complicated and must be followed strictly to remain effective.
PLWA have a higher frequency of psychiatric distress, substance abuse and disruptions in social support networks, making adherence to the demanding HAART protocols even more difficult. PLWA often need healing beyond their medications. A comprehensive approach to care is required.
This case report describes how one PLWA successfully used a hospital-based Reiki treatment and training program as part of a comprehensive approach to address depression, anxiety and substance abuse, to support adherence to HAART, and return to work.
In January 1998, a sixty-two year-old man came to a large multi-disciplinary HIV treatment program seeking primary medical care. He had been diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and had used HAART inconsistently in 1996-97. By January 1998 he had not used HAART for seven months and was diagnosed with AIDS based on his CD4 count of 170 (normal range is 800-1200, below 200 meets the criterion for AIDS). Viral load in his blood measured 504,000. He complained of fatigue, body-ache, and psoriasis.
Prior to coming to the HIV treatment center, he experienced significant psychological distress. He had struggled with substance abuse his entire adult life. After his lover of seventeen years died of AIDS in 1995, his cocaine use accelerated to a daily habit of approximately two grams per day, limiting his professional accomplishments and satisfaction with personal relationships. His physician referred him to a psychiatrist who diagnosed major depression and cocaine dependence. By January 1998, his financial reserves were exhausted and he was at risk of losing his apartment. Through the help of the social work department, he was enrolled in a public assistance program and referred to an outpatient drug treatment program.
After successfully completing the three month program, he initiated weekly psychotherapy, during which he described an interest in natural healing, meditation, and spirituality. Concomitantly, he declined psychotropic medication. His psychotherapist referred him to the hospital-based Reiki training program where he was initiated to Reiki Level I. He began receiving weekly, one-hour Reiki treatments from clinic volunteers, and reported giving himself daily one-hour Reiki treatments at home. He told his physician and his psychotherapist that he found Reiki self-treatment extremely relaxing and enjoyable, and that it helped him to maintain his sobriety and work through his depression.
His physician initiated HAART in May 1998, two months after his Reiki initiation. He has maintained adherence to HAART and other prophylactic medications since that time, and reports he continues daily Reiki self-treatment. His CD4 count has increased to 340, and his viral load has decreased to 4,000. In his most recent medical exam, he was treated for a chronic sinus infection. He continues to report improved mood and energy level and his psoriasis has resolved. He discontinued psychotherapy in July 2000 and reports on-going abstinence from cocaine use. He recently started working part-time, and offers Reiki treatment at a local community-based organization serving PLWA.
This case report describes an example of someone who has integrated Reiki training and treatment into his multi-disciplinary, hospital-based HIV treatment plan. This patient’s ability to successfully address his psychiatric/substance abuse problems has enabled him to successfully utilize HAART and develop a social and financial support system.
Many factors other than Reiki contribute to this patient’s treatment success (e.g. psychotherapy, substance abuse treatment, HAART, social work services). It is not possible to describe any direct medical benefits Reiki has provided this patient as he also uses a sophisticated combination of HAART and other prophylactic medications. However, both the patient’s physician and former psychotherapist have repeatedly described the patient¹s belief that Reiki self-treatment is the single greatest factor contributing to his successful behavior change.
Although the CD4 count and viral load improved, the viral load remains detectable. Nonetheless, the patient is thriving according to quality of life and productivity assessments. This case demonstrates the potential value of integrating Reiki into conventional medical practice and points to the need for further discussion and research.
Robert Schmehr, CSW was the Director of Complementary Therapy at the HIV Center of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. Mr. Schmehr is also a psychotherapist in private practice and a Second Degree Reiki practitioner.