Healing Crisis: What Is It?

Reiki healingReiki Healing Crisis: Part One left us with this cliff-hanger —

A client receiving four Reiki treatments on four consecutive days often feels less than par on the third day. Is that third-day discomfort a healing crisis? Is there a point at which discomfort might be a sign of danger?

In order to shed some light on those questions, let’s clarify what a healing crisis really is.

What is a healing crisis?

The term healing crisis is used throughout natural medicine to refer to a very specific event that may or may not occur in an overall healing process.

What do I mean by natural medicine?

Natural medicine is a broad category of healing practices that are based in tradition. Natural medicine is distinct from conventional medicine (the medicine practiced by physicians and nurse practitioners), which is based in scientific evidence. Distinct, not mutually exclusive.

Natural medicine uses holistic, non-tech healing practices to address the underlying imbalances understood to create an internal environment in which symptoms and disease can occur.

The techniques used in natural medicine, while varied, all seek to engage the body’s self-healing mechanisms to remove imbalances and restore optimal health. A healing crisis may occur during that healing process.

Healing crisis is understood in natural medicine to be a usually brief period during which a client who initially felt improvement doesn’t feel so well. This temporary period of malaise occurs before improvement stabilizes.

What are the specifics of a healing crisis?

The malaise of a healing crisis falls into one or more of these categories:

  • lethargy, fatigue
  • feeling as if one might be “coming down with something”
  • appearance of flu-like symptoms
  • a return of specific recent symptoms
  • a recurrence of much older symptoms.

The sequence that characterizes a healing crisis is:

  • initial improvement
  • temporary aggravation
  • stabilized improvement.

A healing crisis is typically short. It may last a few hours at the end of the day and be gone by morning. Or it might last a day or even two. It will not usually be longer than that unless a more imposing healing approach (such as fasting) is being used by someone with chronic illness (hopefully with proper supervision).

Healing crisis, not

If the person’s symptoms do not fall into any of the categories above, and do not occur in the sequence described, the event is not a healing crisis.

If a client has an immediate ill effect during a treatment, without having had a period of feeling better, that is not a healing crisis. If someone leaves a treatment feeling well but falls on the way home and is injured, that is not a healing crisis.

Such situations need to be addressed differently than one would address a healing crisis.

Why does a healing crisis happen?

According to natural medicine, a healing crisis is a period in the self-healing process in which the system is cleansing itself of toxins.

If the person is basically healthy, with self-healing mechanisms functioning well, a healing crisis might still occur, but it will likely be mild. A person who is suffering symptoms is more likely to have a noticeable healing crisis.

How can we be sure it’s a healing crisis?

The symptoms of a healing crisis may be the same symptoms associated with the disease. This can be confusing. Alarming even.

Certainty about healing crisis is only available after the fact, once the client has emerged comfortable and healthier. That said, a hallmark of a healing crisis is that the person recognizes the experience as somehow beneficial and retains a sense of well-being despite the discomfort.

When experiencing a true healing crisis, the person has an intuitive recognition that it is part of a curative process and is not alarmed. This is true even for people who are usually anxious to manage symptoms. The wisdom inherent in the human system is asserting itself, and the enhanced awareness of the client is a sign of that process.

Is a healing crisis ever dangerous? That’s our next topic to explore when we resume this discussion. Meanwhile, please share your experiences of healing crisis.


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  1. Suneil says


    This is a valuable post that you have written – I especially like the three-point description that differentiates a healing crisis from something else. I would like you to shed some more light here: when we are giving Reiki treatments to clients, they are likely to feel more relaxed and in tune with themselves due to Reiki. However, other bodily processes related to infections and accidents may still manifest themselves. Does the unfolding of these symptoms depend in any way on our Reiki treatments, in your opinion? I am not sure, because if they manifest at the same time, it may simply be a coincidence; if, on the other hand, they manifest because of our Reiki treatment (I am not sure if Reiki can do this, but I still face this question quite often and struggle with a plausible answer that will soothe the nerves of the clients), then I wonder if we can still call our Reiki practice safe and without negative side-effects.
    Also, I have another question about other healing modalities and our state of mind during Reiki – if, instead of holding a focused awareness on the Reiki pulsations, one chooses to be with a mantra or a prayer for the well-being of the client, in what ways does it interfere with the Reiki process? I learnt a healing modality called Siddha healing in the line of Bhagwan Nityananda, which I use for my personal development and not as a professional practice. How is it likely to impact the Reiki treatment?

    Thanks and regards,

    • Pamela Miles says

      Suneil, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate that you are very sincere in your practice and want to deepen your understanding.

