Talking Reiki & Science: 3 Things to Avoid

Reaching for science to make an impressive case for Reiki treatment may seem like a good idea, but it can seriously backfire if you are not a scientist. Here are a few suggestions to keep you off the hotseat, and help you avoid discrediting both yourself and Reiki practice.

1. Avoid overstating the research.

The scientific study of Reiki practice is just beginning. Very little research has been published. Many of the studies published are not very strong. All of the published studies are small.

Scientists are really just learning how to study traditional healing practices such as Reiki, acupuncture and yoga, which impact the body in very different ways than pharmaceuticals do.

At this point, there is not enough scientific evidence to support including Reiki treatment in standard medical care. Given that Reiki treatment is already being offered to patients at top-tier hospitals such as NY-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center, Dana Farber Harvard Cancer Center, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the lack of scientific evidence doesn’t seem to be a problem.

2. Avoid studies not published in peer-reviewed journals.

Avoid them like the plague. Just because a study was done doesn’t mean it is good science, and if it’s not good science, it’s not going to impress a scientist or physician.

How can Reiki practitioners know if a study is worth citing? Studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals (think Journal of the American Medical Association, not Scientific American), have to pass peer-review. This is an involved process designed to separate solid studies from the rest, and it only makes sense to follow the experts on this. After all, the goal of researching Reiki is to meet the established standards of medical research, not to invent our own.

Nothing is gained (and much could be lost) by citing a study that hasn’t passed peer-review. Scientists know the difference between solid science and goop even if Reiki practitioners don’t. Read the fine print, because there are Reiki websites that promote unpublished studies.

3. Avoid science you don’t understand.

Pop science draws interest only from non-scientists, and it doesn’t build credibility. Don’t pretend. Most physicians don’t understand quantum physics, and they know you don’t either.

Scientists are specialists; they accept that they don’t know everything. Scientists expect experts to recognize the limits of their own expertise, and to communicate with clarity, brevity, and respect.

Scientists do not expect Reiki practitioners to be scientists, but if we don’t respect that they are, why would they listen to what a Reiki practitioner has to say?

It basically comes down to being respectful and demonstrating critical thinking. Scientists, physicians, and the public are watching to see whether Reiki practitioners are offering credible information, or making claims. Since there are no standardized credentials for Reiki practice, people decide whether we have credible information that could benefit them primarily on the basis of our demeanor and our words.


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Related material:
Reiki, Science, and the Media
Recording of a Reiki Presentation Pamela gave at a medical conference
Introduction to Medical Reiki Webinar
Practicing Reiki in Health Care: What You Need to Succeed

13 thoughts on “Talking Reiki & Science: 3 Things to Avoid”

  1. AMA approves anything that goes into the journals, including research. (So that was my point when I said “from the AMA”. You were the one that made the comment about peer reviewed medical journals.

    Just having this “kind” of conversation, and your comment “I do not know what you have been doing in the medical field but it is apparent that it has not been research” was not professional, nor kind. And it is not an example of the kind of conversations that Reiki practitioners should have with each other. But what is apparent to me is that you speak as though you have been collaborating in academic medicine for 20 years, I know the arrogance so well, I spent over 20 years listening to it. For the last 5 years I now feel as though I do not have to seek guidance from any ivory tower, I think fine on my own. I guess I have been deprogrammed. Enough of this kind of negativity.

    Reiki practitioners are individually professional and should not be subject to judgements as to whether they are or not by medical professionals. Raising the bar does not always mean meeting judgemental medical standards, maybe for some raising the bar means integrity. As far as how this back and forth conversation went, I’m not sure it shows the integrity of either of us.

    1. I am sorry, Rose, but you are wrong. The AMA does not have that kind of authority. It does not control the process of peer-review through which papers are approved for publication in medical journals. I know because I have been through the process from both sides, as someone submitting a manuscript and as a reviewer.

      I also apologize if I have offended you, but the information you are giving is not accurate. You are welcome to state your opinion, but it is important to identify it as opinion rather than fact.

      Raising the bar for the quality of Reiki medical research by definition means meeting the standards of medical science.

