For the general entry on Alternative Medicine, click here
Reiki is an alternative medicine healing practice which originated in its modern form in 1922 as the brainchild of Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. After a revelation he had while on the last day of a three-week retreat of meditation and fasting he founded the Usui System of Natural Healing, more commonly known as reiki, from the Japanese rei-ki, meaning “universal life-force energy.” A reiki session consists of the reiki master placing hands palm down on or just above the patient’s clothed body in a series of positions, holding each for a few minutes.
Reiki is most commonly used as a complementary treatment to assist patients by relaxing them, reducing stress, depression, anxiety, and pain, and speed healing from surgery, not as an alternative to medicine for treating specific physical conditions or curing organic diseases. Because of reiki’s claim to channel a universal life-force energy, however, some proponents make extravagant (and dangerous) claims that reiki can heal anything.
First, reiki has a strong religious basis. Reiki’s origin story is not that of a scientific technique, but of a spiritual revelation. Mikao Usui didn’t develop reiki by conducting experiments or treating patients. Rather, after fasting and meditating, “he began hallucinating and hearing voices” that revealed reiki techniques to him. The Catholic Church has noted the spiritual basis of reiki, and described it as being incompatible with Christianity.
Secondly, and most importantly, there is no scientific basis for reiki to work. Reiki depends upon the existence of a “universal life force energy.” There is no evidence that any such energy exists. Science has never detected it, even though we now have instruments capable of detecting infinitesimal energies and subatomic particles. Its existence would violate several known physical laws. For instance, the claim that reiki masters can channel this energy at a distance contradicts the inverse-square law, which holds that the strength of a force inexorably weakens as distance increases.
Finally, while it is always possible that a therapeutic technique may work even though we don’t yet understand how, there is no cogent evidence that reiki does work. Scientific clinical studies of reiki fail to show its effectiveness for any condition. There is no evidence that reiki’s effect is anything other than a manifestation of the placebo effect and/or a consequence of flaws or deficiencies in the clinical studies.
Reiki may make people feel better for the sole reason that that is what the placebo effect does. Any greater or more specific claim for reiki’s efficacy is extraordinary and requires extraordinary proof, of which there is none.
“Catholic bishops in US ban Japanese Reiki” on Guardian.co.uk (March 31, 2009)
“New Age Energy” on Skeptoid.com
“The Physics of ‘Alternative Medicine’ Bioenergetic Fields” Stenger, Victor J., 1999.
“Reiki and Therapeutic Touch” QuackCast 29.
“Effects of Reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials” Lee, MS; Pittler, MH; Ernst, E, 2008.
“A Systematic Review of the Therapeutic Effects of Reiki” Sondra vanderVaart, Violette M.G.J. Gijsen, Saskia N. de Wildt, Gideon Koren, 2009.