Respectful Insolence

Whenever I write about the woo that is reiki, I feel obligated to point out just what reiki is. Sure, it might be repetitive, but I hope my regular readers will indulge me. I never know when new readers will pop in, and it is necessary to do a bit of review. Basically, reiki is faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for the more “conventional” Christian beliefs that undergird the the scams of faith healers like Benny Hinn or Peter Popoff. Indeed, that’s one reason why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that reiki should not be offered in Catholic hospitals, and a fundamentalist preacher declared reiki to be a sin. Personally, if it were up to me, I would ban reiki from hospitals, at least from being represented as anything other than religion. That means reiki practitioners could enter the hospital on exactly the same terms as priests, rabbis, and imams; i.e., not as any sort of “healer” but only as a religious figure.

Now that that’s out of the way, I must admit that the logical contortions and abuses of science that reiki practitioners like to indulge in do at times amuse me. For example, several months ago, I noted a particularly woo-ful bit of reiki silliness directed, alas, at dogs, who didn’t do anything to deserve being the subject of such woo. Unfortunately for me (or fortunately for me, blog-wise), I just came across another one. It showed up in About Holistic Healing in the form of an article entitled Reiki Does Not Always Heal the Way You Want. Of course, I would have removed the words “Always” and “the Way You Want,” and that would have made the title of the article much more accurate, but where’s the fun in that? Basically, it’s the answer of a reiki practitioner to a question presented about two stray animals for whom reiki didn’t work. The reiki master’s name is Tracy C, and the first animal was a cat:

He loved me so much I could not turn him away and had decided to keep him. Or rather, he decided to stay with me. But by the weekend, he became very ill, could not breathe well and sat very still rasping for air. He let me feed him Pedialyte through a dropper, but he did not improve. I used Reiki but he did not respond. At last I took him in late at night to an emergency clinic, and when they took him from the car (as I had no carrier) he became frightened and went into heart arrest and respiratory failure. They advised me that it would cost a lot to run tests and keep him on ventilator, and that if he indeed had a certain virus, he would die anyway. I allowed him to be euthanized.

The second pet was a dog:

A week later, a black lab dog approached me from across the subdivision where I live. He came straight for me, but did not look at me. I could see he was limping. I called as he approached and he saw me and his face softened. I thought perhaps he had a thorn in his foot, but when I looked, his entire underbelly was red with fresh blood and his leg was raw as well (later learned he had been hit and drug by a car).

He was panting so hard and it was so hot, I got him water and I kissed his head, and he looked at me with such gratitude. I felt he came to me for help. I did Reiki, but he did not seem to want it.

Gee. I wonder why. Could it be because this poor dog had been…oh, you know…hit by a car?

This unfortunate dog also died. This reiki master tried faith healing on a fatally injured dog, and it didn’t work. She tried it on a cat with a life-threatening viral infection. Surprise, surprise! It didn’t work. And after it didn’t work on two animals on the verge of death, Tracy wonders why:

I became a Reiki Master practitioner specifically to help my doc Doc, who strangely, never seemed to like it much. He would always look at me as if to say “Why are you doing that?” It did not seems to help his pain. But, I felt perhaps even if it did not help Doc, it would help others and I can’t seem to understand why I was unable to help these two poor animals.

Could it be because reiki is nothing more than faith healing and faith healing doesn’t work? In fact, Tracy seems to exhibit magical thinking to a degree unusual even for reiki practitioners. Let’s just put it this way. There isn’t a surgeon or physician who hasn’t been humbled by a patient’s disease or injury. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, patients die, and that’s even when we’re using effective medicine. Although we’ve gotten much better at preserving life, not all seriously injured trauma patients live. Not all cancer patients survive, even cancer patients with curable cancers. For example, patients with early stage breast cancer can expect a 94-95% chance of surviving, but that still means that around 5% of even this very favorable patient population will die of tumor recurrence. We as physicians know this, but apparently Tracy can’t abide the thought that reiki didn’t work; so she wrote Rose De Dan, who bills herself as and “animal reiki shaman,” which must be great work if you can get it, given that it appears to involve little more than petting animals and wishing distance healing onto animals.

It also provides the best “out” ever for whenever reiki doesn’t work, which is pretty much all the time. Basically, Rose spends several hundred words trying to explain, in essence, that reiki will do whatever it wants to do, and that might not be what the reiki practitioner wants. In other words, according to Rose:

But the intention of the Reiki practitioner should not be on the person or animal getting better, it should always be for the highest good of the recipient. And that means the practitioner must let go of their attachment to the outcome and be willing to be the straw, or the hollow bone, for the energy. This means that the practitioner does not always get what they want, but the recipient always gets what they need.

Calling Mick Jagger! Yes, who would have guessed that the excuse for reiki not working is, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” She then goes on to claim that reiki provides “other benefits” and that the practitioner might not be able to see what those benefits are. In fact, according to Rose, those benefits are all about the reiki shaman.

