Respectful Insolence

When I’m trying to demonstrate the utter implausibility and mystical pseudoscience behind so much of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), which is now more commonly referred to (by its advocates, at least) as “integrative medicine,” I like to point to two examples in particular of modalities that are so utterly ridiculous in concept that anyone can understand what I’m talking about. For example, as much as I might deconstruct the nonsense that is acupuncture, discussing how “meridians” don’t exist, the “life force” known as qi whose flow acupuncture needles are claimed to redirect, and how clinical studies clearly demonstrate that acupuncture is no more than an elaborate, theatrical placebo, believers can still retort that needles are being stuck into the body and so maybe something’s going on there. It’s nonsensical, of course, to skeptics who have taken a close look at the science (or, more specifically, the lack thereof) behind acupuncture, but it sounds plausible to the average person who hasn’t looked into it. That’s why it takes some explanation.

It’s also why homeopathy makes such a great example. Like many of my fellow supporters of science-based medicine, I’ve found that most people, including fellow physicians, medical students, surgical residents, nursing students, and nurses, don’t really know what homeopathy is. They thin it’s nothing more than herbal medicines. They don’t know the two principles of homeopathy, such as the law of similars, which states that, to relieve a symptom, you use a substance that causes that symptom in healthy people, and the law of infinitesimals, which states that diluting something (with vigorous shaking—or, as homeopaths call it, succussion—between each dilution step) makes the remedy stronger. Most physicians have no idea that most homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point where they are incredibly unlikely to contain anything other than water. When I explain that to them, it’s almost as though I see lightbulbs turning on over their heads. They suddenly get it.

So it is with reiki, as well, which is my other favorite CAM treatment to use to explain the magical mystical thinking behind so much of CAM. Also, given that even the most die-hard practitioners of quackademic medicine seem to be abandoning homeopathy, apparently realizing just how pseudoscientific it is to the point where even the mighty power of cognitive dissonance couldn’t keep them thinking that there’s anything to it. Somehow, unfortunately, the same doesn’t appear to apply to reiki, as reiki is still offered in quite a few academic medical centers ostensibly devoted to science-based medicine. For example, it wasn’t too long ago that I discussed the full extent of quackademic medicine offered at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, including, prominently, reiki and, a couple of years ago, at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson University Hospitals and the University of Maryland.

Yes, I knew it was bad. Unfortunately, it’s even worse than I thought, as yesterday, I came across a list of hospitals that offer reiki. It led me to see what some of these hospitals say about reiki. I’ve already picked some choice quotes from the University of Arizona (and, let me tell you, there’s more where that came from that might well be the topic of a future post) and Jefferson University Hospital. But what about some others. For example, what about Johns Hopkins? Here’s its reiki page::

Reiki is a very specific form of energy healing, in which hands are placed just off the body or lightly touching the body, as in “laying on of hands.” Reiki can also be done “long-distance,” as a form of prayer. According to many versions of its origin, Dr Mikao Usui, a Japanese seeker of spiritual truths, brought the Reiki method of healing into human awareness in 1922 after a deep spiritual experience. He is said to have begun teaching others after a serious earthquake hit Japan and he felt urged to spread his knowledge.

In a Reiki session, the practitioner is seeking to transmit Universal Life Energy to the client. The intention is to create deep relaxation, to help speed healing, reduce pain, and decrease other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Since there is no regulation of Reiki practitioners in most places, you may have to do some investigating to find a qualified professional. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about our qualified Reiki practitioners or would like to make an appointment.

That’s right. Johns Hopkins apparently buys into the whole concept of a “universal source” and “universal life energy.” This is how I explain just how obviously quackery reiki is. The way I get students and other doctors to “get it” is to point out that reiki is, at its basis, faith healing. Substitute God for the “universal life energy” or “universal source,” and the analogy is obvious. The reiki practitioner is supposed to channel the healing power of the universal source to the patient, just as Christian faith healers claim to be able to channel the healing power of Jesus into those they claim to be able to heal. Lovely, isn’t it? We have Johns Hopkins advertising “qualified reiki practitioners,” thus putting the imprimatur of one of the great medical universities in the world on the purest quackery based in mystical thinking. It even seems to buy into the idea that reiki energy can be transmitted at a distance, thus constituting “distant healing.”

It pains me to do this next one, given that my partner in crime and fellow skeptic Steve Novella is based at Yale, but it must be done, given that Yale is on the list. Perusing the page on CAM therapies for the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, I was distressed to see this:

Reiki is a Japanese word meaning “Universal Life Energy.” The practice of Reiki is a non-intrusive method of hands-on healing. During a Reiki session, healing energy lulls you into a deeply relaxed state. It is this deep relaxation that increases energy as the body rests and becomes revitalized during the session. Our Reiki practitioners are trained and certified by master-level Reiki teachers.

