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A Bogus New-Age Fad or a Powerful Ancient Healing Therapy?

By Sara Holderle

I. The History of Reiki/ II. The Purpose of Reiki/
III. How Experts Say Reiki Works/
IV. Claims of Effectiveness of Reiki Therapy/
V. Presenters of Research Information/
VI. Conclusion/ VII. Scientific Studies on Reiki/
VIII. Conclusions of Scientific Studies/
IX. Bibliography

The History of Reiki


    According to the Reiki Holistic Healing at Christal Center web page, the word “Reiki” is defined as the Japanese word for “universal energy”.   Reiki therapy is a “laying on of hands” by a therapist who has studied Reiki, and therefore has enabled him/herself to provide a channel of healing energy for their clients.   Although Dr. Makao Usui, a Christian monk, is credited with rediscovering Reiki therapy in Japan during the 1800’s, believers say this therapy dates all the way back to when Jesus healed others through his touch thousands of years ago  (  Wade Ryan (a Reiki Master) claims in his web page on facts about Reiki that this is not a religion, but that the spiritual energy received by clients often leads to an expansion of one’s own personal faith (
    “The Three Reikis” ( explains that about five years ago distinctions for three forms of Reiki were recognized.   The three forms are Usui Reiki, Vajra Reiki, and Karuna Reiki.  Usui Reiki is the traditional form of Reiki rediscovered by Dr. Usui. Usui Reiki is noted for being a very gentle therapy, and therefore appropriate for adults and children seeking to maintain their good health, for providing energy to those who are lacking it due to illness or treatment, and also for the elderly.  During Usui Reiki, the Practitioner’s Hand Positions are centered mainly on the head or torso.   Although most Practitioners are satisfied with Usui Reiki Ability, those who are interested in a wider range of Healing Energy (i.e. caregivers of the extremely ill) would be more interested in Vajra Reiki.
    A student of Iris Ishikuro, one of the twenty-two original American Reiki Masters, is mainly responsible for creating Vajra Reiki approximately ten years ago, although it has only recently become fully systematized.  Vajra Reiki is a combination of Usui Reiki and Johrei (another form of Healing Energy).  The energy given off by Vajra Reiki is said to be “hot” and sharply focused, and for that reason is said to work well on severely ill people suffering from a newer disease such as AIDS or Ebola.  Hand Positions for this form of Reiki cover the entire body.
    Lastly, those interested in using Reiki on a spiritual level would be interested in Karuna Reiki.  Karuna Reiki is used in addition to either one or both Usui and Vajra Reiki.  This form is “highly subtle and intuitive” and for that reason does not have any specific Hand Positions (

The Purpose of Reiki


    All the sources cited listed numerous benefits they believe come from a Reiki therapy session.  The Reiki Holistic Healing at Christal Center states that this therapy alleviates pain and acute conditions rapidly.   They claim that Reiki encourages one’s natural ability for their body to heal itself, that it rids the body of “emotional poisons” while promoting a meditative state of complete relaxation, and that it can be useful in returning to mental well being.  Reiki can also be used for more specific treatment needs.  People have sought stress relief, relief from physical pain, help in stopping smoking, and ease of depression from Reiki treatments.   The underlying purpose is that the therapist is a channel through which their patients receive healing and enlightenment.  Wade Ryan summarizes the purpose with his statement that “Reiki provides energetic nourishment to both maintain and enhance Healing and health” (  Ryan also provides positive aspects of Reiki which he feels give it advantages over other energy-related healing techniques.  For example, the healing energy used in Reiki therapy is not the therapist’s energy, but rather the “Universal Life Form Energy”.  Therefore the therapist does not experience a depletion or loss of energy during a Reiki session, which does occur in some other healing processes.   Also, therapists can be trained to send Reiki Energy over long distances, and it is the only Energy system that is said to be able to be given to oneself.   In “An Introduction to Reiki” ( the author writes that a one-hour session of Reiki has the same physiological benefits (i.e. increased oxygen supply to the blood and cells) as three to four hours of sleep.  It is for this reason that Reiki is thought to be a good form of stress relief.   When used regularly, Reiki is said to cause a general increase in vitality, an acceleration of the healing process, and regeneration of tissue.
    A different explanation of benefits is offered in “What is Reiki?” (  The author of this article believes that there is an “ideal form” that everyone has.  This ideal form is the clearest expression of who each of us is as a person.  It is believed by some that disease and physical pain are afflicted upon us when our current form in the “3D physical world” varies from our ideal form.  These deviations are said to occur when we accept limitations in our lives.  Therefore, the healing process (Reiki) has to be one in which the physical form is brought into closer alignment with one’s ideal form.