Somehow I’m not surprised. Self-absorption seems to be more what reiki is about than any actual healing. It’s all about the practitioner and what she feels, not the recipient, which is why it doesn’t really matter to its practitioners that much if reiki actually works or not or if it’s nothing more than faith healing. In fact, Rose even says as much when she says that Tracy should let go of her need for the result of reiki healing to turn out a certain way. What is that, other than saying that, no matter what happens after reiki healing is applied, it’s all good? And if it’s not all good, you can just send reiki energy back in time to heal yourself. No, I’m completely serious:

You mention that you are a Reiki Master, which means that you would have received training in how to send Reiki from a distance in Level II. So I might suggest that either before or after you journey you consider sending Reiki back in time for yourself, to the point of origin of your need to make a difference or “heal.”

I’d like to be very clear that there is nothing wrong with being compassionate and offering Reiki where it may be needed. What I am suggesting here is letting go of your need to have the result be a certain way. Send Reiki for your own self-healing with intent to release whatever is triggering your sorrow or guilt that you did not do enough, or did not do “the right thing.”

One wonders what the Doctor would say about that. Or maybe one can use reiki energy to protect John Connor. The opinion of a fictional Time Lord or a Terminator aside, you can do more than just sending reiki energy back in time to yourself. You can send it back in time to the time of the passing of the animals that you failed to save with reiki:

You can also send Reiki back in time to the situation, the occasion of the passing of each animal, for the highest good of all, thereby opening possibilities for them. And you can include a Bridge of Light to assist them in their crossing. If you have difficulty letting go of attachment to outcome you can again send Reiki for your own self-healing before proceeding.

If reiki’s so great and you can send it back in time, I have a better idea. Why can’t the reiki shaman send the energy back in time to before the animal was injured in the first place and prevent the animal from becoming injured or sick? After all, if you can send reiki back in time to the point of the animal’s death or even project reiki energy into the future, then why can’t you send it further back in time to before the animal was injured in the first place? Phylameana lila Desy, for instance, tells us that reiki can be targeted to the “original hurt.” In the case of the black lab, the original hurt was when he was hit by the car, causing the injuries that ultimately killed him.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about reiki, it’s that it can be anything its practitioners want it to be. Its practitioners claim to be able to channel an energy from the “universal source” (which sounds all the world like God or a similar concept) into other people for healing effect. If it’s not enough to apply it to a person or animal right in front of them, then they claim to be able to send it at a distance just by wishing. If that’s not enough, then they send it into the past or the future. But even that’s not enough. When it doesn’t work, then they claim that it wasn’t meant to be, that the animal or person didn’t accept the reiki energy, that in reality the outcome that happened after the attempted reiki healing was actually all for the greater good, even if the patient died.

Wow. I’ve called reiki a religion before, but I think reiki has even most standard religions beat. And it’s being offered in hospitals that should be bastions of science-based medicine and studied by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Truly, the woo has won.

Comments

  1. #1 Kulgur
    September 20, 2011

    “Reiki Does Not Always Heal the Way You Want”. ‘Of course, I would have removed the words “Heal” and “the Way You Want,” and that would have made the title of the article much more accurate’

    I believe you meant “Always”, not “Heal”. ‘Reiki Does Not Heal’ is a better title than ‘Reiki Does Not Always”.

    On the repetition of the definition: keep it coming, I STILL can’t believe people believe in this stuff.

  2. #2 sophia8
    September 20, 2011

    So she finds a dog that’s been clearly hit by a car and is injured and in obvious pain. So instead of taking it straight to a vet she gives it water, kisses it and waves her hands over it. And is disappointed when the dog doesn’t seem to like that.
    “Self-absorbed” hardly describes her attitude.

  3. #3 Bruce Gorton
    September 20, 2011

    I thought Reiki was what happened when you combined playing doctor with a rousing game of I’m not touching you.

  4. #4 Benoni
    September 20, 2011

    “Reiki does not always”. Indeed. And I don’t even.

  5. #5 Narad
    September 20, 2011

    But by the weekend, he became very ill, could not breathe well and sat very still rasping for air. He let me feed him Pedialyte through a dropper, but he did not improve. I used Reiki but he did not respond. At last I took him in late at night to an emergency clinic, and when they took him from the car (as I had no carrier) he became frightened and went into heart arrest and respiratory failure. They advised me that it would cost a lot to run tests and keep him on ventilator, and that if he indeed had a certain virus, he would die anyway.