Yes, Yale offers reiki to its patients as well, at least at its cancer center—oh, and in its intensive care units, too. I hope Steve isn’t too depressed, though. I decided to look at my alma mater, where I did both my undergraduate and medical school training, and, as painful as it was to look at, I saw that U. of M. offers reiki, too, although through its massage therapy program where the massage therapists are touted as being “trained in complementary healing therapies.” Oh, joy.

Let’s see. Where else? Harvard? Yes, Harvard offers reiki. Brigham and Women’s Hospital? Yes, Brigham and Women’s offers reiki through a volunteer program, as does the Dana Farber Cancer Center. Massachusetts General Hospital? Yup, it offers not only reiki, but a veritable cornucopia of quackery through its cancer center, including acupuncture, reflexology (yes, reflexology, or, as I like to call it, a glorified foot massage with delusions of grandeur), and reiki.

It goes on and on. For example, Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers reiki courses and workshops, as well as reiki itself—and reflexology, too! M.D. Anderson also offers reiki and reflexology, as well. I also came across a rather disturbing description of how reiki found its way into M.D. Anderson. It’s disturbing in that it demonstrates how quackery can infiltrate even the best cancer center, all without any real evidence to support it. Indeed, I hadn’t realized how long that M.D. Anderson’s been into woo—almost 20 years now! Particularly laughable is the claim that the original idea for an “integrative wellness” center would be “assured that all programs would conform to the stringent standards of M.D. Anderson.” The point, of course, is that introducing quackery into the science-based offerings of M.D. Anderson is, by its very definition, lowering the standards of the cancer center. Of course, this is a case of the cancer center’s standards being lowered to include quackademic medicine, not of quackademic medicine conforming to the original high standards of M.D. Anderson.

The ultimate result was that in 1998 M.D. Anderson’s “complementary therapy clinic,” known as Place…of wellness (what is it with M. D. Anderson and annoying lettering conventions, anyway?) opened. Then:

In 2001, extensive patient interest in energy work led to the introduction of three more classes at Place…of wellness. Reiki Master Mike Powers began teaching a one-hour introduction to Reiki once a month, and two nurses began teaching Introduction to Healing Touch classes. Place…of wellness did not offer individual energy sessions at that time, but they knew that many patients were seeking practitioners on their own.

Which led to:

On March 3, 2003 Place…of wellness began to offer treatments in several modalities of energy therapy in a program they call Relaxation Touch Therapy. Participants are required to attend a one-hour introduction to Reiki or Healing Touch lecture in order to understand what to expect from energy work prior to requesting a session. Unless they request a specific energy modality, the volunteer on call that day is asked to provide a session in what ever modality she practices.

The ten volunteers who provide the sessions may be Reiki, Healing Touch, Jin Shin Jyutsu or Sat Nam Rasayan practitioners. They must all be certified in the modality they practice. Only those volunteers holding a license in a field that includes touch in its scope of practice, like massage therapists and RN’s, are permitted to do hands-on sessions. The other volunteers work off-body, in the patient’s etheric field.

Yes, eleven years ago practitioners began manipulating patients’ “etheric fields” at M.D. Anderson. Although Jeri Mills, MD, the doctor writing about this program, was disappointed at the slow progress of the reiki program, remember that she was writing only a few months after the founding of the program.

This entire exercise has depressed me mightily again. It does, however, tell me that I really should update my Academic Woo Aggregator, which has not been updated in quite some time. I only fear that the task will cause me to curl up in a fetal position and whimper at the extent that quackery has infiltrated bastions of academic medicine. If faith healing—which, let’s face it, is all that reiki is—can find its way into so many academic medicine centers, I almost fear that all hope is lost.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Hickie
    April 11, 2014

    The other volunteers work off-body, in the patient’s etheric field.

    To see meaningless pseudoscience quoted by someone, say, in Sedona, AZ (http://www.spiritualsedonanetwork.com/SpiritualHealing.html) is to be expected–and I would never recommend Sedona “healers” for anything, especially as their woo has even killed people (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/43501833/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/self-help-guru-convicted-sweat-lodge-deaths/#.U0fQcvldV8E). But it is altogether another thing to see such rubbish pushed by top tier medical institutions.

    Orac-is this crap being pushed now in medical school curricula, too?

  2. #2 AnnB
    April 11, 2014

    I don’t believe those at these institutions believe in this crap at all. This is “medicine” that can command a good price and be delivered cheaply – without involving well paid labor such as physicians.

    “I almost fear that all hope is lost.”

    Me too. Except as a patient, it is the day they stop offering this as an alternative to medicine, but starting telling me this is medicine and it is all the care I can expect to receive from them, that I fear.

  3. #3 palindrom
    April 11, 2014

    Place… of wellness?

