Reiki Does Not Work
When I read this article re the effectiveness of Reiki healing, I wasn’t surprised in any way about the doubt or disregard displayed by the author. Throughout, the points made are valid if Reiki is to be judged purely on it’s scientific merit.
In life there are some things that we will never get to know exactly how or why they work, we just know “they work”. Reiki falls into this category.
Reiki is an instinctive healing energy of the highest form innate in all of us from the beginning of time. For those of us who have experienced the power of Reiki whether giving or receiving you will know that it is real, no matter how many scientific studies set out to prove otherwise.
Nevertheless this is an interesting article which we all should read and take on board some of the findings within, in order to understand what we are up against.
A 2011 review concluded just that:
The existing research does not allow conclusions regarding the efficacy or effectiveness of energy healing. Future studies should adhere to existing standards of research on the efficacy and effectiveness of a treatment, and given the complex character of potential outcomes, cross-disciplinary methodologies may be relevant. To extend the scope of clinical trials, psychosocial processes should be taken into account and explored, rather than dismissed as placebo.
In other words – existing research is a such poor quality we cannot draw any useful conclusion from it. I disagree, however, that this necessarily means that more research is needed. The low plausibility of using magical energy that has never been demonstrated to exist by medical science argues otherwise. Further, the last sentence is odd – it suggests the authors are trying to spin placebo effects into real effects. This is increasingly the strategy of alternative medicine advocates as it becomes clear that most of the modalities they favor do not work any better than placebo (which means they don’t work).
Reiki is now squarely in that camp. Published at about the same time as the review (and therefore not included in the review) is a well-designed study of Reiki where Reiki was compared to placebo Reiki (someone not trained in Reiki simply goes through the motions) vs usual care (no intervention). Not surprisingly, both the real Reiki and the sham Reiki groups did better on self-reported well-being than the no intervention group, but they were indistinguishable from each other. Therefore Reiki did not better than placebo. That means Reiki doesn’t work (at least in the regular world of science-based medicine).
The authors conclude:
The findings indicate that the presence of an RN providing one-on-one support during chemotherapy was influential in raising comfort and well-being levels, with or without an attempted healing energy field.
Hmmm…I notice they did not conclude “Reiki doesn’t work.” That’s odd. Both the treatment and placebo groups had the same effect on subjective outcomes. With regular medical interventions, we conclude the treatment does not work. Imagine a pharmaceutical company concluding:
The findings indicate that taking a pill during chemotherapy was influential in raising comfort and well-being levels, with or without an active ingredient.
Therefore – taking pills is helpful. Let’s not fret about whether the active ingredient has any specific physiological effects. Reiki supporters appear to have taken a page out of the Acupuncture handbook. If real and sham acupuncture are both better than no intervention (they argue), than acupuncture works, whether real or placebo.
This article by Edzard Ernst recently published in the Guardian also discusses this Reiki study. Ernst points out that, not only is it scientifically dubious to conclude from such studies anything other than the treatment does not work, it is ethically dubious to give such treatments as a placebo intervention. He writes
By insisting that patients must not be treated with placebos like Reiki, scientists also advocate that they receive treatments that demonstrably work better that placebo. For instance, massage has been shown to improve the well being of cancer patients beyond a placebo effect. If a patient receives a massage with empathy, sympathy, time, understanding and dedication, she would benefit from the placebo effect – just like the Reiki patient – but, in addition, she would also benefit from the specific effect of the treatment that massage does and Reiki does not offer.
This is a critical point that I have been making also. Essentially, you cannot justify ineffective treatments simply because they provide a placebo effect. That is because effective treatments also provide the same placebo effect, but also provide specific benefits because they actually work.
I would argue that there are also many potential harms from convincing patients that unscientific treatments are effective because of their non-specific placebo effects. This is a deception, violates patient autonomy and informed consent, and sets them up to perhaps rely on ineffective “magical” treatments for non-self-limiting illnesses.
Read the full article here – Reiki-doesnt-work-either
Published by Steven Novella