    I’m no vet, but I’ve got a pretty good sense that this cat’s cardiac arrest (if really as described) might have had less to do with “fright” than with responding to obvious respiratory difficulty by administering f*cking Pedialyte with a f*cking dropper instead of going straight to the f*cking vet. Sub-Q fluids for a cat are about 50 ml at a go. A “dropper” is presumably a milliliter. Jesus Christ, they don’t just suddenly become dehydrated in the first place. If you can even get an appreciable amount of fluids into a cat by this method, you already know you have a serious problem. And now you’re going to point to the cost of artificially ventilating the cat as a distraction? And what the hell is with the business about the carrier? Why does the staff have to evacuate a cat that, under your “care,” has already been rendered nearly dead from your damn car? How did it get in there in to start with? Did they rush out with a gurney? Stupidity of this level on this particular topic drives me bats.

  6. #6 anon-autist
    September 20, 2011

    Recently I asked my primary care physician for help finding science-based autism treatment for adults. In listing the resources I had already pursued, I complained that a “neurodiversity consultant” who has quite a following in the community was touting nonsense, such as reiki for autism. (See, this was on topic after all.)

    And by touting, I don’t just mean the consultant made an offhand comment about “hey, reiki can’t hurt, if you’re into that kind of thing” — I mean she advertises a colleague’s reiki services on her website.

    Besides the default harms of wasting time and resources on reiki instead of, say, occupational therapy, I think it could be counterproductive for autistics. Many autistics dislike people (at least strangers) invading their personal space, and if their parents insisted on having a reiki therapist doing whatever sort of handwaving, it could be distressing. At least I know that if I’m upset, the last thing I want is some woo-monger up in my face, and I might be too upset to be polite about getting away.

    Guess what my primary care doc said? She’s encouraging me to go back to that consultant for alternative medicine. I’ve been furious about this since I got her email last night. I sent a rather snarky response because I’m not spending the big bucks to go to Big Name University Hospital Medical Center just to get referred to quacks. Is she likely to be doing this to get rid of me as a patient? I am surprised she is touting alt-med, because she was very highly recommended by a skeptic friend.

    I know a lot of commenters here live in the SF Bay Area; how could I get better suggestions privately? Evidently I need a new primary care doctor as well as speech/occupational therapy.

  7. #7 anon-autist
    September 20, 2011

    Narad’s post crossed with mine, so pardon my second post to agree completely with his/her statements about the horrible way the reiki twit mistreated those poor animals.

    A great illustration of how these woo-mongers have no clue whatsoever what situations are life-threatening and need immediate medical care. So much for all their insistence that they refer when appropriate…

  8. #8 Bruce Gorton
    September 20, 2011
  9. #9 James Sweet
    September 20, 2011

    Whenever I write about the woo that is reiki, I feel obligated to point out just what reiki is.

    Very important to always do this! Many times I’ve told the story of how my wife didn’t believe me when I first told her what homeopathy was — how could anyone buy into something so stupid? (She had to confirm it on Wikipedia before she believed I hadn’t made some sort of mistake)

    I think a lot of people could be saved from the clutches of woo if only they got a fair explanation of what it actually is before becoming emotionally invested in it. That may not help with things that are not obviously prima facie implausible (herbal supplements, acupuncture, etc.) but for things like homeopathy, reiki, etc., I think just knowing up front what it is would keep a lot of people away.

  10. #10 bluedevilRA
    September 20, 2011

    i attend an osteopathic medical school, which despite being mostly mainstream medicine, we unfortunately still dabble in a little woo call osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT). while i think there is a possibiltiy for therapeutic benefit from OMT (at least the patient is actually touched as compared to the silliness of reiki), it is poorly studied, so little evidence exists to support it.

    the reason i bring it up is that this is the exact same ploy that professors use when trying to justify OMT. if a therapy does not have the intended results, such as pain relief for a musculoskeletal injury, or if the treatment results in more pain then professors claim “therapy will not always have the intended result of pain relief. sometimes pain will stay the same or even increase mildly. this is fine, it is part of the healing process.” or they will say “the patient may not immediately feel better, but dont worry their lymphatic circulation is improved and therefore their overall health will improve.”

    also, the word holistic is tossed around way too much at a DO school. i guess the implication is that MDs are somehow not holistic and so we are therefore better? absurd. sorry for the rant, but i couldnt help myself from commenting on the similarities between these two woos.

  11. #11 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    September 20, 2011
  12. #12 Heliantus
    September 20, 2011

    But the intention of the Reiki practitioner should not be on the person or animal getting better, it should always be for the highest good of the recipient. [...] This means that the practitioner does not always get what they want, but the recipient always gets what they need.

    Let me get this straight: the highest good for this cat and this dog was to die? It was what they needed?
    It’s quite nihilist, as a point of view. Death is better than staying in this valley of tears.

    Could we trot out this excuse next time someone come with the old canard “conventional medecine kill 200 thousands people a year”?
    (or whatever the number currently is – each time it comes back, it got inflated by a few more thousands)

  13. #13 Shirah
    September 20, 2011

    I work in veterinary emergency and critical care. It frustrates me and breaks my heart to see these cases. People WANT to help, but they are so blinded by their own “IMUSTFIXTHIS!ICANFIXTHIS!”, that they neglect their animal and neglect logic.