How Experts Say Reiki Works


    A typical Reiki session lasts for between fifteen to ninety minutes and consists of a client lying fully clothed on their backs and the therapist using their touch to provide the client with healing energy.  The Practitioner’s Hand Positions usually start at the head and each position lasts for approximately five minutes.  Reiki is different from other forms of massage because no tissues or muscles are directly manipulated.  Because of this, Reiki is said to be just as effective through plaster casts, on animals, and even on plants.
    People have different theories on why they believe this treatment works.  A few ideas of how this treatment works are given in “An Introduction to Reiki” (cited above).  Possible explanations given of why people experience an inner state of relaxation and meditation are that Reiki manifests one’s consciousness, or that it is an energy science that can be supported from some theories of quantum physics.  Another source offered the explanation that modern physics are beginning to understand that our Universe is composed of energy which is affected by our thought. This theory dates back to beliefs that “Chi” (the word used by Chinese Mystics and martial artists for the underlying force that makes up our Universe) through direct application provides healing tendencies. This would make Reiki a combination of modern Quantum Physics and ancient Metaphysics. (“What is Reiki?”, cited above).
    In order for a therapist to become a channel for this healing energy, they have to have energy in their hands activated through a process called “Attunements” or “initiations” by a Reiki Master.  Once the energy is activated it is said to be in your hands for life.  Reiki is not something that can be learned through a book or through instruction.  Reiki Masters claim that the process of activating the energy is one of the ancient mysteries of the world (“An introduction to Reiki”).
    There are different levels of ability that Reiki practitioners can achieve, and even these differ between the three different Reikis.  In Usui Reiki, there are three levels of ability.  Four stages of Attunement must be passed to achieve Level I Reiki Ability.  Level I slightly opens the energetic channel needed for giving Reiki; it is only 25% in strength.  Level II Reiki Ability is achieved through two rituals similar to the Attunements in Level I, but these Attunements are both repeated, so that actually four Attunements are given.  Level II Ability is at 100% and it is at this level that long-distance healing and mental and emotional healing can be provided.  Master-Practitioner status is achieved in one or two Attunements in Level III.  Those who teach Mastership must wait until they have had sufficient experience as a Master-Practitioner, because it is believed that it takes time to adjust to the great energy power that comes with Level III status.  Vajra Reiki also has three Levels of Ability.  The only difference from the Usui Levels is that each level in Vajra Reiki is achieved through a single Attunement.
    Due to the fact that Karuna Reiki is of a more intuitive nature it can only be practiced by Usui or Vajra Reiki Practitioners who have attained Level II Ability or higher.  After this, there are three Karuna Reiki Levels of Attunement that can be attained, each one empowering the practitioner with additional “Treatment Symbol-Energies” (“The Three Reikis”, cited above).  According to “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Reiki” (cited above) it is not the Practitioner but rather the client that heals themselves.  A Reiki Practitioner is solely a channel through which the energy flows, but it is the recipient’s “Intent” to use the Energy for healing that determines the success of the Reiki.

Claims of Effectiveness of Reiki Therapy


    All of the sources referenced agreed that Reiki had effects, differing in degree, for all people who were open to try the therapy.  Experts agree that at the least clients feel a deep state of relaxation, most of the time so much so that they fall asleep.  Some clients claim to have felt profound heat radiating from the Practitioner’s hands and some claim to actually be able to feel the Energy entering their body (“Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Reiki”).  Other effects were noted previously in the section “The Purpose of Reiki”, such as claims of alleviation of pain and reinstatement of mental peace and relaxation.  Chronic pain is most likely to require many sessions of Reiki treatment.  Some claim that their mind becomes calm, their breathing slows down, and that they achieve a better sense of perspective, and a general feeling of well being.  Experts agree that Reiki is not something that should replace one’s current treatment if suffering for an illness.  Rather, they see Reiki as an extremely beneficial aid to the treatment, explaining that many times Reiki counteracts negative side effects of other treatments (i.e. pain or discomfort from chemotherapy).
    There is no proven scientific explanation for why these claims might be true.  There are theories, previously explained, that range from derivations of quantum physics to explanations that the power of Reiki is a mystery and must simply be believed in.  Sources use stories of Reiki success to make their point, such as a young girl cured of her Asthma or a dying woman being put at peace, but there is no documentation of these stories or proof that they actually occurred.  One source said that one simply has to try it to believe in it, because like an apple, “you don’t have to believe that (it) is delicious… just take a bite!” (“Everything You Ever Wanted To Know about Reiki”).

Presenters of Research Information


     Most of the presenters of the sources that were used for reference were Reiki Masters who were interested in sharing information and making this therapy more well-known and understood.  Some sources offered information on where Reiki sessions could be found in certain cities.  These sources were obviously interested in having their businesses profit from posting their information on the Internet.  For the most part, though, authors such as David Herron (“What is Reiki?”) were simply interested in expanding the knowledge of Reiki beliefs and practices.  In his words, “My vision is to have everybody in the world know Reiki and have it in their lives… Over time the healing of the worlds ills will be accomplished and, with Reiki in the hands of everyone, that day will come much more quickly” (



    In conclusion, the therapy of Reiki, although it has been practiced for hundreds of years, is just beginning to be widely recognized as a popular form of “New Age” treatment.  Since I, personally, have never experienced this therapy, and since it has no scientifically proven backing, it is hard to say whether or not this is a worthwhile or useful therapy.  Its practice, however, is becoming more popular, and many people swear by its success.  It is, if nothing else, a very interesting proposal of healing and something that could be further researched on various sites on the Internet, including where a Reiki Practitioner could be found near you.