    I think I have some antinausea meds around here somewhere…

  4. #4 AnnB
    April 11, 2014

    I want to clarify my statement. Those in the institutions’ administrations are the ones that don’t believe in this crap. That they can find physicians who believe, and are willing participants, surprises me, but I guess you can find deluded cultists in every field.

  5. #5 Dangerous Bacon
    April 11, 2014

    What’s really bewildering is when health institutions allow their name to be associated with woo and there’s no money to be made out of it.

    Like one of the hospitals I work at, which has signs up in public areas announcing that an employee group is organizing a trip to Kentucky’s Creation Museum. Somehow I don’t think implicit endorsement of creation pseudoscience is encouraging to patients who demand real science in their care.

  6. #6 cakesphere
    April 11, 2014

    “Place…of wellness” made tea shoot out my nose. You think reiki can fix that? :)

  7. #7 Denice Walter
    April 11, 2014

    Why do people feel that they need esoteric/ quasi-religious healing methods at SBM faciities?

    I suppose that it is rooted in the feeling of helplessness that threatens to dominate a person’s life whenever a serious illness is diagnosed. They may be told that the treatment has a *chance* of working and they would like to ‘load the dice’ in the direction of *certainty*. There is a need to DO something and people are emotionally vulnerable to suggestions by well-meaning believers.

    Despite being an atheist, it doesn’t bother me at all if clergy representing traditions with which the sufferers are familiar step forward and ask if the patient or the family would like to pray but somehow I find it irksome that reiki advocates offer their services at this time of vulnerability and extreme emotional trauma. It seems like they’re taking advantage of the situation in order to proselytise or act out their own beliefs perhaps in order to recruit new believers.

    I should also add that in public imagination there may be woo-wrought ideas floating about concerning how relaxation, stress management, meditation and suchlike enable *physical* healing to transpire: cancer-fighting killer cells are ‘liberated’ when a person *feels* hopeful or other beliefs that mix SBM concepts with a dollop of wishful new age thinking. Belief strengthens immunity is another theme
    I’ve heard; visualisation enables the body to fight cancer or any illness better- just imagine the outcome you want and it will become reality. If only you believe enough.

  8. #8 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 11, 2014

    I’d be willing to wager that a lot of those reiki and other nonsensical offerings are the result of rather large donations from wealthy woo-disposed individuals.

  9. #9 Orac
    April 11, 2014

    Despite being an atheist, it doesn’t bother me at all if clergy representing traditions with which the sufferers are familiar step forward and ask if the patient or the family would like to pray but somehow I find it irksome that reiki advocates offer their services at this time of vulnerability and extreme emotional trauma.

    Indeed. I’ve often said that I have no objection to chaplains in hospitals and that I would have no objection if reiki practitioners were treated as chaplains and spiritual advisors, rather than as actual health care providers.

  10. #10 Eric Lund
    April 11, 2014

    Reiki is a very specific form of energy healing, in which hands are placed just off the body or lightly touching the body, as in “laying on of hands.”

    Those of us who have played Dungeons and Dragons will recall that “laying on of hands” is standard medical practice in the D&D universe. But most people who are familiar with D&D understand that D&D is a fantasy universe. It makes sense that a fantasy medical technique would work in a fantasy universe. There is no reason to think it should work in the real universe. Indeed, the very next sentence gives the game away, equating long-distance reiki with prayer healing.

    Our educational system, up to and including medical schools, needs to do a much better job of teaching people to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality.

  11. #11 Sastra
    April 11, 2014

    Denice Walter #7 wrote:

    It seems like they’re taking advantage of the situation in order to proselytise or act out their own beliefs perhaps in order to recruit new believers.

    Exactly. This is very much a science vs. religion (oh, excuse me, “Spirituality”) issue. It’s not very different from teaching creationism along with evolution and letting students “choose” what works best for them. The status and imprimatur of science is being granted to supernatural claims in order to sway people into a spiritually enlightened understanding of reality.

    This leads to a whole host of problems which extend beyond the fact that these remedies don’t really work.

    It messes with the entire world view of average people and their understanding of medicine, science, and reason. It screws with their ability to think critically and rationally weigh and assess options in everyday of life. When science includes both “other ways of knowing” and confirmation that Nature is on your side, a lot of the normal checks and balances of common reason are going to be jettisoned.

    And as an atheist I can attest that alt med proponents blithely assume that my “materialist naturalism” position has been clearly and obviously refuted by the latest discoveries in medicine, discoveries which confirm what the mystics and pious have known all along –that the cosmos contains (or is made of) magical components and intentional energies which care about us. Universal Life Energy is more or less another name for God. And they are claiming that science found it.