      Our continuing discussion of healing crisis will address your first question, likely in the third installment of the series, so I ask your patience till then.

      I do not know the healing modality that you refer to so I cannot comment on it specifically, but I don’t see any reason why a Reiki practitioner cannot silently repeat a mantra that is part of his personal practice while offering a Reiki treatment, as long as the practitioner doesn’t let it take him into an altered state. It’s ethical practice to remain awake and aware when offering treatment to another, in order to best serve the recipient.

      Praying for the recipient, however, is an entirely different ethical question. I am a strong advocate for informed consent. If a Reiki practitioner wants to offer prayers for a client, it’s important to ask permission, as prayer itself is not part of Reiki practice.

      The concern is not that anything interferes with the client’s healing response to the Reiki treatment, but rather that it is an inappropriate interaction, a transgression of boundaries.

      I also suggest asking oneself why one feels the need to bring an intervention into the Reiki treatment? That is, in my opinion, an important line of self-inquiry.

      • Christine says

        Pamela, I am so glad that you brought up the issue of informed consent. It happens so often within the field of “energy work” that clients are not fully informed about what the practitioner is including in the treatment.

        Doctors have to get our consent for any medical treatment or procedure. As Reiki practitioners we need to offer the same transparency to our clients.

      • Pamela Miles says

        The rationale I hear most often from Reiki practitioners for not getting informed consent is that they are not really doing anything, a comment typically expressed regarding prayer or distant Reiki treatment.

        But really, if the practitioner thinks that he or she is not really doing anything, why would he bother?

      • Christine says

        Pamela, where do you see the difference between mantra and prayer? How would you explain using the Reiki symbols and their mantras, some of which are of Sanskrit and Shinto origin, to a Christian client?

        Thank you for your reply.

      • Pamela Miles says

        Until one attains the highest practice of prayer, in which the one praying merges with that to whom one prays, prayer is generally intercessory, asking for something. Mantra, however, are repeated for the effect that the vibrations have on the consciousness of the reciter. They are separate practices.

        I am an old fashioned Reiki master, one who honors Reiki as a spiritual practice and who follows the value of the oral tradition, in which we each learn how to practice Reiki from our chosen Reiki master. I do not feel it to be appropriate to discuss the specifics of either Second degree or Reiki master practice in a public forum. There is no online connection that can replace the relationship that exists in person between a student and a teacher.

      • Suneil says

        Pamela, I cannot speak for others, but when I undertook the Buddhist vows of relative bodhicitta, the fundamental practice was to practice compassion for all beings unhindered by concepts of near and far, and irrespective of the inconvenience it might result in for me. Reiki, by providing a meditative space, opens up a natural interlude in which to refresh my vows of compassion and undertake practices to bolster that attitude through conscious redirection of my thoughts. Now, most modern Buddhist teachers in the Vajrayana also say that from the perspective of ultimate bodhicitta, there is no real difference between self and others. However, in the same breath they also urge that if possible, one should remain in an attitude of constantly wishing for the welfare of all beings in general and the beings that arise in our particular experience at that time in particular. I am not very sure if this counts as intercessory prayers that would bring up the question of crossing ethical boundaries. Do you think that is the case, or am I experiencing some cultural blindspot here :-) ?

      • Pamela Miles says

        Suneil, I appreciate the sincerity of your questioning, but these are ethical hairs that we each have to split for ourselves, and keep splitting.

        When we succumb to the very human tendency to try to reduce practice to do’s and don’ts, one becomes less mindful, less present in the moment. What we are aiming for is more, not less, mindfulness. You might find this of interest: Practice Makes Present.

  2. Christine says

    Pamela, thank you for describing a healing crisis and helping us understand the process better.

    I have experienced a healing crisis with homeopathic treatment before. It was exactly like you described, my symptoms got worse for a day until I started feeling better. When we know what is going on within our bodies, it is easier for us to keep still and allow the healing to happen.

    As human beings we often think that something has to be hard and painful in order to have an effect. It has been my experience that Reiki healing is always gentle.

    I let my clients know that I am offering a touch for relaxation, and that their healing response to the relaxation has nothing to do with me.

    • Pamela Miles says

      Christine, thank you for bringing up such an important point: “As human beings we often think that something has to be hard and painful in order to have an effect.”

      We will be discussing this expectation as we continue the series on healing crisis. There are so many subtle ways in which our expectations influence our experience, and our outcomes.

