The Reiki Credibility Challenge

Dr. Oz’s endorsement of Reiki on his popular tv show kindled interest among an entirely new segment of the population. Now what?

Think of the people in your (extended) family who are most different from you — and put aside how many times you tried to talk to them about Reiki in the past.

Thanks to Dr. Oz, Cousin Vinny is now encouraged that maybe this Reiki thing will relieve the pain in his arthritic joints. Aunt Sally has been suffering from insomnia for years and hopes Reiki treatment will help her sleep.

They turn to the internet to learn more. Do they see anything that speaks to them?

Probably not.

Reiki credentials aren’t credible

But they trust Dr. Oz, so they soldier on.

Now they are standing in front of the community bulletin board at the local health food store, a store they may be visiting for the very first time, looking for a Reiki practitioner, and they see a number of listings. They wonder how to know who is credible. Common sense helps, but still, they’re losing confidence and wishing they had more to go on…

The public expects healthcare professionals to have meaningful credentials, but Reiki practice is not regulated in that way. (And I’m not saying it should be, just that we need to be aware of people’s expectations.)

There are no agreed upon standards for Reiki training or treatment. Some people become “instant powerful Reiki masters;” others take longer training, but start charging for their services without having any supervision or professional training.

How can people new to Reiki know who is credible?

And without meaningful credentials, how can serious Reiki professionals distinguish themselves in their communities?

Connecting with credible Reiki professionals

And without meaningful credentialing in the field, how can serious Reiki professionals distinguish themselves in their communities?

Here’s the current situation. We have three groups in need of help:

  1. The public needs help finding credible Reiki professionals.
  2. Credible professionals need help connecting with clients.
  3. Reiki practitioners need help developing themselves as credible professionals.

I made a short video that can help all three groups. Click here to view it on my Reiki video page.

If you agree with the criteria I mention, please share the link. If you find the video helpful, you are welcome to add the video to your site.

Meeting the credibility challenge as a diverse community

Let’s pool our collective wisdom and experience to meet the credibility challenge. We need to raise the credibility of our practice if Reiki practice is to be available in the mainstream.

We can address this challenge as the diverse community that we are. Meeting this challenge in a respectful, inclusive way, will inspire Reiki practitioners of all practice styles to raise the credibility of their Reiki practice before the public.

Maintaining Reiki diversity is important. Offering the public diverse Reiki practitioners makes it more likely people will find practitioners that are a comfortable fit for them.

If Reiki practice is to be respected by the public, Reiki practitioners need to maintain high professional standards. And isn’t that what we want to do anyway, out of our own self respect?


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Related reading:
Mainstreaming Reiki

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33 thoughts on “The Reiki Credibility Challenge”

  1. Ben, there is a plausible model for biofields based on traditional health systems (as distinct from the conventional health system)
    I’m talking about science here. Traditional health systems also might have plausible models for the tooth fairy. I don’t mean this to be rude, just to demonstrate that tradition does not automatically imply factuality. If traditional systems and remedies don’t stand up to the scrutiny of modern scientific method they are “woo”. That something has been practiced for thousands of years is proof only that…it’s been practiced for thousands of years…..

    Look at Homeopathy, my favorite form of traditional woo — would you say it provides a ‘plausible model’ for water having a memory (apparently a selective memory)
    The word biofield is invariably followed by a phrase such as “that is believed to penetrate and surround the human body,” clearly proposing it as theoretical rather than fact.
    Like this?
    “There is a biofield that is believed to penetrate and surround the human body”

    It’s not that clear a proposal – the sentence suggests there is a biofield but you aren’t sure (“believe”) how it works
    “I have a team of fairies that live inside my eardrum, I believe this is how I hear”

    Keep in mind that whereas there is no scientific validation for the existence of qi, which acupuncture purports to manipulate, there is an impressive, and growing, body of research that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.
    Except there is no credible evidence to support the existence of meridians or acupuncture points. Disease is NOT caused by a disruption in energy flow.

    There are many reasons why the addition of another group such as you suggest is not as valuable as you imagine.
    Such as?
    I’m not saying it’s perfect or the only way. Do you have a better suggestion to cancel out the possibility that the effect was caused by plain human contact?