    The same song plays out time and time again, with variations on the same tune. Examples include:
    -Cat with “saddle thrombus” was given arnica before the owners finally decided to head to the ED.
    -Dog with HGE was given apple juice and “good energy” for 24hrs, before finally presenting to the ED. At admit the dog’s PCV=70%.
    -DOA dog with GDV was given some herbal tincture or another to help relieve gas/bloating. It didn’t work.
    -Hemoabdomen patient too far gone to save, because the owners decided pale gums and acute collapse was probably treatable at home with some Chinese Herbs.
    -Cat with a minor injury died, after the owners tried to treat the sore foot at home by using naproxen. This sort of thing in particular baffles me, since simply typing “cat, naproxen” into Google would make this an obviously terrible idea! (I often wonder: Do these people pull the same of stunt with their children? Do they just throw adult medications and dosages at them and hope for the best?)

    * As always, details of cases are changed.

  14. #14 Marry Me, Mindy
    September 20, 2011

    To me, the response by the remote master or whatever highlights _exactly_ how reiki is faith healing. If you look at what she is, it’s no different from “God answers all prayers, just sometimes the answer is ‘no’”

    In the same way, reiki always works, it’s just that sometimes “works” means “doesn’t do anything.” Sometimes, the answer is no. Just like when you pray to God.

  15. #15 Sastra
    September 20, 2011

    I once got into a coffee-house debate with a woman who sold her services as a “dog whisperer” by practicing reiki on pets. She began by insisting that reiki was completely scientific and totally accepted by the science community. When I failed to be impressed by her list of nursing associations which endorsed reiki — and explained why — she did a 180′ and began calling science a “dogma,” accusing me of being closed-minded because I wouldn’t just accept her personal experiences and anecdotes just as she interpreted and remembered them. I was a fundamentalist.

    Huh?

    Evidently she had recently gotten in trouble with her fundamentalist church over her energy healing and left it. They’d argued that it was “demonic” and she had defended herself by pointing to the science. Since I was arguing that it was unscientific, then I must also be a fundamentalist.

    Apparently, “fundamentalist” means “someone who tells someone else that they’re wrong.” Especially when they’re spiritual and have good motivations.

    I told her that, if she was going to continue to sell reiki, she really ought to inform people that it was a form of faith healing. At least let them know what they’re getting. This did not mollify her. It wasn’t faith healing! It was nothing like religion! And I would never understand or accept reiki because I was an atheist!

  16. #16 Vicki
    September 20, 2011

    Anon-autist,

    This is one where I would be tempted to say “Dear Doctor So-and-so, I already told you why I do not want a reiki master, and am worried that her treatments may be actively harmful for me and other autistic people. Now that I have made that clear, can you please give me a suitable referral.”

    That’s the polite version, which doesn’t include “If I am going to be educating you about autism, I expect you to pay me, not ask for a copay and bill my insurance company for the time.”

    Good luck on finding a science-based practitioner who actually reads his/her email before answering it.

  17. #17 Andreas Johansson
    September 20, 2011

    We should impose punitive taxes on the word that begins in spirit- and ends in -ual. Most times someone uses it, they’re being stupid or evil, or reporting on someone who was being stupid or evil.

  18. #18 Tina S
    September 20, 2011

    (headdesk) Thank you for explaining what reiki is. I really didn’t know. This does sound like a religion (why deny it?). It’s, once again, superstition. This is ridiculous. It also sounds like these people are dangerous to one’s health.

  19. #19 Mattand
    September 20, 2011

    We just had to take our dog to the vet while we were out of town. The first thing I did was scan the waiting room for any signs of alt med. Fortunately, all was clear. I’m still relatively new to the skeptical movement (six years, approximately), but it’s amazing how saturated this stuff is in medicine, both animal and human.

    Our dog is part of Penn’s canine blood donor program. During one visit, I brought up alt med and my general skepticism of it. The nurse was a big proponent of it, insisting that one version of it saved one of her dogs (I forget which; most likely homeopathy.)

    This is freaking U of Penn! Supposedly one of the top vet colleges in the US. I know this has been covered before on RI, but it’s still disheartening to see such esteemed colleges offering this unproven shit alongside proven, evidence-based medicine.

    Our primary vet offers some of this crap, although it is limited to acupuncture and possibly a few I’m not sure about (low level laser, therapeutic ultrasound). Compared to some of the hospitals around here, that’s actually not a bad ratio.

  20. #20 Denice Walter
    September 20, 2011

    “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you just might find that you get what you need”

    Or, as my late father always said,”If what you’re doing doesn’t work, try something else”. I learned in grad school that this is sound psychological advice and may indeed be the secret of my success.