    • JDanielle says

      Hi Christine and Pamela,
      I am not sure whether what I am experiencing is a healing crisis; though my practitioner is doing a great job of keeping tabs on how I’m doing.
      I was diagnosed with episodic depression and I also experience anxiety. Recently, through counselling, it has been discovered that I have many similarities with highly sensitive people (a.k.a orchid children).
      I underwent my first reiki session a week ago and was amazed at how I felt after and the next day. My practitioner mentioned I may detox bit that it should only last a day. Unfortunately after that one glorious day after I hve been miserable: grouchy, irritable, snappy, angry, sad, overwhelmed, and just plain moody. I was under the impression this would go away and have been trying to meditate/take care of myself but I’m getting frustrated with feeling this way and it just so happens to coincide with the exact timeline of my reiki session. Is it possible I am still detoxing? I do hold A LOT inside and have for years, this is one step on my climb toward healing. How do I know if this will go away? Should I book my next session already to try and balance out what’s getting stuck? I am starting to become frantic/worried.
      Thank you for your insight.

      • Pamela Miles says

        I am sorry, but we cannot ethically offer any recommendations in this situation. There are too many possibilities (including that how you feel has nothing to do with your Reiki session) and neither of us have worked with you so we have no basis for making an assessment.

        I encourage you to read the section of the article that describes the hallmarks of a healing crisis, as that might help you find clarity.

  3. says

    Good info Pamela, and certainly applicable to any natural modality. However I’m not sure I agree that people ‘intuitively recognize’ that this exacerbation of symptoms is a good thing. In my work with the Emotion Code/ Body Code, many of my clients are new to alternative healing. I always give them a ‘heads up’ that though a HC is not common, they DO sometimes occur. I feel that most would likely not consider feeling worse after a session to be GOOD thing. But by alerting them that feeling out of sorts is actually evidence that Trapped Emotions or toxins are being released, I feel it allows them to look positively at the experience.

    • Pamela Miles says

      I have many clients who are new to traditional healing, and have seen them evidence the heightened awareness that is a hallmark of a healing crisis.

      Every practitioner has her own clinical approach, and a good clinician is present for the needs of the individual client, and there is no right or wrong way to approach this. Rather than warn clients about a healing crisis, especially since I see them so infrequently, I simply encourage clients to be aware of how they are feeling and to do what they feel would best support their continued healing, especially resting as needed.

  4. says

    I have a question…can healing crisis’ occur in the emotional, mental or the spiritual levels of ones body independently of and or in addition to a healing crisis experienced in the physical body?

    Are healing crisis’ solely physical events?

    • Pamela Miles says

      Good question, Karla. Healing crisis is not only a physical experience, but the physical is often easier to recognize.

      It doesn’t seem realistic to separate out the various aspects of the amazingly interconnected human system. To my understanding, nothing happens at any point in the system that is independent of the system as a whole.

  5. says

    What are we to understand abough the experience where the person does not experience a healing crisis?

    So much of this is great topic is centered around having or recognizing having the healing crisis that if one does not experience a healing crisis, what are we to conclude?

    I presume that a lack of experience with healing crisis may leave a practitioner ill prepared to deal with the healing crisis’ of others, right?

    I have greatly enjoyed reading the postings in this topic. It is a subject I want to comprehend deeply! Thank You ALL!



  6. Pamela Miles says

    As I mentioned in the first article in this series, I have never seen an intense healing crisis in 25 years of Reiki practice. I rarely hear feedback of any healing crisis.

    I caution practitioners against making conclusions. It’s really not our job to diagnose or assess, and so much of the benefit of Reiki practice remains subtle and unseen.

    But we will continue to discuss different aspects of healing crisis, especially how it intersects with Reiki practice.

    • Rena says

      Hi Pamela! I hear that in 25 years you haven’t come upon a severe healing crisis. I would be grateful for any thoughts you may have about my experience. I completed Reiki Level 1, 2, 3 trainings over 6 months. The first day or two after level I felt good and then boom-I started to become “re-visisted” by the emotionally most difficult times in my life. These emotions came back as sort of flashbacks that arose when sort of similar events would take place now. At first, I was very freaked out by this overwhelming and long-lasted wave of these “visitations” but began to expect them and look at them as information about buried stuff and in time they have decreased. Got my Master attunement 6 weeks ago and am now revisiting I believe my most primal issues–terror of being alone at night in the dark because of a fear of death (this is stuff from when I was really little).

      A big part of me trusts this process and knows it is the path to healing. I am receiving great clarity through the process on old events and emotions. I am just startled by how difficult and disorienting and long this process has been. I don’t hear stories quite like mine.

      Your thoughts would be so greatly appreciated!