    Or … they are claiming that PEOPLE found it and we don’t need no stinkin’ science. One way, the other way, or both: whatever works. Defenses of Reiki are as likely to sound like apologetics as pseudoscience (“you can’t see love with a microscope, but we know it’s real!”) Energy Healing not only promotes and encourages a religious world view, it draws a lot of its strength from existing religious world views. If you already have a system in place which gives credit to using “faith” to accept supernatural claims, why wouldn’t you use it for something like Reiki, which trips all the right buttons?

    I suspect that in addition to making money many of these medical centers and academic forums are granting the usual special privilege to matters of faith and letting their rigor slip as a result.

  12. #12 Brent Thompson
    New London, PA
    April 11, 2014

    Any benefit of reiki is probably from the effects of touch. People often feel better when a caring person touches them. There is no need for mumbo jumbo about energy transfer. I wish these hospitals would just bring in qualified massage therapists. Patients would feel better and not be duped into believing woo.

  13. #13 Denice Walter
    April 11, 2014

    - close to home-
    I’m advising family members right now across the miles and treading carefully because of diverse religious beliefs/ agnosticism/ atheism that abound amongst family and spouses.

    At any rate, I just looked over a couple of articles ( Daily Beast, 2011; Life Extension Magazine, 2010) about designer Donna Karan who partnered with a NYC hospital to create services for cancer patients and I’m of two minds:
    she IS trying to help people who suffer and she understands a great deal as she dealt with her late husband’s cancer for 7 years and her good friend’s for 5.
    She believes that yoga helped him with breathing problems associated with lung cancer and that nutrition made a difference. She also designed a lounge at the hospital which is calm and meant to be a respite from the hectic activities of a hospital floor. Would her fortune and good intentions do better work if she supported research more?
    I have no idea.

  14. #14 Lurker
    April 11, 2014

    Uh-oh, here comes Big Reiki.

    Hey Orac, try _this_ bad punctuation to make fun of _that_ bad punctuation: ‘Place of …wellness?!’ (italicize ‘wellness’).

    ‘….Unless they request a specific energy modality, the volunteer on call that day is asked to provide a session in what ever modality she practices.’

    So if I request 52 volts DC at 60 milliamps, and the volunteer on call that day plugs my Life Energy into 240 volts AC, can I sue for malpractice if he crashes my Akashic Records?

    ‘…The other volunteers work off-body, in the patient’s etheric field…’

    Pardon me for shouting, but ETHERIC FIELD?!?!! What the bloody hell are Etheric Fields doing in hospitals?! And if the patient drops dead without their loved ones by the bedside, does the hospital offer sponsored seances so they can catch up on their ‘last goodbyes’?

    This is just nuts!

    Sure, OK, have clergy on-call, and if someone wants to list themselves as New Age clergy and offer laying-on of hands, waving-around of hands, and flapping of arms in the air, fine, whatever, moo. Letting patients call upon a religious or spiritual counselor in their own faith is after all humane.

    They should start listing New Atheists right after New Age (ha!, it alphabetises nicely doesn’t it?), for those who want a comforting pep-talk of secular material monism as they contemplate their impending physical finitude: ‘The idea of Hell is so much mumbo-jumbo and hogwash, you haven’t to worry about going there, it does not exist, and in a short while, neither will you. Now let us contemplate nonexistence… There’s nothing to fear from nothingness, my dear…’

    Right. A good bit better than deities masquerading as Universal Life Energy, and Etheric Fields and waving of magically potentized hands in the air.

    I think I’ll go wash my hands now, they seem to have picked up some of that Energy and it’s making them itch.

  15. #15 Mark Thorson
    April 11, 2014

    An incompetent Reiki practitioner misaligned my chakras! Who do I sue?

  16. #16 Andy
    April 11, 2014

    I identify as a skeptic and find this sort of thing incredibly depressing. Blogs such as this one spend countless words slamming the likes of Burzinski for lying to patients in return for payment and yet here we find that some of the most-respected hospitals in America (and no doubt others around the world) happily lie to their patients too. And since I can’t imagine they provide these progams for free, it’s fair to say they lie to their patients in order to increase profits.

    If reiki works, and if these hospitals employ only the most-highly-credentialled practitioners of the mystical artform, why on earth do they subject their patients to the relative evils of surgery and chemotherapy? Just for the cash? Maybe they should spend some of their profits on seeking out better-qualified reiki masters.

  17. #17 Andy
    April 11, 2014

    Can’t believe I just misspelled Burzynski.

  18. #18 LW
    April 11, 2014

    “They must all be certified in the modality they practice.”

    That’s important, that is. You don’t want some amateur waving their hands around at random. You need a trained professional waving their hands around at random.

  19. #19 Denice Walter
    April 11, 2014

    Hello! I’m your New Atheist counsellor… if you’re trying to figure out the meaning of life you’d better hurry because it’s all there is and you haven’t got much time left to squander…
    Would you like a drink?

  20. #20 Andy
    April 11, 2014

    “Do you remember what life was like before you were born, Mr Atheist?”