    I find it wise to leave research to professional researchers, as it is a complex field with many variables, pun intended.
    A Tad Elitist, no? There is nothing that complex about the scientific method or sound critical thinking.

    And no you can never control all variables (or have a large or representative enough sample size; or fully account for confirmation bias or human error) but if what you are after is proof of Reiki’s mechanism of action specifically, I would think the most important control is somebody who simply places hands on the patients.

    Good night…
    And thank-you for keeping this a discussion…
    If I’ve offended in any way – t’was NOT my attention.

  2. Spiritual healing sounds like it requires a belief in the supernatural. Check out the James Randi Foundation and the $1 million dollar paranormal challenge.

    1. You are confusing spirituality with religion. Spirituality does not require any belief. Rather, it is that place within where we mine our deepest resources and discover meaning.

      Thanks for the information, but I have no interest in the paranormal.

  3. btw: I note in your medical papers that you choose your words VERY carefully but you seem to go back and forth between what Reiki is and isn’t. I am unsure if this is a sort of genuine conundrum or if its simply a clever means of purposefully obscuring your message… Deepak Chopra is a master of this, he fills hundreds of pages with completely empty, meaningless ‘poetry’ — it reads like deep thought, and the reader ends up thinking they are too stupid to ‘get it’.

    I mean:
    If all Reiki is a relaxation technique, and does NOT purport to affect an unproven (or even plausibly suggested) human energy field AND does not make bold unexplained claims (like ‘distance healing’) – then why not just say that?

    1. Anyone who writes medical papers chooses words carefully–isn’t the point to be clear?

      Reiki practice is not a relaxation technique; it is, as stated in the papers you’ve read, a spiritual healing practice. Relaxation is a by-product. The benefits of Reiki treatment that are beginning to be documented by research go beyond the benefits reported in stress reduction literature.

  4. Reiki’s credibility issue is that it fails to prove itself when scrutinized (even Wikipedia got that right on the Reiki entry!). If there is an energy field that is felt on any level, then that should be easily provable in a fashion that accounts for bias, chance and placebo affect… Heck, James Randi & foundation will pay to setup the experiment (and then some, if it indeed proves there’s some reality to ‘energy channeling’)

    You seem like honest people who don’t understand the power of placebo. Ignorance however, is no defence, especially when the subjects are the sick, the weak, the infirm.

    1. Ben, conventional technology is not yet sophisticated enough to measure anything as subtle as biofields, yet we are able to measure the effect of Reiki practice on the human system. Research into Reiki is really just beginning, but already we have a number of studies that have demonstrated significant benefits from Reiki treatment, including the study I did at Yale that was written up in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology. I am well acquainted with placebo, and again, the data show significant benefit. In case you don’t know what that means, significance indicates that the probability of the benefit being due to chance is extremely low (in research, it is never entirely eliminated).

      Every time I submitted accurate reporting of research on the Wikipedia, it was taken down soon after, and then I was blocked from posting. Hardly getting it right.

      If you have access to research funding, please give me an introduction. Thank you.

      1. Ben, conventional technology is not yet sophisticated enough to measure anything as subtle as biofields
        Yet Reiki and other faith healing techniques speak of it as if it’s fact. Not only is this biofield not measurable, I’ve yet to see ANY convincing evidence that plausibly suggests it. Not everything in science is proven to be universally true, but a ‘theory’, even a hypothesis should have some basis in logic & fact.

        yet we are able to measure the effect of Reiki practice on the human system. Research into Reiki is really just beginning, but already we have a number of studies that have demonstrated significant benefits from Reiki treatment, including the study I did at Yale that was written up in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
        I must commend you, as you seem to stand apart from other practitioners in your attention to scientific method and controlling for bias and placebo.

        That said, your study in NO WAY validates (or even suggests) that there is a transferring of ‘energy’. Furthermore, patient “mood” and “feeling” tests are highly subjective.

        It could very well be that the patient’s did better simply due to human contact, something most people who’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of being admitting to a hospital will attest to. I can personally attest to this, I was hospitalized a bit ago for about a week. It was stressful, lonely, and depressing — by the end I was craving contact with anyone, beit a nurse (needle or not!) or the angry man in the next room…but this is purely anecdotal :).

