Reiki Therapy, does it work?  Energy Healing - Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch
August 10 2017 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.


The Japanese practice of Reiki - rei meaning spiritual wisdom and ki, energy - developed in the early 20th century. In theory, here's how Reiki works: Energy flows along a pathway in the body. Certain points ("chakras" or "meridians") control corresponding parts of the body, with the heart chakra, for example, governing the organ along with feelings such as love and compassion. Reiki practitioners take classes to achieve "attunement" so they can connect with a client's energy. Using their hands - sometimes without touching - they clear the negative energy and create a healthy flow. Clearing that energy is supposed to encourage the body to heal itself, as well as easing anxiety during difficult procedures such as chemotherapy or surgery.

Reiki is a technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by "laying on hands" and, according to promoters of Reiki, it is based on the idea that an unseen "life force energy" flows through us. 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. Dr. Mikao Usui, the founder of the Reiki system of natural healing, recommended that one practice certain simple ethical ideals to promote peace and harmony, which are nearly universal across all cultures.

While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it.

Documented benefits of relaxation, decreased perception of pain, reduced anxiety and improved sense of wellbeing have been shown to enable an enhanced quality of life. Reiki is a more recent addition to the range of complementary therapies. As an energy-healing intervention it has gained in popularity as a non-invasive and non-pharmacological approach. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the profound relaxation effect has a positive impact on alleviating anxiety, stress, perception of pain and promotes a feeling of wellbeing particularly relating to the nature of psychospiritual wellbeing.


Dr. Sahelian comments on Reiki healing and Treatment
I can't see how not touching a person can make a significant change in their health. I see Reiki as a form of massage or a form of healing touch. I don't know why we need to give therapeutic healing massage a formal name or label. Why not just call it healing touch or healing massage? I do believe massage is quite beneficial to many people, whether it be Reiki massage, Thai massage, Swedish, or any form of improvised massage without a particular name.
     Bottom line: I don't see Reiki being any more beneficial than many other forms of massage or healing touch. I don't buy the notion that one can change 'energy fields" in the body by not touching except if the person lying on the table feels relaxed and content by just knowing that someone near them appears to be concerned about their health and wellbeing and cares about them.  Furthermore, the expertise of the massage therapist and the mind set of the person who is performing healing touch or Reiki can make a significant difference. Not all Reiki practitioners have the same skill, just as not all medical doctors are similar in their knowledge and healing abilities. I just feel that the name Reiki is being used as a marketing tool, and anyone with good or excellent massage or healing touch expertise can provide a similar benefit to a patient than a so called Reiki practitioner with Reiki training or a Master Reiki.


Older Source of Reiki - Although I mention above that Japanese Reiki was developed in the early 20th century, I have also come across a different fact which says Reiki is an ancient hands-on healing technique reputedly developed in Tibet 2500 years ago.


Reiki and fibromyalgia
Reiki for the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial.
J Altern Complement Med. 2008; Assefi N, Bogart A, Goldberg J, Buchwald D. Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Our objective was to determine whether Reiki is beneficial as an adjunctive fibromyalgia treatment. The subjects were comprised 100 adults with fibromyalgia. Four (4) groups received twice-weekly treatment for 8 weeks by either a Reiki master or actor randomized to use direct touch or no touch (distant therapy). Neither Reiki nor touch had any effect on pain or any of the secondary outcomes. All outcome measures were nearly identical among the 4 treatment groups during the course of the trial. Neither Reiki nor touch improved the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Energy medicine modalities such as Reiki should be rigorously studied before being recommended to patients with chronic pain symptoms.


Hospital patients
Enferm Intensiva. 2016. Effectiveness of implementing the reiki method to reduce the weaning failure. A clinical trial. Admission to intensive care unit (ICU) is a difficult and stressful time for the patient, with the application of different techniques, such as intubation and ventilation support withdrawal or "weaning", which may fail due to anxiety.OBJECTIVES:. Reiki reduces the agitation of patients. A decrease was objectively observed in the number of days of Mechanical Ventilation, length of stay, lower doses of sedatives, and a slight decrease in the weaning failure.