    “No.”

    “Well that’s exactly how it will feel when you’re dead. Feel better now?”

    Meanwhile…in Topsy Turvy Land, HuffPo has published a pro-vax screed.

  21. #21 Eric Lund
    April 11, 2014

    LW @18: Where do you want your internets delivered?

  22. #22 Narad
    April 11, 2014

    He is said to have begun teaching others after a serious earthquake hit Japan and he felt urged to spread his knowledge.

    This doesn’t even jibe with the usual legend. The earthquake story doesn’t even appear in Hawayo Takata’s (dicey) version.

  23. #23 Narad
    April 11, 2014

    Although Jeri Mills, MD, the doctor writing about this program, was disappointed at the slow progress of the reiki program, remember that she was writing only a few months after the founding of the program.

    “Reiki Master Deanna Cuello, Program Coordinator at Place…of wellness, was one of the first to provide relaxation touch sessions. Accustomed to doing hands-on treatments, she said it felt a bit odd to be limited to off-body work, but the recipients seemed to appreciate the sessions.”

    And that, kids, gets you $63,013 a year as junior administrator in Texas, along with coauthoring an item “one of the key obstacles to the complete integration of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) into standard care in the United States.”

    As for treating reikistas as chaplains, I think the least that could be done is adding a disclaimer regarding the fact that it’s officially incompatible with Roman Catholicism.

  24. #24 Narad
    April 11, 2014

    ^ “an item on”

  25. #25 sheepmilker
    Watching the chickens at their spa
    April 11, 2014

    Andy @20. Reading the comments in response to the pro-vax article just makes me think we are doomed as a species.

  26. #26 qetzal
    April 11, 2014

    Does anyone else read Lurker #14’s comment and hear Basil Fawlty’s voice? Esp. the ETHERIC FIELD paragraph.

    In fact, this whole topic seems designed to put me in a Fawlty-esque state of impotent rage! Excuse me while I stand over here, fuming and shaking my fist futilely.

  27. #27 Mike
    April 11, 2014

    I think every medical school and hospital needs to have a chapter of the Society for Science Based Medicine.

  28. #28 Johanna
    April 11, 2014

    I remember when my (late) husband was ill with chemo and whatnot, some friends offered to do remote reiki for him.

    I was sorely tempted to tell them off but realized in the nick of time that, really, it was just a form of prayer. Something that wouldn’t do any harm to the hubby (especially at a distance!) and would make the folks doing it feel better.

    So I said “sure” and got on with other things. This exoticization of “eastern” culture gets on my nerves, in general, but I gotta pick my battles.

    Although I must say, I’ve sinced wished I lacked both morals and ethics and could thereafter slice myself a nice piece of that woo pie because, damn, there’s some serious money to be made… Dratted ethics!

  29. #29 JerryA
    April 11, 2014

    That’s not “integrative” medicine, that’s contaminated medicine. If deathly ill, then I reserve the right to return any unwanted attempted therapeutic touches with some “therapeutic” touches of my own, probably involving items within reach like bedpans. It’ll make me feel so much better (just stand still, you quack!). I’ll show them some mystical passes, with an IV stand. I look forward to my crotchety curmudgeonly old age.

  30. #30 Erp
    April 11, 2014

    Not just the hospitals. I’m staff at a well-respected university with a a well-respected teaching hospital attached (not one of the ones listed in the article). First the university provides health and exercise classes to the staff. Many are completely reasonable such as swimming, walking, dance, etc.. The First Aid class I assume teaches legitimate procedures. Then there are some like “Traditional Oriental Medicine Self-Care Principles and Practices”, “Reiki Energy Healing Level 1 and Level 2″, and so on. Then there are those I can’ judge such as “Unwind at Your Desk” is it legitimate or not given the other offerings. The program advertises “Our health education classes and individualized behavior change programs have a strong foundation in science with an emphasis on sustainable, gradual change.” “Strong foundation in science”? Certainly not for some of these classes.

    Second being a big organization it has specialized staff for dealing with simple workplace injuries, etc.. So recently I was injured and the nurse practitioner keeps recommending acupuncturists and chiropractors before we get around to physical therapists. How do I trust the rest of the advice?

  31. #31 Roadstergal
    April 11, 2014

    Place…of wellness

    I kept hearing that in Calculon’s voice… with a… dramatic… pause!

  32. #32 Xplodyncow
    April 11, 2014

    In “Place…of wellness” it’s clear the ellipsis stands for some omitted word(s). Except I’m not feeling clever enough today to fill those in. Any takers?

  33. #33 lilady
    April 11, 2014

    Every time Orac posts about CAM invading academia and hospitals, I immediately check out the tertiary care teaching hospital where all my doctors are affiliated.

    I’m happy to report, there is no “wellness center” and no alternative medicine affiliated practitioners there…not even a chiroquack. There is a HBOT treatment center…for wound care.

