This is not an uncommon statement to come across. I've heard it many times in person and seen it online many times. Here is my response to that notion:
"What makes you so sure? Your view may be based on something that you've read from a reputable source. However, just because something has been published, it does not mean it has been adequately studied. As a medical doctor and clinical researcher, I’ve been observing and studying Reiki for years, and I can tell you that when Reiki is done properly, the results can be quite dramatic (and it is not just a placebo effect).
I swear by science, and the only reason I even learned Reiki originally was for educational and research purposes. If at any point I would have found evidence that Reiki does not work, or if there was even a shred of suspicion in my mind that it only works as a result of a placebo effect, I would not have been able to do it in good conscience. So trust me, Reiki is not nonsense.
To clarify, there are numerous forms of Reiki in existence, and I can’t speak for all of them. I can only speak for the traditional Reiki style (Jikiden Reiki) which has been preserved in Japan, its country of origin. Many spin-off forms of Reiki have been created since the last century and not all of them utilize the most essential and the most important Reiki techniques that were used by the founder of Reiki Mikao Usui.
So I cannot guarantee that the newer Reiki styles work (some of them may only be "Reiki" in the name, but could be something else entirely). All I can say, that in my observational research as a medical scientist, the original Reiki method 心身改善臼井靈氣療法 (Shin Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho) as passed on directly through the Jikiden Reiki lineage is most definitely a remarkable healing art.
Current clinical research in Reiki is very limited and of low quality for the most part - there are numerous design flaws and biases in most of the studies that I’ve read. So the scientific perspective (which is based on CURRENTLY AVAILABLE data) is that Reiki is neither harmful nor helpful. The issue here is that we have very little that is currently available on Reiki that’s not flawed in one way or another.
Just because current clinical research in Reiki is very limited (and of low quality for the most part) and just because at this point science does not have a clear understanding or a clear definition of what Reiki even is, it does not mean that Reiki is “nonsense”.
When you think of Reiki, don’t think ‘snake oil’, think of Reiki (the traditional form) as ‘acupuncture minus the needles’. That’s the best parallel I can draw for you. Not that long ago, scientists did not think much of acupuncture either, but now with better and more extensive research, acupuncture has been demonstrated to be effective for a number of indications.
I have no doubt in my mind, that properly designed and conducted clinical trials would be able to easily demonstrate the effectiveness of Reiki vs. placebo. I have not published any of my own observations yet, but repeatedly seeing and hearing "Reiki is nonsense" makes me want to get into high gear and just get it all out on paper, as well as get funding and staff for proper large scale clinical trials in Reiki. It is so long overdue. I think it’s time to put the scientific doubts about Reiki that are based on inadequate research to rest!"
Who is with me? Time to assemble a research team!
Do you have clinical research experience? Are you open- and scientifically-minded? Grant writer?
Post your comments below. Let's make this happen!
In general, placebo effect is a human phenomenon. It is observed when a person perceives an improvement due to his or her expectation of positive effect of a specific treatment.
Every healing modality for humans has some degree of placebo effect. Placebo effect can range widely, from a few % up to about 30%, and the degree of placebo effect depends on multiple factors.
When it relates to humans, the real question is whether or not the specific treatment is more effective than a placebo. The only way to answer that question, is to conduct a placebo-controlled clinical trial, comparing a specific treatment for a specific problem to a placebo. A large number of people participating in the study is usually needed in order to determine whether or not the difference between the improvement in the placebo and the treatment group is statistically significant. If there is a statistically significant difference in a series of well-designed studies, then we can conclude that the effect of a specific treatment for a specific problem is real, and that it is not just due to a placebo effect. Until this extensive research is completed, we cannot make that determination.
Note, in my case, it was through decade-long observation of Reiki, Healing Touch and Acupuncture being effective for hundreds and hundreds of patients, that I could see that those modalities was effective significantly above 30%. It was only through that extensive observational evidence (and my neutrality towards the final answer) that I was able to come to a scientific conclusion that Alternative Medicine modalities such as Reiki, Healing Touch and Acupuncture can be effective beyond the placebo effect. With that said, it was my conclusion and my conclusion only, which has not been adequately tested by well-designed placebo-controlled clinical trials (at least in case of Reiki and Healing Touch). This means that although I am convinced that Reiki can be very helpful, and helpful beyond the placebo effect, it is by no means a scientific fact, since it has not yet been proven by scientific studies.
When it comes to animals, the placebo effect has not been adequately studied. I would expect, that those animals who can sense a caring human approach would be a subject to a placebo effect. It is not uncommon to see what's called a "caring nurse" phenomenon in human studies. This phenomenon is observed when the clinical research center staff is behaving in a caring way towards research participants, which significantly increases the placebo effect, often to the point, that it is impossible to demonstrate a statistically significant difference even between the treatment that is already known to be effective and placebo. I can imagine that with animals such as cats, dogs, horses, certain birds, etc., we can observe a similar phenomenon, where the effect of a caring healer would increase the degree of a placebo effect of an energy treatment. So just like with humans, the only way to scientifically demonstrate that a healing modality is more effective than a placebo for animals, is to conduct a series of well-designed studies, and specifically studies that take the "caring healer" phenomenon into account. There is no other way to answer that question.
On a different note, people don't utilize energy medicine for themselves or for their pets because it has been scientifically proven to work (it hasn't been), but because they have either heard good things about it or have already experienced it with positive results themselves. So whether or not it is a placebo effect, if what you do it works, it works. :)
A placebo effect is a psychological phenomenon, in which the recipient perceives an improvement in condition due to personal expectations, rather than the treatment itself. Generally speaking, the more serious the treatment, the higher the extent of the placebo effect. For example, the placebo effect from a ‘fake’ cream will likely be less than from a ‘fake’ pill, which will likely be less than from a ‘fake’ surgery.
The only way to discern whether or not an improvement of a specific condition from a specific treatment is due to a placebo effect is through clinical research. There is no other way of knowing whether or not the effectiveness of treatment (including Reiki) is due to a placebo effect.
Personally, I have a lot of experience with Reiki and based on my observational experience, I am certain that the effectiveness of Reiki is significantly above the placebo effect (and trust me, as a medical doctor and a clinical research physician I approach Reiki with a critical eye, just as I do any other type of treatment).
Unfortunately, in spite of numerous studies on the effectiveness of Reiki, there is no definitive proof that it it is helpful beyond a placebo effect. For the most part, this is due to research of inadequate quality. To quote the analysis of multiple studies on Reiki by Sondra vanderVaart et. al (Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.):
“The serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness. High-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to address the effectiveness of Reiki over placebo.”
It is not surprising, since most researchers are not Reiki practitioners and most Reiki practitioners are not researchers. How can you study something you know very little about, and how can you create a high quality clinical trial on something you know a lot about if you don’t know anything about research?
Just because the clinical research data is limited, it does not mean that the effectiveness of Reiki comes purely from a placebo effect. I have no doubt, that with high quality studies, we will be able to demonstrate clinically significant difference between the effectiveness of Reiki for a wide range of indication vs. placebo. It is simply a question of time and high quality studies.
Dr. Maria Danilychev, MD is a hospice doctor, clinical research physician, and a Jikiden Reiki Shihan (master/teacher).