Trial in children
Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2014. Reiki therapy for postoperative oral pain in pediatric patients: Pilot data from a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. To examine the effects of Reiki as an adjuvant therapy to opioid therapy for postoperative pain control in pediatric patients. This was a double-blind, randomized controlled study of children undergoing dental procedures. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either Reiki therapy or the control therapy (sham Reiki) preoperatively. Postoperative pain scores, opioid requirements, and side effects were assessed. Family members were also asked about perioperative care satisfaction. Multiple linear regressions were used for analysis. Thirty-eight children participated. The blinding procedure was successful. No statistically significant difference was observed between groups on all outcome measures. Our study provides a successful example of a blinding procedure for Reiki therapy among children in the perioperative period. This study does not support the effectiveness of Reiki as an adjuvant therapy to opioid therapy for postoperative pain control in pediatric patients.


Reiki Investigations underway

Reiki, a Japanese practice of clearing away negative energy and a form of healing touch, is finding some acceptance in U.S. medicine. Its claims are being tested in clinical trials. The federal government wants to know if there is any truth to the claims of Reiki's healing powers. It is investing $2.7 million in four Reiki clinical trials, including a Philadelphia study of whether Reiki helps improve the health of AIDS patients. A decade ago, Reiki was found mostly at yoga retreats and New Age spas. But now Cooper University Hospital has a Reiki master on staff who treats oncology patients for free. Bryn Mawr Hospital has several nurses, including at least one in the intensive care unit, who practice Reiki. And last month, Lankenau Hospital held its first training session to introduce Reiki to its staff. What researchers wonder is whether that relaxed feeling translates into faster recovery and fewer pain medications. Gala True headed the two-year study of AIDS patients at Albert Einstein Healthcare Network and Temple University. As part of the $170,000 study, she looked at 111 patients in advanced stages of the disease. Half received Reiki sessions in addition to their normal medical care. Of those who received Reiki, more than 75 percent reported increased energy, compared with no change in the control group. A study at the Community Medical Center in Toms River, N.J., had similar results. Funded by the American Holistic Nurses Association, it looked at the effects of Reiki on patients who were having abdominal hysterectomies. Of the 22 patients in the study, those receiving Reiki took fewer pain medications. In addition to the Temple study, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is funding a $372,500 study by the Cleveland Clinic on the effects of Reiki in the treatment of prostate cancer. And there's a $1.8 million study at the University of Michigan on the use of Reiki with diabetic patients who have numbness in their feet and legs.


The view of Catholic bishops
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has warned Roman Catholics to shun the eastern healing art of Reiki because it lacks scientific credibility and is dangerous to Christian spiritual health. "Reiki therapy finds no support either in the findings of natural science or in Christian belief," said the USCCB doctrine committee in a document issued in 2009. In health terms, using a therapeutic technique that has no scientific basis "is not generally prudent," said the eight bishops on the committee.


Reiki review of scientific studies
Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials.
Int J Clin Pract. 2008. Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter & Plymouth, Exeter, UK.
The aim of this systematic review is to summarise and critically evaluate the evidence for the effectiveness of reiki. Methods: We searched the literature using 23 databases from their respective inceptions through to January 2008) without language restrictions. The searches identified 205 potentially relevant reiki studies. Nine randomised clinical trials (RCTs) met our inclusion criteria. Two RCTs suggested beneficial effects of reiki compared with sham control on depression, while one RCT did not report intergroup differences. For pain and anxiety, one RCT showed intergroup differences compared with sham control. For stress and hopelessness a further RCT reported effects of reiki and distant reiki compared with distant sham control. For functional recovery after ischaemic stroke there were no intergroup differences compared with sham. There was also no difference for anxiety between groups of pregnant women undergoing amniocentesis. For diabetic neuropathy there were no effects of reiki on pain. A further RCT failed to show the effects of reiki for anxiety and depression in women undergoing breast biopsy compared with conventional care. In conclusion, the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.