  34. #34 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 11, 2014

    Only Bela Lugosi could do “Place…of wellness” justice. As in,
    Heroine – Where is our mysterious benefactor?
    Lugosi – He is in a place … of wellness.
    Camera zooms out of the coach to show a bat flying over the horses.

  35. #35 palindrom
    April 11, 2014

    #34 — Frau Bluecher!

  36. #36 Lurker
    April 11, 2014

    Quetzal @ 26: Thanks; John Cleese has definitely influenced my thinking.

    Erp @ 30: The way to tell the difference is: ask what the mechanism is, and what the peer-reviewed findings are that support it. If the mechanism is within the range of scientific consensus, and/or if there are strong findings to support it, it’s science-based or evidence-based.

    If the claimed mechanism makes use of supernatural forces or appeals to supernatural entities (supernatural = ‘above, before, or outside of nature’) (that’s ‘nature’, not ‘Nature';-) then it’s outside the scope of the natural sciences.

    If the mechanism claims to operate within the scope of the natural sciences (small ‘n’) but is isomorphic with religious claims (e.g. almost anything having to do with ‘Energy,’ capital ‘E’), I’d suggest being sceptical. On the other hand there are practices such as yoga that may be framed in spiritual or religious language, but as long as they only make supportable claims (e.g. yoga for exercise, meditation for reducing stress, massage for relaxation), they may be OK. (What the world needs now are people who teach/use these types of things only within their supportable applications, minus all the baggage, e.g. ‘This hospital offers massage to help patients relax and to help relieve the muscular discomfort that may occur from long periods of lying in bed…’ A good massage may be preferable to a dose of muscle relaxant medication.)

    The word ‘energy’ has vernacular meaning as ‘feelings’ or ‘emotions.’ For example, ‘that song gives me good energy’ = ‘that song gives me good feelings.’ ‘I have a lot of energy today’ = ‘I feel awake, alert, and capable.’ Most of us use the word ‘energy’ in those kinds of ways for brevity. Ideally we would use emotion-words for those purposes, and not use ‘energy’ other than in accord with its proper physical definitions e.g. ‘I’m using public transport because it saves energy.’

  37. #37 Lurker
    April 11, 2014

    Xplodyncow @ 32:

    ‘Placebo of wellness’

    ‘Place-holder of wellness’

    ‘Place of woo, preaching of wellness’

    I think the ellipsis is misplaced and it should be:

    ‘Place of …wellness?!’ As in, ‘Are you …kidding?!’

  38. #38 ann
    April 11, 2014

    FWIW:

    “Wellness” is a widely used word among reputable people, in the part of the behavioral health field that deals with the chronically mentally ill. .

    I agree that it sounds twee and new-age. But schizophrenics can’t really make action plans for achieving “sanity” or “health.”*** So it seems ungenerous to sneer at them for aiming for wellness.

    ***Mary Ellen Copeland — of the Copeland Wellness and Recovery Center — has devised something called the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, which includes a Wellness Toolbox.

    It’s evidence-based, per wiki, though I don’t know how well(ness).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copeland_Center_for_Wellness_and_Recovery

  39. #39 herr doktor bimler
    April 11, 2014

    But most people who are familiar with D&D understand that D&D is a fantasy universe. It makes sense that a fantasy medical technique would work in a fantasy universe.

    Yes, but you *would* say that; you sound Lawful Evil to me.

  40. #40 Narad
    April 11, 2014

    It’s evidence-based, per wiki, though I don’t know how well(ness).

    The seal of approval was based on two papers. Most of the follow-up stuff I’m seeing is by the same group. Cochrane considered at least one in this review.

  41. #41 herr doktor bimler
    April 11, 2014

    Lugosi – He is in a place … of wellness.
    “Wellness” is one New-Age step away from using the term “dis-ease”… which also sounds good in a Hungarian accent.

  42. #42 ann
    April 11, 2014

    @Narad —

    Sounds inconclusive.

    But that was just the first example that sprang to mind, really. Wellness” is a word one hears often among people who do that work. It’s well-suited to the kind of institutional-clinical setting that does outpatient treatment..

    Much like “mindfulness,” in fact.

  43. #43 Militant Agnostic
    April 12, 2014

    Reiki Master Mike Powers began teaching a one-hour introduction to Reiki once a month, and two nurses began teaching Introduction to Healing Touch classes.

    These two modalities are incompatible – they both can’t be right since practicing Reiki requires attunement from a master who was attumed by a master going back eventually to Usui.

    One of (Oh No) Ross and Carrie has been attuned as level II Reiki Practiioner. You can hear their latest podcast where they attempt to get strangers to let them do reiki on them here.

