Reiki Research, what does it tell us? Let’s start with Sara’s experience.
Sara’s pain was overwhelming … eight hours after her cancer surgery it clouded out everything. She couldn’t move or think, all she could do was moan. Morphine helped a little but not much, even though she was getting the highest dose possible without depressing breathing.
Her nurse, Mary asked, “Would you like to try an energy therapy called “Reiki.” Sara, replied, “Yes, I’ll try anything.” Mary placed her hands over different parts of her body, starting with her head. Sara fell asleep during the treatment, when she awoke her pain was still there but much less. She was able to get out of bed and move to the chair.
Sara’s story is but one of many on how Reiki relieves pain, stress, and anxiety. Reiki practitioners and their clients report on other benefits as well.
They say it helps them sleep better, improves digestion, enhances sense of well-being, and lessens feelings of depression. They report it may relieve side effects of cancer therapies like radiation and chemotherapy and help people in the dying process (including their families) by imparting a sense of peace.
Yet science considers reports of personal experience “anecdotal” (or subjective)… they don’t qualify as research.
Scientific research must meet certain criteria in study design such as methods to prevent bias in interpretation, repetition of the study that show findings apply to the larger population, and sufficient numbers of study subjects to help assure validity. Review and critique by peers (professionals in the area of study), most often through publication in a peer-reviewed journal, is required too.
To meet these scientific requirements, Reiki research faces significant challenges:
- Reiki therapy uses subtle energies that so far defy measurement, an important aspect of scientific research.
- Holistic energy therapies including Reiki lack the funding of big corporations that pharmaceutical and high-end technology research enjoys.Greater funding supports research credibility. It allows more participants in the study and staff to perform the study as well as to manage and interpret the data. Greater funding can support follow up with study subjects over time to see how long therapeutic effects last.Corporate funding has its down side though. It can favor self-interest and corrupt research findings. Cases in point:
- On March 11, 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that a prominent physician fabricated twenty-one medical studies showing benefits of painkillers like Vioxx and Celebrex in its article, “Top Pain Scientist Fabricated Data in Studies Hospital Says.”
- On March 3, 2009, the New York Times published the article, “Harvard Medical School in Ethics Quandary.” They reported on a first-year Harvard Medical School student who noted his professor belittled students who asked about side effects of a cholesterol drug he was touting as having benefits.This full-time Harvard professor was a paid consultant to ten drug companies. This student sparked a full-blown movement of students and sympathetic faculty intent on exposing the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on their education and research.
- Some studies combine energy therapies like Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, prayer, and Reiki, treating them all as the same type of therapy. This makes it difficult to evaluate the separate effects of these individual therapies.
Yet despite these challenges, researchers continue to study Reiki and other energy healing methods. Here we’ll look at a recent review study that included Reiki research. Review studies simplify the daunting task of sorting through many studies.
Shamini Jain and Paul J. Mills reported on 66 studies of biofield (energy) therapies (Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and Healing Touch) in the March, 2010 International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
They examined the evidence for these therapies for different patient types using a quality assessment and best evidence synthesis approach.
They found strong evidence for reducing pain intensity in pain patients and moderate evidence for reducing pain intensity in hospitalized and cancer patients. They noted moderate evidence for decreasing negative behavioral symptoms in dementia patients and for decreasing anxiety in hospitalized patients. They reported equivocal (unclear) evidence for these therapies effect on cancer patients’ fatigue and quality of life, comprehensive pain outcomes for pain patients, and for decreasing anxiety in cardiovascular patients.
They reported the studies were of medium quality and met minimum validity standards. They also noted the need for further high-quality studies.
Their suggestions for future Reiki research called for greater acceptance of patients’ descriptions of improvement as valid outcome measures even though they may not fit into the current “clinically” relevant outcomes. For instance, Reiki patients’ report of greater self-awareness, feelings of centeredness, and overall well-being are not considered relevant if researchers are only measuring functional improvement or receptivity to counseling.
These researchers also noted that use of more sensitive measurement methods such as cutting-edge genetic tools might detect effects not currently noted.
Other sources for Reiki research review include the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Judith Aufenthie, RN, in the Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicinereports, “Reiki benefits may come from its ability to help promote relaxation. There’s little, if any health risk from the therapy. But there is also little evidence that it can effectively treat specific conditions.”
NCCAM reports that overall, energy therapies have impressive anecdotal evidence, but none have been proven scientifically to be effective. They now provide funding for Reiki studies in the following areas:
- How Reiki might work.
- Whether Reiki is effective and safe for treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Reiki’s possible impact on the well-being and quality of life in people with advanced AIDS.
- The possible effects of Reiki on disease progression and/or anxiety in people with prostate cancer.
- Whether Reiki can help reduce nerve pain and cardiovascular risk in people with type 2 diabetes.
When all is said and done, it is the person’s experience of Reiki that counts most… it’s the report of his or her benefits from the experience that attracts both its practitioners and the people that use it… often one in the same. (Reiki practitioners also use the therapy on themselves).
At the same time, Reiki research with high-quality studies needs to continue to further its understanding and appropriate use.
I hope that as dedicated researchers uncover more sensitive measurement of the subtleties of healing in conducting Reiki research, science will benefit as well.
For now, Reiki research cannot provide you proof. Its proof must come from your experience of Reiki. The best way to know if it works is to try it.
Brent Baumer (ed.), Mayo Clinic Book of Alterntive Medicne (New York:Time, Inc., 2007).
National Institutes of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/reiki.
Pamela Miles, Reiki A Comprehensive Guide (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2006).
Reiki Medicine and Self Care with Pamela Miles at http://reikiinmedicine.org.
Shamini Jain and Paul J. Mills, “Biofield Therapies: Helpful or Full of Hype? A Best Evidence Sythesis, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.March, 2010.
The Reiki Alliance at http://www.reikialliance.com.