    Reiki, like other forms of woo, often substitutes for counselling and psychotherapy. Reiki folks wave hands, speak encouragingly, and promise the moon; if things don’t work out, it is probably better for you anyway. How this differs from reality-based counselling is that it involves passivity rather than action by the waved-upon-one. The ideas of “effort” and “agency” are sorely missing.

    When people are troubled, ill, or fearful they seek comfort and input from others: think about all of us ( our ancestors really), sitting terrified around the campfire, 100K years ago on the savannah in Africa in the total darkness: horrified by the night noises, wild animals, raging illnesses and sudden violent death, awful people who live next door. We share stories, fabricate myths, *and* assist each other in *plans* of action to deal with problems.

    Woo-ful practice often does involve the client’s activity following a plan of action not based in the real world: when it does, it may seek absolute compliance to an intricate, largely-fanciful series of actions, which if not done “correctly” in minute detail, will lead to the entire house of cards collapsing thus “no cure” and the client will now be held accountable and blamed. Questioning the protocol is *verboten*, again leaving out negotiation by the client. Things will go well if you comply. And I wonder how much even even product-based woo is based upon people’s need for counselling and guidance by a revered other ( although they don’t deserve reverence).

    Reiki, only requires that you be there,acted-upon by the hand-waver. Thus, plans for actions ( like self-care, problem solving, trying out new solutions, making an appointment for a real doctor or therapist) are not the focus. Belief and faith can be passive. I question the “moving mountains part”.

  21. #21 Old Rockin' Dave
    September 20, 2011

    Another line from the same Rolling Stones song fits in here: “She was practiced at the art of deception,/I could tell by her bloodstained hands.”

  22. #22 Denice Walter
    September 20, 2011

    @ Heliantus:

    That eternally transmuting figure ( so-called iatrogenic deaths) might in the near figure become “fixed” ( as well it should, being a fixation) because its source “Death by Medicine” has now been immortalised as a “hard-hitting” documentary which will be in wide distribution around the net and vitamin shops ( premiering next week @ Ethical Culture Society NYC). I expect trolls will be quoting and emoting a great deal about it very soon. The figure I usually use is “600,000″. ( Harriet Hall and James Laidler have both written about this -un-worthy tome).

  23. #23 Matt
    September 20, 2011

    1. Lots of medical interventions don’t end up working. That is why people and animals experience pain, suffering, and death. So the first point could be applied to plenty of things.
    2. Using Reiki *instead of* necessary medical care is straight up immoral, illegal, and egotistical. You’re right there.
    3. Reiki can be an effective *compliment* (not *alternative*) to medical treatment. If you set it up as the end-all cure for disease, it will generally fail. Any responsible Reiki practitioner would never present Reiki that way.
    4. Have you ever experienced Reiki? Try a 60 minute treatment and write a post about your experience. That would hold more weight that your citations. Side note: Since when is the Catholic church qualified to name anything a ‘sin’? Why are you using the Catholic Church as evidence in a Science Blog?

  24. #24 Terrie
    September 20, 2011

    Poor critters. I hate to think about the fact that the dog might have lived if this idiot had gotten it real treatment.

  25. #25 Liz Ditz
    September 20, 2011

    Hi Anon-Autist

    I know a lot of commenters here live in the SF Bay Area; how could I get better suggestions privately? Evidently I need a new primary care doctor as well as speech/occupational therapy.

    Waving at you from San Mateo County and The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. Feel free to email me privately, but I wanted to put in a plug for the Morgan Center Autism Conference on October 1. Steven Shore is speaking on “Life On and Slightly to the Right of the Autism Spectrum: An Inside View Towards Success” and Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D. is speaking on “Evidence-Based Practice with Adolescents and Adults with ASD: Implications for Competence and Quality of Life”.

    OK, on to your question about finding a new PCP. I wonder if your PCP isn’t a bit of a shruggie.

    Shruggie (noun): a person who doesn’t care about the science versus pseudoscience debate. When presented with descriptions of exaggerated or fraudulent health claims or practices, their response is to shrug. Shruggies are fairly inert, they will not argue the merits (or lack thereof) of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or pseudoscience in general. They simply aren’t all that interested in the discussion, and are somewhat puzzled by those who are.

    My children’s pediatrician, who I still see socially, is a shruggie. He doesn’t use or prescribe sCAM; he just doesn’t get why he should discourage parents from pursuing sCAM modalities for autism or learning disabilities or allergies and so on. As long as the child’s primary medical needs are being met, he has the “what’s the harm” mentality.

  26. #26 Becca Stareyes
    September 20, 2011

    bluedevilRA @ 9

    And even the ‘this may make things feel worse in the short term’ in SBM can usually be explained. When I injured my shoulder, I waited a week or two to see if it healed on its own before visiting a doctor. As a result, the physical therapist noted, before we did anything, that my shoulder might hurt worse after the first treatment, but if things weren’t improving after my second or third treatment, I should tell him and we could re-evaluate and make sure he’d identified the right problem and treatment.