  44. #44 Chris Hickie
    April 12, 2014

    In the context of Orac’s blog, this video from “Kids in the Hall” could be retitled “When reiki masters go bad”–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM5_dgKDsrc

  45. #45 Krebiozen
    April 12, 2014

    I can’t help seeing this trend as a massive category error.

    Rituals like Reiki, acupuncture and homeopathy are things that humans do to change their subjective experiences. Since our subjective experience is all we really have, I think this can be important. Having an illness and our subjective experience of that illness are two very different things. Ritual can undoubtedly play an important role in changing a person’s subjective experience of an illness. That’s how placebos affect people’s perception of pain.

    I don’t see anything wrong with ritual, suggestion and the use of placebos per se, as long as people don’t make the mistake of thinking that what they imagine as part of the ritual has any physical reality. I know that if I vividly imagine energy streaming into my hand for a minute or two, my hand will start to feel warm and tingle. That isn’t because I have directed some kind of energy into my hand, it’s mostly because I am paying attention to that part of my body so I notice any existing sensations more acutely, and partly, perhaps, because of increased blood flow in that area.

    If I know that a Reiki practitioner has spent some time doing whatever he does with the intention of healing me, that may make me feel better, simply because someone caring about me and taking the time and trouble to help me makes me feel good (even if I pay them to do so). This doesn’t mean that the ‘spiritual energy’ that Reiki practitioners imagine has any reality other than metaphorical (I think the alleged mechanisms underlying Reiki, especially the ‘attunements’ are even more ludicrous than homeopathy).

    I agree with Sastra that the danger in these pseudoscientific modalities is that they deceive people. If you undergo a treatment that is based on some imaginary healing energy and you feel better, it is only human to believe that the healing energy is real in some way. There are other dangers, for example masking symptoms and leading people to neglect getting proper treatment, but in the context of ‘integrative medicine’ these are hopefully less of a problem.

    I have said this before, but I think we need a science-based ‘treatment’ that harnesses everything we know about these non-specific ways of making people feel subjectively better. Perhaps a massage, some gentle stretching exercises, a guided visualization, suggestions for a reduction in pain and to pay more attention to the world outside and less to physical discomfort. Perhaps some kind of hypnosis could work. Whatever it is, it has to be effective and based upon our current scientific understanding, instead of some pseudoscientific nonsensical model of reality. I think this is the only way we can combat this “black tide” that is currently threatening rationality in medicine.

  46. #46 Denice Walter
    April 12, 2014

    Agreed, Kreb. But I think that we already have a ‘treatment’ that utilises these ‘non-specific ways’. And I think that we already use it- and by “us” I mean professionals as well as others- whenever we deal with people who are in various dire straits. A type of “social encouragement” or empathetic commiseration as well as suggestions for distraction, caring responses et al.

    I don’t think that it’s necessarily codified but it’s probably familiar to most of us. NOW if we could only get participants in woo-driven flimflam to understand that we all do this all the time- it’s nothing new- we use a sort of hypnosis, distraction, self-soothing ( think of the apes/ monkeys grooming rituals) activities- ( probably explains how many hair and nail salons make money).

    In contradistinction to woo, we can explain these effects sans resorting to mysticism or life forces. Some alties postulate placebo or other interventions as having a physical?/ spiritual? effect that goes beyond our mundane explanations. It activates the xi or suchlike. Gets g-d on our side to fix things up. Raises us to a higher fq.

    When I counselled people who had serious dxs, I always stressed that they could use this time to learn about new things or to experience new avenues of interest- generally it was more cultural opportunities and social contacts- e..g if one liked jazz, get books, tapes at a library, find a radio station. Or suggestions to get outside, walk and enjoy nature ( small n, obviously). A lot of this could of course, be claimed by woo-meisters who like to speak about ‘energies” and mysterious forces rather than simple learning, exercise and social interaction as being beneficial.

    El gran idiot de PRN explains all human interaction as being “energy exchanges’ whereas we simpletons discuss
    silly things like influences, sympathy, encouragement, sharing, transmission of information et al. Oh poor us!

  47. #47 Kausik Datta
    United States
    April 12, 2014

    Pardon me if I sound a bit cynical. Having looked up close at the infiltration of wooful quackademia into several US hospitals and medical care centers, I have begun to believe that these Hospitals – be it Hopkins, or Mayo Clinic, or MD Anderson, and so forth – are, first and foremost, business establishments, in the business of providing a specific kind of service to its customer base – the patient population. Even though some of them like to pretend otherwise, these hospitals – and I am separating them from their associated medical schools – are not really centers for higher or any kind of learning.

    They aim to provide a service, and are guided much by the theory of supply and demand. If enough number of people clamor for a specific service, such as CAM modalities, they provide it – regardless of the doubtful provenance, or lack of demonstrable efficacy. Indeed, if enough people want it, I believe they may even bring back phrenology, blood letting and leech therapy. (I am only half kidding. A Google search for leech therapy amply presents that horrible possibility.)

