Feb 052010

reiki I don’t do a lot of debating on alternative therapies. I got tired of the “my study is better than your study” sort of discussion. But when I recently discussed my problem with homeopathy, one of the responses challenged me to apply the same logic to Reiki. I’m an Usui Reiki master, although I’m not professionally active. I do treatments and attunements for free when asked.

I believe Reiki to be a valuable and effective method of “energy healing”. It’s certainly finding widespread acceptance in hospitals and clinics around the country and around the world for that matter.  A number of studies suggest that Reiki is helpful and effective with a number of conditions, for self-healing, one-on-one treatment, and distance healing. Certainly there are flaws in some of the studies. But there have been effects significant enough to merit larger and better studies.

More important, I believe, is the subjective experience of the patients and healers. People find Reiki healing to be a positive and helpful experience. As a healer who has tried several different methods of energy healing, I can say that Reiki is my favorite. In Reiki healing, the healer is instructed to simply let energy flow naturally to the patient. The Reiki energy directs itself to wherever it is needed. The energy knows best, and the healer simply lets it gently flow through. This is in contrast to some other methods I have used, where I am consciously directing, almost “forcing” energy to go where I want it to. With such methods, I can end a healing session feeling drained. With Reiki, I always feel as rejuvenated as the patient.

But isn’t my subjective experience lacking in any scientifically recognized mechanism? Isn’t the “energy” I am channeling undetectable, and for all intents and purposes, non-existent?

No, I’m not willing to concede that ground. In addition to promising studies on Reiki, there are other studies on prayer, spiritual healing and the effect of intention that are quite interesting. In particular Dean Radin’s research on the effects of intention on physical systems seems to be excellent science – and I do have a reasonably good scientific education. I suspect that in the future, the power of intention will become better understood, and virtually undeniable.

But let’s suppose I’m wrong about all that. Let’s suppose that there is no direct physical effect of intention. No subtle energy. No physical mechanism that corresponds remotely to what Reiki healers THINK they are doing. Let’s look at Reiki purely from a non-metaphysical viewpoint.

What is it like to receive Reiki treatment? What is the subjective experience like?  Ideally, you are made very comfortable in a relaxed setting. There may be calm music or pleasant aromas. You are made to relax and direct your quiet meditation to your own healing and well being. While this is going on, you are aware of the presence of someone who is intending to help you and heal you. You are aware of kind support and encouragement. You are reassured that things will be better. You experience a calm, positive mood regarding your health and well being.

How can this fail to have a beneficial effect? If nothing else, it is an ideal situation for maximizing the placebo effect. All the things that researchers try to studiously avoid doing to minimize the placebo effect – detaching themselves from the outcome and avoiding giving the patients “cues” – all these are the things the Reiki healer deliberately DOES. Psychological elements such as relaxation, optimism, and the emotional support of others have all been shown to assist healing in a multitude of ways. You’d be hard pressed to design a better method of providing ideal emotional support to someone in need of healing.

But continuing down the path of skepticism – assume that both Reiki and Homeopathy have no intrinsic, non-metaphysical basis to them. Is Reiki really any better than homeopathy? Isn’t one placebo the same as another? I was going to suggest, yesterday, that I would still prefer Reiki. But after a few discussions I find I needed to edit this post a bit.

There are apparently quite a few homeopaths who focus a lot on the metaphysical energies involved, the “vibrations”, energy signatures or whatever term you prefer, of various preparations and medicines. My impression (perhaps mistaken) was that  many MORE seem to believe that it is the intrinsic physical properties of the medicine that matters. These physical properties based on concentrations so dilute that often not a single molecule of the original substance actually remains. Such people believe they are taking a medicine very much like a traditional pharmaceutical preparation in mechanism and effect, when in fact the ONLY source of homeopathic effectiveness  comes from metaphysical or para-natural mechanisms, or from psychological sources.

I simply think it’s more satisfactory either with Reiki or Homeopathy,  to be right up front and say “this is SPIRITUAL healing”. With Reiki, of course, there’s little danger of confusion. With Homeopathy, I think that if you are making the energetic essence the basis of the healing, there’s an additional educational task if you want people to understand that.

P.S. For convenience I’ve referred to Reiki practitioners as “healers”, those on whom they practice as “patients”, and Reiki itself as “treatment” and “healing”. Otherwise the language gets awkward. Since the one possibly negative effect Reiki might have would be to make a person hesitate to receive some critically needed medical treatment thinking they are already “cured” let me remind readers of my disclaimers. I believe Reiki is best as a complementary therapy, used as support. I’m not a doctor, and when I do Reiki I am not giving medical treatment for a disease as understood by the medical community. However, while you’d be foolish not to at least consult a health professional for a health problem, the ultimate responsibility for your health rests with you.

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