        I do wonder what the results would have been if you had included a Group #4 – which would have hands placed on them by somebody NOT trained in Reiki. That would definitely go a long way to proving Reiki’s mechanism of action.

      2. Ben, there is a plausible model for biofields based on traditional health systems (as distinct from the conventional health system), and since it is well stated elsewhere, I won’t repeat it. The word biofield is invariably followed by a phrase such as “that is believed to penetrate and surround the human body,” clearly proposing it as theoretical rather than fact. Perhaps you are confused because it is so fundamentally acknowledged that biofields are theoretical (hence the NCCAM classification as putative) that one does not feel the need to continually repeat it.

        Keep in mind that whereas there is no scientific validation for the existence of qi, which acupuncture purports to manipulate, there is an impressive, and growing, body of research that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.

        As I see it, Reiki practice does not involve “transferring energy,” and I have detailed a more plausible model elsewhere.

        There are no perfect research studies; there is always something that could have been different. There are many reasons why the addition of another group such as you suggest is not as valuable as you imagine. I find it wise to leave research to professional researchers, as it is a complex field with many variables, pun intended.

  5. Kyle, I am always encouraged to hear of masters who take an in-depth approach to training.

    The reality of the current situation is that it is up to the Reiki master to set her own standards for teaching and treatment.

    Reiki students who share your values can usually find a master who meets their needs if they look hard enough, but too many don’t appreciate the tremendous variance in approaches until after the fact. That’s why I push so hard for credible information to be more widely available. I look forward to seeing your website one day, and meanwhile, perhaps you’d like to share your Reiki master’s website with us.

  6. I have found the lack of certification or credentials can be a turn off for people and have pondered this question for some time.

    My teacher has taken an extensive amount of time to assess me in multiple areas before she will grant my second certificate: a) I must be knowledgable of the history of Reiki, b) I must have an understanding of the ethics comparable of that a massage therapist, c) I must journal and document ten reiki sessions I completed alone, d) I must complete ten reiki sessions under the observation of my teacher.

    Knowing that eventually fulfilling these requirements ensures that not only do I reflect on my work, but also on the impact and history of my work and also have an objective assessment, I feel that I have a stronger foundation to work from as I go out to work with others.

    Should this be an across the board approach? I think it would certainly be useful and give practitioners more confidence in their connection with Reiki. It certainly would be easier to gain the confidence of a client if I was able to discuss what I was required to do to achieve my certification if I list the above requirements instead of saying “I took a weekend workshop.” Let me also be clear in saying that I do not discount the weekend approach, as for many people it is the only access available to Reiki and all of us here can certainly appreciate the spread of Reiki awareness and contact. But maybe we need to start incorporating conversations about ethics into workshops. Or maybe, we can have an optional board of certification, in which we complete certain requirements so that there is an objective evaluation of how we approach our connection and work with Reiki.

    An issue with this may be the divide between the more traditional approach to Reiki and the intuitive schools of Reiki. Thoughts?

  7. I feel that Reiki’s credibility is tainted by all the woo woo. I almost gave up looking into it because of everything I read on the internet in the beginning. I just wanted straight up Reiki, no bells, no whistles, I am a very spiritual person and it doesn’t bother me what others believe, but if we want Reiki to be as available as asprin, we need to make it appealing to the majority and in my experience the majority snorts and laughs at woo woo. Hope this doesn’t offend anyone, I have always been one to like cake without all the pretty icing and cream filling too. 🙂

  8. Well i love that Reiki has had exposure to a huge audience i would love to see it get more common. I hope this makes a bit of a change. People that pick it up will get to know what it’s all about when they do a course.

  9. Thank you for your response, Pamela.

    I understand that traditionally Master level training was for prospective teachers. I do not think, though, that Level I and Level II classes were one-day affairs, often with no further contact with the teacher.

    If you agree that supervised internships are a good idea, are you suggesting that these take place in conjunction with the Level I and/or Level II training?

    Janet Dagely Dagley, in her Reiki update training, suggests that Reiki teachers consider some form of testing before granting certification to their students. I think this is a good idea, although I have not yet given enough thought to what form that testing would take.