    2. Which databases do you know where we can find scientific studies about Reiki? For example, pubmed, but what others?

  2. Good articles and points. I agree with most of what you say. However, I have a problem with your statement, “after all, the goal of researching Reiki is to meet the established standards of medical research, not to invent our own”.
    In thinking about research, I feel that we have to be careful when assuming that the only credible research is that which comes from the AMA. In working in the medical field for over 25 years, I know that just because you are told that they are experts, it doesn’t mean it is so. Even experts have opinions, and are not always objective, and are limited like the rest of us in understanding these subjects, we are human! For scientists it is difficult to use discipline and structure around a fluid concept. How can you research something that does not follow and cannot be contained. AMA wants to control something so they can see it and research it, Reiki cannot be controlled or manipulated. In an area such as subtle energy healing, I cannot fully subscribe to research provided by an institution that knows very little about it, and comes from a system where to doubt is prevalent. Recently I spoke with a Rheumatologist about Reiki, and he was honest enough to point out that scientists just do not know enough about unseen energy, and so any research has to be carefully weighed on an individual basis and how it affects people on that level, which is contrary to medical research.
    Before we can get support from the medical community there needs to be these conversations, whether we agree or not, all of the talk has to happen, maybe within those conversations and experiences is the research.

    1. Rose, thank you for your comment, but to my knowledge, no research comes from the AMA. I don’t know what you have been doing in the medical field, but it is apparent that is has not been research.

      I have been collaborating with academic medicine for nearly 20 years, so your statement “before we can get support from the medical community…” is not realistic. We already have support in the medical community; however, Reiki practitioners need to bring themselves up to the level of professionalism needed to collaborate in that environment.

      That is why I teach the 2-day Medical Reiki seminar and why I made the Introduction to Medical Reiki webinar, to help Reiki practitioners understand the medical perspective and teach them to communicate credibly in health care.

      You’re correct that conventional science does not yet know much about subtle energies, but this is not an excuse for poor quality Reiki research. We don’t have to be able to control or dose Reiki treatment in order to study the impact of the Reiki connection on the human study, and to measure it both qualitatively (changes in reported pain, anxiety, and mood) and quantitatively (objectively measured changes in heart rate, blood pressure, heart rate variability, etc.) My Yale research is a case in point.

      This research can be done credibly well within the confines of academic research. Since doing so improves the credibility of Reiki across the board, why wouldn’t we want to aim for that level of excellence instead of lowering the bar?

      Whether it is a matter of spirituality or science, to question is the basis of respectful inquiry, and critical thinking is a necessary component of the search for truth. There is no defensible argument why Reiki practice should not be subjected to the same inquiry, and in my experience, its benefits hold up to reasonable, informed study.

  3. Greetings Pamela
    I am amazed, no matter the caution and common sense approach you offer, some of the responses listed here show the mindset of too many of the Reiki Practitioners and why if we do not have more of a unity of ideals (not ideas) and practice, there is the possibility that those forces who would attempt to seperate and divide us will succeed.
    Love and Light
    The parable of Dr. Usui’s search for the secret of healing gives us much to ponder:-)

  4. Hi Pamela,

    Good thoughts but I would say be careful not to generalize all Reiki Master/Teachers or Practitioners because I, for one, do understand quite a bit about quantum physics. Regardless of all of that, I think I tend to agree with Kristina about respecting and giving Reiki the credibility it deserves. I am pleased and grateful to have been a part of the founding and establishing of a successful Reiki Volunteer Program at Maine Medical Center and have been involved in teaching Reiki I, II and master/teacher apprenticeships for several years running. Many of my students have been highly technically trained clinical employees, including nurse practitioners and physicians.

  5. You’re right, Kathy. It helps to mention a few prominent hospitals because doctors generally don’t want to be the first to innovate outside their paradigm. It’s too risky. Reiki treatment is offered in hospitals well in advance of the research because of strong anecdotal evidence and the consensus that it is low-risk.

  6. Your suggestions and guidance on this topic are appreciated. The fact that the leading hospitals that you mentioned ARE using Reiki to enhance their patients care speaks very well of Reiki. This to me is important information to mention to people when talking about Reiki.

  7. We need to be mindful and respectful of Reiki and give it the credibility it deserves. Let the universal energy do its thing and let the scientists do theirs. Reiki is the voice between the two allowing it to speak its truth.

  8. When I get the “It ain’t real ’cause I can’t see it or measure it.” I ask them if they watch TV or listen to the radio.

    That gets them thinking and then they come back with “Well, I can measure TV and radio waves.”

    Then I say”They just haven’t created a device that ‘measures’ Reiki in a way they are used to, but I can show you it is ‘real'” and offer a Reiki treatment in trade for … something easy.

    So far it has opened up many a closed minds and been a great conversation starter.

  9. This is a very good point to make since so many scientists are joining in the bandwagon that Reiki doesn’t really exist just because they can’t actually “see” it. They are causing quite a commotion.

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