      • Pamela Miles says

        Rena, to my understanding, the term “healing crisis” refers to responses to healings, not spiritual initiations. The two really are not equivalent.

      • Christine says

        Rena, I have experienced what you describe after receiving attunements.

        It helped me to use affirmations in addition to my daily Reiki self-treatment. During this difficult time I also found my way back to my Christian faith. For me personally, Reiki was never able to take care of my Spirit.

        I do not use a physical ritual when I teach Reiki to my students. I see the whole class experience, and time spent together self-treating and treating each other as an initiation. None of my students has experienced what I did during my Reiki training. The path of healing does not have to be hard.

        You may also want to consider seeing a mental health professional to help you work through some of the issues that are coming up. I know it can be quite overwhelming.

        Best wishes to you!

      • Pamela Miles says

        Christine, I agree with you that the entire class is a vehicle for initiation. I still offer the initiations, but I don’t make a big deal of it (and as I gather from my friends who were trained by Mrs. Takata, she didn’t either).

        I am curious what you mean by, “For me personally, Reiki was never able to take care of my Spirit.”

  7. Kim says

    Hello Everyone,

    Pamela, thank you for creating the opportunity for this discussion. I’ve noticed sometimes when I’ve had clients that have had a broken bone they experience strong pain or sensation during the treatment when I touch or hover above the area of the break.
    When I’ve had clients with back pain, sometimes they experience localized pain during the treatment and/or several hours after. Within a short amount of time the pain clears and they report feeling much better than prior to the treatment.

    It doesn’t sound like either of these are healing crises, based on your definition, but it is definitely something I’ve noticed. Not sure why it happens or what it is. Has anyone else experienced something similar?

    • Pamela Miles says

      Good question, Kim. I have had similar experiences with injuries, and also with apparently healed surgical scars. It can happen during or after a treatment regardless where the Reiki hands are. Sometimes my First degree students experience this in their first self-treatment, right after the first initiation.

      These experiences are not traditional healing crises. The pain or discomfort is immediate, or comes on shortly after the treatment, too fast for a healing crisis, and without a period of initial overall improvement.

      The discomfort you mention seems to be from an acceleration of the natural healing process, more of a mechanical occurrence than a cleansing. Another telling detail is that the pain that happens in these situations is not a recurrence of old pain.

      The definition I’m working with is not something I made up; it’s the understanding of healing crisis used throughout natural medicine. The misunderstanding common in the Reiki community stems from the lack of educational standards for Reiki professionals.

  8. Christine says


    I meant that I get relaxation and the ability to comfort myself from Reiki treatment. I find peace in my personal faith. During times of crisis I noticed that my daily Reiki self-care was not able to give me that peace and feeling of being grounded.

    I wanted to address this because the way Reiki is commonly taught is very close to a belief system – in my opinion. If you are not grounded you can easily get lost in it.

    • Rena says

      Hey Christine, I really want to thank you for taking the time to respond to my story. It is good to know I am not the only one who, after attunements started to be re-visited by painful (previously buried) emotional flashbacks. I am curious if yours have stopped and how long it has taken. And have you heard of others with similar stories? Thanks so much for the mental health therapist suggestion (I am on it!! Plus, I am a therapist myself.) :)

      In gratitude,

      • Christine says


        I went through a very difficult time for about 6 months with anxiety and panic attacks. After that, I started to feel better but the whole process lasted for about 2 years. I know one Reiki practitioner who went through the same experience. We were training with the same teacher.

        Our teacher’s approach was, that a lot of stuff comes up with Reiki but that it needs to be endured in order to heal and grow. She felt that she was successful when her students had emotional releases during, or after the attunement, or while being treated.

        Since then, I completely focus on self-treatment and taking care of myself. I have a very simple way of practicing Reiki, like Takata said: Hands on, Reiki on, hands off, Reiki off. I do not use any symbols in my practice. I find the common Reiki attunement invasive and unnecessary. I feel that it is important for Reiki practitioners to have a spiritual practice – in addition to Reiki. It has been my experience that we can easily get lost if we practice Reiki as our religion.

        My self awareness has increased because of my daily self practice. I have learned how to take care of my mind and guard it against information that is not good for me, for example against statements that all healing has to be hard and painful!:)

        Thank you, Pamela, for this blog and your gentle stimulations to help us Reiki practitioners think outside of the Reiki Box!:)

  9. says

    I was on facebook and a helpful person put a link to your webpage.
    During sessions I have had many unusual experience that resolve by the end of the session. I also inform my clients they are welcome to call me because sometimes unusual things happen following a session.

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