    Be well,


  10. I agree with supervised internships to train Reiki professionals, similarly to how other health care professionals are trained. It’s even more important because even the most thorough Reiki training is still not very much. Being a Reiki professional without practicing daily self-treatment just doesn’t make sense to me at all. It is mainly through our continuing daily practice that we develop as Reiki practitioners.

    I do not feel that one needs to become a Reiki master to be a professional. Being a Reiki master was traditionally reserved for those who taught, and not many of them. Usui initiated over 2000 students but trained only 16 masters. Hayashi trained the same number, and Takata trained 22 after practicing Reiki for 40 years.

  11. Thank you, Pamela for reminding me that your book contains information on choosing a practitioner. I read your book several years ago but have now reread that chapter.

    I like that you’ve listed questions for prospective clients to ask of Reiki practitioners. I think it’s also important to suggest that one uses one’s instincts to assist with the decision. Someone could be a fabulous practitioner but not the right one for the individual at that time.

    I think the biggest challenge going forward is to manage client expectations. People who don’t think twice about being told they have to stay on a medication indefinitely to manage a health issue expect one or two Reiki treatments to “cure” them. When this doesn’t happen, they claim Reiki “doesn’t work.” We need to educate the public about the healing process. We also need to differentiate between healing and cure.

    I think that if prospective clients are more clear about the process they are embarking on and what they can expect from Reiki, they will be more inclined to ask the right questions of a prospective Reiki practitioner, and they will be more inclined to recognize the inadequately trained practitioner.

    I also feel that before becoming a professional Reiki practitioner, one should have completed Master training, including an internship or apprenticeship of some kind. I have heard of too many people taking a one-day Level I class and then going into business. I’m not suggesting that we become cops, just that we educate the public about the various degrees of education.

    If we want to be valued as professionals, I think we as a group need to have professional standards.

    Be well,


  12. Thank you for the encouragement and advice, Pamela.

    Reiki has changed my life totally, and it simply bothers me (“do not worry”, aside) that people who might pursue it will find something too woo-woo or goofy and not Reiki at all. And therefore, they’ll not ever find the real stuff that it is.

    Not meaning to diss, but there seems to be a lot of people out there who are too much, er, out there. As one who is a newbie to Reiki, if I had to judge by what I found on the Internet, I never would have gone there. (Thanks to my health care providers who pointed a good way.)

  13. That is actually a good thing Pam. When my PharmD hat comes off, I can be as woo woo as the next 😉 So that doesn’t bother me one bit! With our clients, I can be woo woo if need be or not, I think its important to find the balance between to two in my experience. That is why this year was so exciting because my western medicine hat met the “eastern”!

  14. Actually, Ming, I think woo-woo Reiki will continue, as it should, since it appeals to some people.

    My hope is that woo-woo approaches to Reiki will no longer be the most visible option, since there are many people who are woo-woo averse, and although Reiki practice was picked up by the New Age movement, it is no more New Age than yoga or meditation.

  15. This is beautiful advice, Pamela.

    It is not productive to worry about what others are doing. (Just for today, I will not worry.)

    Increased interest in Reiki will separate the grain from the chaff. It may take a little time, but it will happen.

    Be well,


  16. Each of us can raise our own level of credibility. We can practice self-treatment daily, continue to contemplate Reiki, develop our communication and clinical skills, and step out into our communities.

  17. I’m a bit worried about Reiki. As Dr. Oz featured it and put it at the top of his recommend list on his TV show last week, my fear is because there is so much bogus/woo-woo/new age “Reiki” stuff (which I found in my resarch) going on out there on the Internet, that people won’t find credible practitioners or find what Reiki really is. That Joe Schmoe will look for a Reiki practitioner because of Dr. Oz’ recommendation, find someone who might not be a true practitioner (but no credentials required unfortunately!), and have a bad or not worthwhile experience. (I have had a couple of friends relate that kind of thing.) Which would spread a bad word and not what Reiki is.

    What can an individual reiki practitioner do?

  18. Thanks for the videos. I missed the show. This is great news for all people. I love the healing energy. You are right if it going to be big in the Western World. There is a lot of conversation and discussion that need to happen.

