b. Reiki Research

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During the past years the amount of medical publications mentioning Reiki along with other energy therapies skyrocketed, with 2071 articles according to the pubmed search . Out of these, 100 papers, published between 1994 and 2014, are dedicated specifically to the effects of Reiki.

Many educational articles about Reiki have appeared in the medical journals in the earlier years, bringing the attention of the medical community to Reiki therapy and initiating Reiki research projects [Chu 2004, Potter 2003, Miles 2003, Miles 2003(a), Fleming 2003, Yapp 2002, Nield-Anderson 2000, Rivera 1999, Whitsitt 1998, Bullock 1997, Van Sell 1996, Kovalik 1995, Tattam 1994].

Recent reviews on Reiki focus specifically on Reiki research [Baldwin 2010, VanderVaart 2009, Lee 2008, Vitale 2007]. In 2010 the research articles has been evaluated by a team of scientists from the Center for Reiki Research in terms of the quality of the experimental design and utilization of well-established outcome parameters. The summary of the status of Reiki research, a list of Reiki articles, guidelines for future research and a list of hospitals, offering Reiki, can be found on the website: [http://www.centerforreikiresearch.org/].

The majority of published research confirms the positive effects of Reiki on stress [Cuneo 2010, Bowden 2010, Vitale 2009]; pain and anxiety [Richeson 2010, Meland 2009, Pocotte 2008, Potter 2007, Vitale 2006, Olson 2003, Miles 2003(b), Wardell 2001, Olson 1997]. The biochemical and physiological changes in Reiki recipients, such as decrease in heart rate, decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, decrease in EMG activity and increase in skin temperature are typical of relaxation [Wardell 2001, Mackay 2004]. Effects of Reiki on heart function have been positive (such as improved heart rate variability) and are possibly related to stress-reduction [Friedman 2010, Sharma 2000]. Long-lasting reduction of psychological stress has been noticed [Shore 2004]. Reiki was successfully used for rehabilitation of torture survivors in Sarajevo [Kennedy 2001].

Reiki has been administered in the emergency room and operating room, and used to support surgical patients [Miles 2005, Alandydy 1999, Sawyer 1998], as well as during childbirth [Rakestraw 2009-2010]. Cancer patients, including terminal patients, tend to benefit from Reiki, reporting better quality of life and less fatigue [Bossi 2008, Miles 2007, Tsang 2007], and the use of Reiki in palliative care is increasing [Burden 2005, Miles 2004].

The effects of Reiki on immune system are possible through salivary IgA increase [Wardell 2001], and the possibility of complementing HIV treatment with Reiki treatments and training has been investigated [Schmehr 2003].

However, not all performed studies show positive effects of Reiki. Thus, no significant benefit from Reiki was noticed in patients with fibromyalgia [Assefi 2008], or in patients, rehabilitating from stroke [Shiflett 2002].

Reiki has been recommended for integrative care [Schiller 2003, Eliopoulos 2003]. It is becoming a popular supportive therapy in the nursing practice [Lipinkski 2006, Gallob 2003, Nield-Anderson 2001]. It is interesting that the Reiki practitioners benefit themselves from practicing Reiki. They were reported to experience less stress and increased spirituality and awareness [Cuneo 2010, Vitale 2009, Brathovde 2006, Whelan 2003].

The studies of use of Reiki in psychotherapy [LaTorre 2005] are well justified since Reiki has been associated with changes in awareness from dissonance and turbulence to harmony and well-being [Ring 2009]. It has also been found beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients, improving memory and mental functioning [Crawford 2006]. The influence of Reiki on brain biochemistry at the molecular level has been studied on patients with seizure disorder and was beneficial [A & Kurup 2003].

Although the majority of Reiki research and educational articles originate in USA, Canada and UK, other countries, such as Poland, India and Portugal are getting involved [Kosakowska 2005, Sharma 2000, Van Sell 1998].

The majority of Reiki research is done on patients, sharing a specific medical condition. Animals models are rarely used, however, it was shown that Reiki decreased stress in rats [Baldwin 2006 and 2008]. The potential problem with the use of the animal models comes from the ethical contradiction that in such case Reiki is administered to animals, which are purposefully stressed prior to treatment and/or later humanely killed to obtain the results. In other words, the experimental design, such as to measure the healing effect counterbalancing the effect of artificially created suffering, contradicts the Reiki ethics, since the suffering is artificially created in order to study the healing. This contradiction can either affect the mood of the Reiki practitioners providing the treatments, which in turn will affect the treatment quality; or it will cast doubt among other Reiki practitioners regarding credibility of results.

Generally speaking, the credible research design presents the biggest challenge of Reiki research. Thus, out of 26 Reiki articles reviewed by [Baldwin 2010] only 12 articles were considered to have robust experimental design. Most trials suffer from methodological flaws, such as small sample size, inadequate design and poor reporting. The necessity of standardization of Reiki procedures was first brought to attention more than 10 years ago [Mansour 1999], where sham practitioners were used for comparison. However, most commonly the effects of Reiki treatments are measured using relaxation/rest as a control state.

Among other factors which complicate the research are: (i) variability between the Reiki treatments, provided by different practitioners and (ii) variability between the treatments, provided by the same practitioner on different occasions, i.e. the effect of the state of the practitioner. The first is usually controlled by rotating the practitioners, standardizing the treatment procedure and using the practitioners trained by the same master. The second variability is hard to control, although ideally practitioners should put themselves in a reproducible Reiki-conductive state by using standardized meditation/focusing techniques. The hint on the effects of the state of the practitioner on the Reiki treatment outcome was found in a project which used bacterial culture, where the harmless laboratory strain of E.coli was subjected to Reiki treatment after heat-shock [Rubik 2006]. The study revealed that (a) intentionality of Reiki practitioners was important (i.e. only the treatments, performed by practitioners who had treated pain patients prior to treating bacteria, had protective effect on bacteria versus untreated controls); and (b) the initial level of well-being of the Reiki practitioners correlated with the effect of Reiki on bacterial culture.

Finally (and obvious to most Reiki practitioners), different patients respond differently to Reiki therapy. The situation is not unique to Reiki and is true for other energy medicines. The factor of being open to receiving a treatment severely affects the treatment efficiency, and this decision is made by the patient not only consciously, but often subconsciously. It is not by accident that typically in Reiki practice (including distant Reiki) the patient has to agree to receiving a treatment. That is why, “blinding” the Reiki recipients regarding to whether they receive real or “sham” treatment (which is done in Reiki studies to avoid the “expectation” placebo effect) has to be done carefully, so that the patients remains open to receiving.

Also, the effect of Reiki on an individual recipient will depend not only on his ability to receive, but also on his ability to process Reiki energy (which is more related to the recipient’s psychological characteristics, rather than his current diagnosis). That is why statistical studies, such as whether Reiki has an effect on a big number of patients with specific medical condition, should ideally take the patients’ psychological states into account.

The state and role of Reiki recipients has been captured in the following description: ”Participants described a liminal state of awareness in which sensate and symbolic phenomena were experienced in a paradoxical way. Liminal states and paradoxical experiences… are related to the holistic nature and individual variation of the healing experience. These findings suggest that many linear models used in researching touch therapies are not complex enough to capture the experience of participants [Engebretson 2002].

CONCLUSIONS: As Reiki is gaining popularity among patients, the research of Reiki as a complementary therapy is gaining speed. Design of a credible research regarding Reiki energy therapy is complex and presents a scientific challenge. The increased number of publications on Reiki helps its wider acceptance in the medical community.