    Or, heck, my psychiatrist is constantly checking to make sure my medications are both doing what they are supposed to and the side effects are worth it to me. We’ve discussed other option in medication to reduce side effects. (I seem to recall when I was first put on the meds, she also gave me timetables as to when I should expect to see improvement.)

    In both cases — in most, if not all, cases I’ve interacted with doctors — the medical professionals I talk to were quite clear about what constituted ‘the treatment didn’t work’ and that this meant we should try something else. There was no ‘this must work, so if you don’t see it, it must be too subtle for you’ or ‘this always works if you do it right, so you must be doing it wrong’ or ‘your negative energy makes this not work, so stop being so negative’.

  27. #27 Redattack34
    September 20, 2011

    I think you all might be missing the most significant point here – Reiki can travel backward (and presumably forward) in time! Imagine the possibilities… With a sufficiently well trained Reiki master, one could send messages through time and create all sorts of fun paradoxes and causality violations, not to mention getting details on future scientific theories and devices in the present. Now all we have to do is build something that detects… Reiki… Hmm. This could be a problem.

    Joking aside though, I have to feel sorry for the unlucky dog and cat. I think the saddest thing here is that in all probability the so-called ‘Reiki Shaman’ would have given pretty much the same answer if that had been a human rather than a dog.

  28. #28 W. Kevin Vicklund
    September 20, 2011

    Another point on iatrogenic death: the majority of itrogenic deaths are the result of lack of proper care (person died because didn’t receive the correct treatment), rather than improper care (person died because received the wrong treatment) or proper care (person died as result of receiving the correct treatment). Thus, any time an alt-med practitioner doesn’t prescribe the proper treatment and a person dies from the lack of that treatment, that should be classified as an alt-med iatrogenic death.

    (Did you know that 25% of iatrogenic deaths are from bedsores and malnutrition? It is a pretty damning statistic for the elder care industry. You are more likely to die from malnutrition than an adverse drug reaction.)

  29. #29 Calli Arcale
    September 20, 2011

    W Kevin Vicklund — in many ways, that knowledge horrifies me more than anything else about “iatrogenic deaths”. There’s a very real chance of going out that way. Heck, it’s what ultimately killed Christopher Reeves, and presumably he could afford very good care.

  30. #30 BKsea
    September 20, 2011

    I just did some Reiki into the past to prevent Charlie Sheen from dying. What? Charlie Sheen is not dead? See – it worked!

  31. #31 hoogreg
    September 20, 2011

    “Why are you doing that?” LOL. That’s hilarious!

    This reminds me of a homeopathy presentation we had some years back at work (don’t ask). The lady (studying to be a certified practitioner!!) did her spiel and finished with a couple of examples: one was about was about how she herself had burned the back of her hand and Successfully! treated it with homeopathic remedies, until it became SERIOUSLY INFECTED and she had to go to emergency. It was fairly entertaining, in a laughing at the stupid kind of way.

    “Why are you doing that?” is an excellent question.

  32. #32 LovleAnjel
    September 20, 2011

    “Send Reiki for your own self-healing with intent to release whatever is triggering your sorrow or guilt that you did not do enough, or did not do “the right thing.””

    Translation: you feel bad because you’re pretty sure you f*cked something up. Do some reiki to make yourself feel better, even if it does nothing for your patient.

    How ridiculously self-centered.

  33. #33 W. Kevin Vicklund
    September 20, 2011

    Calli, it’s probably even worse than I stated. The “over 700k” ‘study’ includes 199k deaths from Outpatient treatment, yet when you look up the original references (often involving several layers to get to the original), it is obvious that they’re double-dipping in that category to a great extent. So the actual percentage from bedsores and malnutrition could be as high as 40% of all iatrogenic deaths!

  34. #34 Calli Arcale
    September 20, 2011

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I know it’s not too unusual for people to essentially starve to death at the end of their lifetimes, and I wonder how much of that contributes and is blamed on doctors/nurses/hospice staff even though they cannot entirely prevent it happening. (Is force feeding ethical?)

    I’d hate to die of starvation or a bedsore. However, there is a reasonably good chance that I will. And maybe that’s not all bad, if it’s happening because I’m 112 and so totally batty that I can’t even remember if I’ve eaten today. :-D

  35. #35 Marnie
    September 20, 2011

    I knew a woman, many years back, who treated her cat with homeopathy. She’d talk about her cat screaming through the night, in excruciating pain. At some point, I feel like your role as care provider for an animal (yes, even a stray you just found) supersedes whatever idiot ideas you have about health and medicine. Allow an animal to suffer in your care, for hours, because you think reiki (or praying, or homeopathy, or any other imaginary treatment) might do the trick is abuse.