Reiki and Cognitive Function
Using Reiki to Decrease Memory and Behavior Problems in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Mild Alzheimer's Disease.
J Altern Complement Med. 2006. Crawford SE, Leaver VW,  Mahoney SD. Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, Perry, ME.
This empirical study explored the efficacy of using Reiki treatment to improve memory and behavior deficiencies in patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer's disease. This study was a quasi-experimental study comparing pre- and post-test scores of the Annotated Mini-Mental State Examination (AMMSE) and Revised Memory and Behavior Problems Checklist (RMBPC) after four weekly treatments of Reiki to a control group. The participants were treated at a facility provided by the Pleasant Point Health Center on the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation. Subjects: The sample included 24 participants scoring between 20 and 24 on the AMMSE. Demographic characteristics of the sample included an age range from 60 to 80, with 67% female, 46% American Indian, and the remainder white. Interventions: Twelve participants were exposed to 4 weeks of weekly treatments of Reiki from two Reiki Master-level practitioners; 12 participants served as controls and received no treatment. Conclusion: The results indicate that Reiki treatments show promise for improving certain behavior and memory problems in patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer's disease. Caregivers can administer Reiki at little or no cost, resulting in significant societal value by potentially reducing the needs for medication and hospitalization.


Reiki and neuropathic pain in diabetes
Reiki, in which practitioners attempt to manipulate a field of energy surrounding the patient's body, is no more effective than a placebo version of the therapy in treating the neurological pain (neuropathy) that often develops in patients with diabetes.  Diabetes Care, 2007.


Reiki and Healing Touch Research
Pilot study to test the effectiveness of Healing Touch on agitation in people with dementia.
Geriatr Nurs. 2006. Wang KL, Hermann C. Northern Arizona Healthcare System, Department of Veterans Affairs, Prescott, USA.
A pilot study was conducted to investigate the effects of Healing Touch on agitation in persons with dementia. Because of the restricted availability of patients, the main purpose of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of healing touch on dementia patients who demonstrated similar high levels of agitation as measured by the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory. Results indicated that agitation levels were significantly lowered and that healing touch is worthy of further study.


The effect of therapeutic touch on behavioral symptoms of persons with dementia.
Altern Ther Health Med. 2005. Woods DL, Craven RF, Whitney J. College of Nursing, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, USA.
Approximately 80% of nursing home residents who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and related dementia develop behavioral symptoms of dementia. Given the deleterious side effects of pharmacologic therapy in this population there is an urgent need for clinical trials of nonpharmacologic interventions. A randomized, double-blind, three-group experimental study: experimental (therapeutic touch), placebo (placebo therapeutic touch), and control (usual care). Fifty-seven residents, aged 67 to 93 years, exhibiting behavioral symptoms of dementia, were randomized to one of the three groups within each of three Special Care Units within three Long-Term Care facilities in a western Canadian province. Therapeutic touch offers a nonpharmacological, clinically relevant modality that could be used to decrease behavioral symptoms of dementia, specifically manual manipulation (restlessness) and vocalization, two prevalent behaviors.


Autonomic nervous system changes during Reiki treatment: a preliminary study.
J Altern Complement Med. 2004. Institute of Neurological Sciences, South Glasgow University Hospital NHS Trust, 1345 Govan Road, Glasgow G51 4TF, Scotland, UK.
to investigate if a complementary therapy, Reiki, has any effect on indices of autonomic nervous system function. Blind trial. Forty-five (45) subjects assigned at random into three groups. Interventions: Three treatment conditions: no treatment (rest only); Reiki treatment by experienced Reiki practitioner; and placebo treatment by a person with no knowledge of Reiki and who mimicked the Reiki treatment. Quantitative measures of autonomic nervous system function such as heart rate, cardiac vagal tone, blood pressure, cardiac sensitivity to baroreflex, and breathing activity were recorded continuously for each heartbeat. Values during and after the treatment period were compared with baseline data. Heart rate and diastolic blood pressure decreased significantly in the Reiki group compared to both placebo and control groups. The study indicates that Reiki has some effect on the autonomic nervous system. However, this was a pilot study with relatively few subjects and the changes were relatively small. The results justify further, larger studies to look at the biological effects of Reiki treatment.


Q. What is Kundalini reiki?
   A. I have not heard of Kundalini Reiki so I don't know.

Q. I am a student at Temple University interested in Reiki clinical trials on AIDS patients in Philadelphia that was discussed on your web site.  Have these trials concluded? Is there any research that points to any therapeutic Reiki effect?
   A. As of May 2008, I am not aware of the results of this Reiki study on AIDS patients.