Reiki treatment has no known medical contraindications. It does not involve the use of any substance and the touch is non-manipulative. When necessary, as in the case of burns or sensitive IV sites, Reiki can be offered just off the body. There is no time when Reiki is dangerous. However, all treatment, regardless the risk, should be used with common sense. Patients who are dependent on pharmaceuticals or procedures require consistent monitoring, as the healing that occurs with Reiki treatment may lessen the need for these interventions. Patients receiving Reiki often require less pain medication, an advantage at any time, but particularly at end of life for those who desire to maintain mental clarity through the dying process.
Reiki treatment does not attack disease. Rather, it supports the person experiencing the disease by gently encouraging his or her system toward its unique state of balance. Since there is so much in life that pulls us off kilter, Reiki’s rebalancing can be useful at any time. However, the balancing effect of Reiki can be particularly valuable—and palpable—when people are undergoing necessary, but invasive, medical treatments. Reiki will not interfere with any medical treatments, but Reiki’s ability to influence the system toward balance may lighten the 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 that have been done subsequently 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 Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) specifically to study “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine”. (See http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam). With few exceptions, such as the unapproved use of pharmaceuticals, health care practices that are not part of conventional medicine did not 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 predate 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, science is grappling with the puzzle of how to use linear methods to test extremely complex traditional medical systems that utilize treatments based on simultaneous assessment of multiple interactions. A useful scientific understanding of CAM can only be built on the profound understanding of foundational CAM principles. Many respected researchers are questioning whether reductionist techniques can adequately investigate holistic systems.
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 do not trust their doctors’ knowledge in this area or for lack of time, many patients do not discuss their extra-medical activities with their physicians. Although there may be legitimate concern for certain drug-herb interactions, CAM interventions are generally low risk. Empirical understanding of CAM mechanisms may lie in the distant future; 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 can precipitate physiological changes that can influence medical outcomes.
The goals of CAM treatment are primarily to return the system to balance, strengthen immune functioning and 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). Nonetheless, an increasing number of small studies have reported interesting data, and NCCAM currently has five research projects on Reiki.
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 that Reiki can be blinded, which opens the door for more rigorous investigations. One feasibility study demonstrated the possibility of single blinding (Mansour 1999). For the NIH-funded study of Reiki and stroke, I designed the training so that 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 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 can be used successfully by people with depression to help improve their symptoms and maintain the improvement over time (Shore 2004). Clearly more research is needed.
Professionals and patients who have seen Reiki successfully used to 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,” originally published in Reiki Magazine International and available at www.ReikiInmedicine.org under References and Resources/Articles)
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.
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, published in the March 2003 issue of the peer-reviewed medical journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine is available for download on this site under References and Resources/Articles.
“Reiki for Mind, Body and Spirit Support of Cancer Patients,” published in the Fall 2007 issue of the peer-reviewed medical journal Advances in Mind/Body Medicine, is available open access. http://www.advancesjournal.com
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 treats the patient, not the condition or illness. It offers rapid stress reduction and a sense of profound well-being, and can potentially benefit anyone who is suffering. 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. At Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire, Reiki treatment is offered to all patients. In other hospitals, Reiki is offered only in some departments (Miles and True, 2003). Some hospitals sponsor community-based Reiki clinics where the public is invited to experience Reiki. Whereas some physicians invite practitioners to offer Reiki treatment on site, others refer patients to local practitioners for treatment or training.
Reiki appears to combine safely with any medical intervention needed and is used to 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 when used on patients awaiting emergency medical treatment.
Some patients have been able to reduce their dependence on pharmaceutical treatment for depression, anxiety, pain, sleep and diabetes – this must always be done with the physician’s explicit agreement and careful oversight. One of the patients I treated during heart transplantation surgery felt Reiki kept him from needing any pain medication after awakening from surgery.
Reiki can be combined with any complementary or alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or homeopathy. Because Reiki treatment is precipitated by the need of the recipient and operates on a subtler level than these modalities, it will enhance their effectiveness 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 Reiki Level II practitioner.