  36. #36 Sami
    September 20, 2011

    You know, I’ve had pets I loved utterly. I’ve even had them suffer from medical problems that veterinary science couldn’t fix – one cat was diabetic, and another had tumours that couldn’t be removed surgically because the vets thought she was unlikely to survive anaesthetic due to her age. (She wasn’t in any apparent pain, and she lived quite happily for another few years, but it made it hard to keep weight on her and so on.) It never occurred to me that my distress at their deaths would be best resolved by taking up woo.

    Thank the Lord, they were both overall well enough that anyone who tried to wave their hands over them in order to try their culturally-appropriative New Age faith healing wankery would probably have lost some blood. Playing “I’m not touching you” with an animal who has both fast reflexes and claws is not a good idea.

    Overall, though, this whole thing is pretty infuriating. Leaving animals in acute distress to suffer while you play at superpowers should be a criminal offence – and quite possibly is, depending on how good your courts are.

    I really don’t get why the clinic would have needed to fetch the cat from her car, if it was ill enough that it wasn’t moving well. Cats are quite small and light. Taking one in a car unrestrained it’ll probably wander and climb around, if it’s well enough, but she reports it like it wasn’t.

    We never took our cats in carriers, because the degree to which they hated it was spectacular, but we also never took them unrestrained; one person drives, another person holds the cat, the cat is both restrained and calmer and doesn’t freak out as much. If you put a cat *already in distress* into a confined, noisy, strange-smelling and unfamiliar environment that moves around, with no comfort and nothing to secure them against the movement, you’re only going to magnify their distress.

    Somehow, I get the impression that this braindead hate magnet doesn’t have either the sense to do that or anyone who likes her enough to help transport the cat.

  37. #37 attack_laurel
    September 20, 2011

    I love petting my friends’ animals. Most of them respond so well they remember me the next time they see me, and line up for my “magic hands”.

    I am under no illusions that I am giving my friends’ pets anything more than an awesome massage. For serious issues, my friends know to contact the vet.

    And reiki denies the animal even the joy of getting their ears rubbed in that way that makes them turn their head into your hand so you scratch…oooo… oooh… that’s that spot!

  38. #38 lsm
    September 20, 2011

    4. (from Mat) Have you ever experienced Reiki? Try a 60 minute treatment and write a post about your experience. That would hold more weight that your citations.

    I haven’t experienced Reiki, but I did do “tapping” at the urging of a close believing friend, for educational purposes. It’s sorta like Reiki, being all about the energy, and is described on Mercola.com:

    “This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the “short-circuit” – the emotional block — from your body’s bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body’s balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.”

    Yes, I actually did feel better. But I did not believe for a minute it was anything other than a relaxation technique. Afterward when I was bored, I decided to make up my own control “energy flow” technique. I sat back in a comfortable chair, closed my eyes and took 3 deep breaths. Call in the healers! I felt better! Better than I felt than when tapping! Like magic!

    I make this little admission at the expense of my pride and for the furtherance of SBM.

  39. #39 Mandrellian
    September 21, 2011

    One wonders if either animal wasn’t stray at all and if there are concerned owners out there wondering what happened to their beloved pets – and who might become more concerned that a self-described “healer” didn’t even think to even _call_ a vet, let alone go to one. They mightn’t have had collars but even without a collar, vets can still scan for microchips FFS. This complete fool now has a body count of two, thanks to her superior compassion & enlightened healing skills.

    I know if I found out that some daft fucking hippy, firmly entrenched in her own anus and clouds of patchouli-stench, had found my injured & bloodied dog on the side of the road and given her a kiss and a cuddle and then LET HER DIE IN AGONY instead of taking her to a goddamned vet I’d be sure to sue that daft fucking hippy until she was a smoking black spot on the ground. Your belief in magic health-beams, madam, does not entitle you to your own facts with regard to animal anatomy.

    Hmm, bit raw there I know, but I’ve heard of far too many cases of animal neglect & cruelty to have any time or understanding for people who intentionally cause pain to animals or make their pain worse through stupidity, ignorance or even worse – a false sense of competency.

  40. #40 Sami
    September 21, 2011

    For Matt, @#23:

    Actually, I have experienced reiki. A couple of times.

    The first time, I was at university, and an acquaintance who was really into reiki set out to heal me of some minor affliction, a headache or something. After a few minutes I thought of a polite way to tell him to stop it and go away.

    The second was more prolonged: family friend (I’ve known him since I was about three years old) became a new age faith healer, and was apparently *remarkable* to the other weirdos in his circle for his ~tremendous healing gift~. At the time I was suffering from chronic pain caused by being hit by a car, and ran out of polite ways to avoid letting him attempt to alleviate my pain.