Scientific Studies on Reiki


    When researching in medical journals for scientific backings or arguments against Reiki it becomes obvious that this is not a well-researched topic.  There is very little scientific data on the effects of Reiki and very few studies have been done.  Actually, I found only one study that specifically dealt with the effects of Reiki.
     The write-up of this study was done by Lucia Marie Thornton in the spring of 1993.  The purpose of this study was to assess Reiki’s effects on anxiety, sense of well being, and sense of personal power in female nursing students.  The experiment was made up of a control group, nurses who received a “Mimic-Reiki” treatment, and an experimental group, which consisted of nurses who received Reiki therapy from a certified Reiki practitioner.  Anxiety and personal power were measured before the study using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Barrett Power as Knowing Participation in Change Tool.  The nurses’ sense of well being was measured after the treatment through the use of a questionnaire.  Also, the instruments used prior to the experiment to measure anxiety and personal power were contracted after the treatments as well.  Hypotheses made prior to the experiment stated the belief that posttreatment Reiki subjects would report a significantly lower anxiety, significantly greater sense of personal power, and a significantly greater sense of well being than the control subjects.  The results of the study, however, showed outcomes that contrasted with the hypotheses.    The tests and questionnaires given after the Reiki or Mock-Reiki treatment showed results that were significantly lower than the results of those given prior to the experiment, regardless of whether or not the nurses were in the control group or the experimental group.  Therefore, according to this study, Reiki therapy has no scientifically proven benefits.  This study implies that those who claim benefits such as reduced anxiety from Reiki treatments may be experiencing these benefits for psychological reasons (i.e. experiencing reduced anxiety because you know Reiki is supposed to reduce anxiety) and not for scientific or therapeutic reasons (Thornton 1993).
     The other studies that I found while researching for Reiki studies were studies done on “Therapeutic Touch”.  Although Therapeutic Touch is not exactly the same as Reiki therapy, the definition given for Therapeutic Touch therapy proved that these two therapies are very closely related.  In a study done by Samarel in 1997, Therapeutic Touch is defined as being a therapy based on the Rogerian science of unitary human beings.  This science is defined as one that is “concerned with the nature and direction of energy field processes between the unitary human and the environment.”  Samarel further defines Therapeutic Touch as a “non-invasive nursing modality that involves both pattern manifestation appraisal and deliberative human-environmental energy field patterning.”  The similarities between the definitions of Reiki and Therapeutic Touch are obvious and great.  Therefore I will include some experimental data found on Therapeutic Touch due to the scarcity of studies on Reiki.
     Samarel, quoted above, reported the effects of Therapeutic Touch on women’s experiences in breast cancer surgery in 1997.   The hypotheses in this research was that Therapeutic Touch would result in decreased anxiety and postoperative pain, and a more positive affect balance.  In this case, a nurse rather than a trained Reiki practitioner did the laying-on of hands to direct the field energy.  Samarel stated that an experiment done by O’Connor and colleagues reported that nineteen out of the twenty-one women studied reported pain during the post-operative period, and that 85% experience anxiety, fear, and stress.  In an experiment done by Quinn and Strelkauskas Therapeutic Touch was used to try to reduce these feelings.  They reported a significant decrease in anxiety in the women, and an increased affect balance, as well as a diminution of percent of suppresser T-cells among bereaved patients after experiencing the therapy.  Meehan’s findings agreed with this as he reported that Therapeutic Touch in his experiment made post-operative pain marginal.
     A third study was reported by Green in an article called “Reflection of a therapeutic touch experience: case study 2” in the February 1998 edition of the Complementary Therapies in Nursing & Midwifery journal.  This was a case study that was done to investigate the experience of both giving and receiving Therapeutic Touch.  This case study showed that in most instances the experience of both giving and receiving Therapeutic Touch was a parallel experience.  The study reported a response to the treatment on clients experiencing pain and associated anxiety.  However, this study as well as every other study I found on Therapeutic Touch stated that further case studies and research studies in this area are needed for more detailed and accurate data.

Conclusions of Scientific Studies


    Based on the scientific studies I found on Reiki and Therapeutic Touch it seems as those both of these methods of alternative healing are just becoming popular as methods of complementary and/or alternative therapy and are just beginning to be researched more thoroughly.  There are very few studies out on this topic, and those that are out seem to disagree with each other; some are in favor of the benefits of Reiki, and some claim that these benefits only exist because of psychological reasons or don’t exist at all.  Although Reiki is an ancient practice, it is just beginning to become popular in modern medicine.  We can expect more and more research to be published in the near future as more studies are conducted and completed.



Green, CA (1998).  Reflection of a therapeutic touch experience: case study 2.  Complementary Therapies in Nursing &
    Midwifery, 4(1), 17-21.
Samarel, N. (1997).  Therapeutic touch, dialogue, and women's experiences in breast cancer surgery.  Holistic
    Nursing Practice, 12(1), 62-70.
Thornton, Lucia Marie (1993).  Effects of energetic healing on female nursing students.  MAI, 31/01, 284.


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