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"Reiki can't possibly work. So why does it?"

The energy therapy is now available in many hospitals. What its ascendance says about shifts in how American patients and doctors think about health care.

“When I started it, they all just called it that crap. Like, ‘Oh, they’re over there doing that crap.’ ” This nurse, whom I’ll call Jamie, was on the line from a Veterans Affairs medical center in the Northeast. She’d been struggling for a few minutes between the impulse to tout the program she’d piloted, which offers Reiki to vets as part of their medical care, and the impulse to “tread lightly,” because some of the doctors, nurses, and administrators she works with still think that Reiki is quackery or—you know.


Reiki’s growing popularity in the U.S.—and its acceptance at some of the most respected American hospitals—has placed it at the nexus of large, uneasy shifts in American attitudes toward our own health care. Various non-Western practices have become popular complements to conventional medicine in the past few decades, chief among them yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, all of which have been the subject of rigorous scientific studies that have established and explained their effectiveness. Reiki is the latest entrant into the suite of common additional treatments. Its presence is particularly vexing to naysayers because Reiki delivers demonstrable salutary effects without a proven cause.


Over the past two decades, a number of studieshave shown that Reiki treatments help diminish the negative side effects of chemotherapy, improve surgical outcomes, regulate the autonomic nervous system, and dramatically alter people’s experience of physical and emotional pain associated with illness. But no conclusive, peer-reviewed study has explained its mechanisms, much less confirmed the existence of a healing energy that passes between bodies on command. Nevertheless, Reiki treatment, training, and education are now available at many esteemed hospitalsin the United States, including Memorial Sloan Kettering, Cleveland Clinic, New York Presbyterian, the Yale Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


Reiki’s healing touch also has precedent. In the fourth or fifth century b.c., a Greek physician, possibly Hippocrates, included the following observation in some notes on his profession:

"It is believed by experienced doctors that the heat which oozes out of the hand, on being applied to the sick, is highly salutary … It has often appeared, while I have been soothing my patients, as if there was a singular property in my hands to pull and draw away from the affected parts aches and diverse impurities …"

This passage is now part of what’s called the Hippocratic Corpus, a series of texts written by or closely linked to Hippocrates, commonly known as the father of Western medicine. The precepts laid down there form the foundations of the medical philosophies that shape our health care today.


The ailments that Reiki seems to treat most effectively are those that orthodox medicine struggles to manage: pain, anxiety, chronic disease, and the fear or discomfort of facing not only the suffering of illness but also the suffering of treatment. “What conventional medicine is excellent at is acute care. We can fix broken bones, we can unclog arteries, we can help somebody survive a significant trauma, and there are medicines for all sorts of symptoms,” Yufang Lin, an integrative-medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic, told me. But medicine, she said, is less successful at recognizing the way that emotion, trauma, and subjective experience can drive physical health—and the way that they can affect recovery from acute medical care.

Read the full article from The Atlantic HERE


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