    Suffice to say I felt nothing from that experience save sympathetic embarrassment on his behalf that people would *see* him waving his hands around like an idiot combined with tedious boredom induced by waiting for him to be done already.

    Not only did it not cure any aspect of my injuries, it didn’t cure anything else that was wrong with me, either, from my hayfever to my split ends.

    It’s pure, unadulterated bollocks of the highest order.

  41. #41 tushcloots
    September 21, 2011

    Someone should call the ASPCA on these freaks. I just left a comment that if they played magic goody-goody on a child that died, they’d be looking at serious jail time, if not psychiatric lock up.

  42. #42 bluedevilRA
    September 21, 2011

    @becca, i dont mean to imply that a treatment that makes something worse temporarily cant be effective. anyone thats had a massage knows that it can hurt sometimes but eventually you do feel better (hopefully, at least). or like you say, PT sometimes does that as well. in many ways OMM resembles PT and there is direct overlap between some techniques. the point i was trying to make is that some of the nuttier professors will insist a treatment “worked” regardless of the outcome. they never allow for the possibility that maybe the treatment itself is bogus.

    its just assumed that all this stuff works and it works for every single patient. there is little research to support OMM use beyond things like low back pain. they fall into the classic woo trap of “ive seen patients that have gotten better from this treatment, so i know it works!” or my favorite “well we just know these techniques work. theres no need to do a clinical trial for them.” these professors also clearly dabble in other woo as well. one of my least favorite professors suggested a homeopathy remedy to a classmate. i try my best to spread the gospel of Orac and SBM to my fellow classmates…

  43. #43 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 21, 2011

    1. Lots of medical interventions don’t end up working. That is why people and animals experience pain, suffering, and death. So the first point could be applied to plenty of things.

    The difference between medical interventions and alt-med interventions is that medical interventions have to meet basic tests of plausibility before they can be considered as potentially merited interventions.  Alt-med interventions merely need a single person to assert that something has healing properties, which is no guarantee of anything, not even that they themselves believe it.

    Claiming that medical interventions and alt-med interventions are equal because neither one of them is successful 100% of the time is like asserting that the homeless schizophrenic who says he’s a match for Evander Holyfield actually is because neither one has a record of 100% wins.

    2. Using Reiki *instead of* necessary medical care is straight up immoral, illegal, and egotistical. You’re right there. 

    We’re agreed on that.

    3. Reiki can be an effective *compliment* (not *alternative*) to medical treatment.

    [citation needed]

    If you set it up as the end-all cure for disease, it will generally fail. Any responsible Reiki practitioner would never present Reiki that way. 

    Since there’s no evidence that Reiki can cure anything, a truly responsible Reiki practitioner would, at the very least, alert their “patients” that they are probably spending their time and money for nothing.

    4. Have you ever experienced Reiki? Try a 60 minute treatment and write a post about your experience. That would hold more weight that your citations.

    Ah, yes, the “personal anecdote trumps scientific evidence” argument.  Unfortunately for you, it doesn’t; science was developed to try and circumvent the massive problems of trying to gather reliable information from personal anecdote.  Not the least of those problems is the placebo effect, where people report dramatic results from an intervention they think they’re receiving…  even if they’re not actually receiving that intervention.

    Side note: Since when is the Catholic church qualified to name anything a ‘sin’? Why are you using the Catholic Church as evidence in a Science Blog?

    Um, duh?  For Catholics, the Church most certainly is qualified to name what is or is not a sin.  If you’re not Catholic, you don’t have to agree, but no one asked you to approve Catholics’ relationship with their church. The only thing Orac presented the opinion of the Catholic bishops as evidence for was that reiki is not a practice of applying scientific knowledge, but of invoking supernatural intervention, and since the vocation of the bishops involves distinguishing what is science from what is supernatural, that’s evidence with some relevance.

  44. #44 David N. Brown
    September 21, 2011

    “Basically, reiki is faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for the more “conventional” Christian beliefs that undergird the the scams of faith healers like Benny Hinn or Peter Popoff.”

    A couple things I’d like to say in response, based on my research as a seminary student. First, every religious tradition has stories and practices for “miracle” healings, and many elements are universal or nearly so. There’s no reason to talk of direct “substituting” or borrowing to explain similarities between any two examples. Second, one should generally avoid terms like “scam”, as that implies intentional deception of others. In some cases, egregiously Popoff’s, that conclusion is quite justified. But in many if not most cases, there is every appearance of sincere belief, and no indication of conscious deception.

  45. #45 Narad
    September 21, 2011

    As a postscript, the “best case” absolution story with the cat would seem to be one of very rapidly progressing wet, thoracic FIP, with pleural effusion leading to respiratory failure leading to cardiac arrest. I can see a vet offering such a consolation, as it is incurable, and perhaps this was indeed the case. Not a good reason to doodle around while the animal is suffering, all the same.

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