  19. Pam, There are a number of places where you can read my thoughts about finding a credible Reiki practitioner. One is the chapter in my book that is devoted to helping people locate and choose Reiki practitioners who are credible and a good fit for them. I also generally include some guidance in the medical papers I write, such as the Reiki review and the Reiki and cancer paper.

  20. There is certainly a lot to ponder and consider. Everyone on FB had brought up so many good points. I don’t have an answer. I know when we look for a MD we want one that is credible and just because they have a license to practice medicine doesn’t mean they are a good doctor. There are also so many lineages or types of Reiki too. But I agree there are certainly three groups in need of help. In our Reiki practice we are strictly word of mouth which is how I found my own doctor as well. But defintely I agree I think we as Reiki practitioners should work together collectively as a community! I do think it over all having Dr Oz say that Reiki is a very good alternative is a very positive thing!

  21. Pamela,

    I am unable to view the videos (old computer; getting a new one next week!). Would it be possible to provide a written version of your suggestions regarding credibility?

    On your Facebook pages, some posters have been tossing around the idea of certification, an idea I do not personally care for. Who would do the certifying and who would run the accredited schools? This just doesn’t seem like the appropriate route to take when dealing with a spiritual healing art.

    But professional standards are crucial in my opinion, standards that the professional Reiki community work together and hold each other to.

    Thank you for beginning this discussion. I hope to be able to see your suggestions soon.

    Colin, I share your view of Dr. Oz’s explanation; I found it to be both somewhat inaccurate and confusing. But I agree with Pamela that because the segment was so very short, no one (but us) was really paying attention to the particulars. Perhaps our coming together to create professional standards as well as a credible explanation will help to prevent this kind of confusion in the future.

    Be well,


  22. Colin,

    Good to have you with us. I can appreciate why you would focus on these points, especially since you didn’t see the whole “alternative medicine” segment and thus didn’t see the context that was created or the educating that happened within it.

    Mehmet knows his audience. He is a skilled educator with a highly tuned sense of what the public is ready to hear. I imagine the producers chose to use the term “alternative medicine” because that is how the public thinks, and that’s what would get their attention. It’s impossible to inform without getting someone’s attention.

    What is not included in the short video clip (which I didn’t make) is a discussion by Woodson Merrill, MD the head of the Integrative Medicine Department at Beth Israel Medical Center (where I have a Reiki internship program). Woody spoke about Integrative Medicine, combining science and traditional healing for whole person care (this is from my memory and not his exact words). Mehmet has been a pioneer of integrative medicine as long as I have.

    I don’t think we have to worry about the words Mehmet used. The tv audience won’t remember. They are not watching it over and over the way we are! 🙂 What they will remember is that their beloved, respected Dr. Oz thinks Reiki can help them. And they’ll start talking about it to their friends. And that’s a good thing.

    I see this show as a groundbreaker. It has created a whole other level of public interest and awareness in Reiki. Practitioners around the country are seeing an uptick in the number of calls they receive, and Janet Dagley Dagley of The Reiki Digest is inundated with requests for Reiki practitioners in various parts of the country.

    We cannot control the media. The best we can do as practitioners is to develop our ability to represent our practice credibly, being sensitive to the mindset of the people we speak to.

  23. Hi Pamela,

    Thanks for sharing the Dr Oz video as we don’t get that program here in the UK.

    Before everyone who saw Dr Oz endorse Reiki on national TV gets carried away, let’s look a little closer about how Reiki was portrayed on that show. Admittedly, the segment was very short (too short) to give a proper understanding about what Reiki is and what it can do for you but despite Pamela’s attempt to give her usual grounded explanation of Reiki, the vast majority of the viewers will remember Dr Oz’s summing up of “things to remember from today’s show”:

    “…try Reiki. This alternative medical treatment can manipulate your energy and cure what ails you!”

    What is wrong with the above sentence?

    “Alternative?” “Medical treatment?” “Manipulate energy?” “Cure?”

    Is this accurate information we want the general public to rememeber?

    If we saw these claims on a bulletin board in a health food shop would we, as, hopefully, “credible” Reiki practitioners think that is OK?

    Don’t get me wrong, it is great that Reiki has had exposure on TV to a huge audience but I think it bears the marks of a sensationalist, viewing figure-grabbing script writer, rather than a serious attempt to educate the public, which unfortunately is all too common in the media.

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