What Is A Healing Crisis & What Is Natural Medicine?

natural medicineReiki Healing Crisis left us with a natural medicine cliff-hanger.

People interested in natural medicine sometimes choose to receive four Reiki treatments on four consecutive days. On the third day, the client often feels sub par. 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 light on those questions, let’s clarify what a healing crisis really is, and what is meant by natural medicine.

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

What is natural medicine?

Natural medicine is a broad category of healing practices that are based in tradition and which reach for naturally available substances for healing, rather than pharmaceuticals. 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 that create an internal environment in which 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 sometimes occurs during that healing process.

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

What are the specifics of a healing response?

The malaise of a healing response 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 maybe two. It will not usually be longer than that unless a more strenuous 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 response.

Why might natural medicine lead to a healing response?

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 response 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 response is that the person recognizes the experience as somehow beneficial and retains a sense of well-being despite the discomfort.

Someone experiencing a true healing response typically has an intuitive recognition that whatever is happening 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.


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33 thoughts on “What Is A Healing Crisis & What Is Natural Medicine?”

  1. hello. i just recently (on friday last week, so 5 days ago now) had my 2nd reiki session. and after the session (as with the first) i felt physically awful!

    i had been assured that, after a reiki session, you can suffer a reiki crisis and feel bad for a couple of days, but then start to feel better.

    things is, i am still not better. After the reiki session my stomach felt awful, like a lead weight was swinging around in my stomach then going thud, plus an almost crampy like feeling! i didn’t wanna eat until about 4am, some 12 hours after the session.

    Today, i am still feeling a crampy sorta sensation in my stomach and i am wondering how much longer is this gonna last as it is so awful! (after my first reiki session, all bad symptoms went away after two days)

    I do have a chronic illnesses (ehlers danlos syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder and has a lot of symptoms in common with fibromyalgia) plus i had barely eaten much beforehand. as i only had an hour to wake up, very quickly grab an instant noodle, then get dressed and get a taxi to my appointment.

    So i am wondering if that is making it worse?

    i have no clue as to what is going on, or how long this could last. Does it take longer sometimes for those with chronic illnesses to get over the bad after affects of reiki?

    it has almost put me off going back again for another treatment, as i suffer enough as it is.

    but i wanna heal also..

    1. I’m sorry you are feeling poorly, Chantelle. Would you consider seeing another Reiki professional, someone who is traditionally trained? I’m not so sure your practitioner is practicing Reiki, which is gently balancing to your system. I’ve been practicing traditional Takata Reiki since 1986 and none of my clients or friends have experienced anything like what you’re describing. I have collaborated a lot in medical environments and have worked with people who are seriously ill and those who are healthy and want to stay that way.

      The public doesn’t realize there are no standards for Reiki practice and people have changed the practice considerably without acknowledging it. Your practitioner could be using shamanic techniques, for example, and think she is practicing Reiki.

      I suggest you read How Does Reiki Help and also this article about how to choose a Reiki class. It would be useful for you to learn to self practice, or you could follow the guidelines to find a credible professional to give you treatment.

  2. 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.

  3. Pamela,

    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.

    1. 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,

      1. Rena,

        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!:)

  4. 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?

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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!


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

      2. 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!

      3. 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.”

      4. I too am going through healing crisis…i have reiki 123 and since starting mindfulness meditation and yoga and self healing it has brought up my anxiety from my past which I do find unbearable at times…I wondered why this is happening and I do feel I am unable to help others until this passes. It is nice to hear that I am not alone on this journey as I havent heard anyone else going thro this. I have started Kundalini Yoga as well and the energies coming forth are very uncomfortable..Any advice appreciated

      5. I am so sorry you are having a rough time, Rena, and I don’t know that it is a healing crisis caused by your spiritual practices. There are times that are more challenging than others, and that is when it is most important to practice consistently and support yourself as needed. The challenging times can be the most fruitful, if we slow down and give ourselves what we need to learn and heal. I wish you all the best.

  6. 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!



  7. 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?

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  10. Pamela,

    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,

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. 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?

      3. 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.

      4. 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.

      5. 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 🙂 ?

      6. 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.

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