    The fact – that, by engaging in unproven, pseudoscientific modalities, these hospitals are essentially providing their seal of approval to those and misleading patients – matters not a jot to them. Because, as I said, they are running a business under the façade of patient care. For example, Hopkins the hospital has switched completely to a business model with a CEO and all. Not all the people in the higher administration are even remotely medically trained even.

  48. #48 Lia
    April 12, 2014

    Now I’m not a doctor , I have only studied engineering and now teach maths, but I had a strong interest in alternative medicine when I first went to college as it was offered everywhere. By strong interest I mean I was really curious to see if it really worked since it was being accepted by academia and the nHS and I was really sceptical ( see : thought it was bs) when growing up. After a lot of research ( and I love scrutinising a study) and experience of doctors’ attitudes I came to the conclusion that the placebo effect is valued too much by hospitals that they be happy to sell it to their patients under any pretence. So if people tend to like homeopathy, it ‘s easier to suggest that rather ask the patients to wait till the ailment goes away.

    For the record I have tried reiki with a college friend that used his hands very close to my body but just about not touching it and I would report the effect the same as a cuddle/ light massage- no doubt just the warmth of his hands and sitting still for 10 min. I have also tried reflexology as my dentist was talking to me about some connection of my molars and organs through some nerve pathway and I can say its like relaxing foot massage done by a friend.

    So I think if it s harmless and gets the pressure of the doctors, hospitals would be happy to offer it along. And then of course as you said, these services can be misused by professionals that haven’t looked into it much.

  49. #49 AnnB
    April 12, 2014

    Kausik,

    No more cynical than I.

    It isn’t just patient demand driving this; it is also their satisfaction.

    What affects hospital CEO pay the most

    I think caring individuals increase satisfaction. A doctor can be a placebo too. If woo can be brought in to make the patient feel cared for then it will be. They just need to convince enough people that it really works for them to change the dynamic and start really charging for it, and leave some other medical therapies that may not be cost effective, behind.

  50. #50 Marie
    April 12, 2014

    I was patient in a blood/ marrow transplant unit for about 6 weeks a few years ago and various “complementary ” services were offered. I chose “music therapy” and “psychotherapy”. I also could have chosen therapeutic touch (TT). If you choose TT, staff RNs come in and wave their hands over you.
    When I asked my doctor why a research-based cancer hospital would offer a service that moves “energy” around, he replied, “if it gives patients comfort, what’s the harm? Yes, we wouldn’t choose it, but so what? It’s what patients want.”
    My argument was: 1) TT should then be provided by some type of clergy, certainly not by busy RNs; and, 2) having salaried staff provide TT somehow legitimizes it. Not a good idea.

  51. #51 Sastra
    April 12, 2014

    In addition to being driven by the bottom line, CAM is a popular dump for what’s often called the “worried well.” The ailments are either relatively minor, self-limiting, chronic, or unknown. What to do? Get these people out of the overcrowded waiting rooms and into the Holistic Wellness lounges. If they do eventually get sick enough hopefully someone over there will send them back for some more real tests.

  52. #52 AnnB
    April 12, 2014

    Sastra, your remark resembles me. Sleep efficiency 68%. Luckily strangest thing suggested so far has been light therapy.

  53. #53 Denice Walter
    April 12, 2014

    @ Sastra:

    Rather than frequenting ‘wellness lounges’, I’d prefer to see them hanging around cafes…
    altho’ we probably have quite enough of that already.

  54. #54 Sebastian Jackson
    Karlstad, Sweden
    April 13, 2014

    Back in high school, I sometimes used to watch the local Comcast public access channel, and for a while one of their hosts was a reiki pracitioner from the local Unity Church who claimed she could talk to guardian angels. People would call in all the time about who their angels were, and she would reply that they could have up to three angels with ethnic names like “Sergio.” It was a bizarre, enjoyable experience, but the show only lasted six episodes.

  55. #55 palindrom
    April 13, 2014

    Sebastian @54 — that’s funny! One wonders if any of the guardian angels were ever named something like “Ed”.

    Also, did anyone ever hear of someone who claims to have been, oh, a galley slave in a past life? Or maybe a peasant? Somehow I don’t think everyone was a princess chieftain, noble warrior, or what have you.

  56. #56 Andy
    April 13, 2014

    I do wonder to what extent this acceptance and selling of nonsense really does improve the bottom line in the longer term. There was a time when I would have accepted an argument from pharmacists that genuine pain relief medication should not be sold by supermarkets. But now, with almost all local pharmacies happily promoting and trading in nonsense, I’m not convinced they are better placed than my local grocer to sell me something to assist with any ailment. If a pharmacy isn’t a reliable place to go for accurate specialist advice, why go there for advice at all?

  57. #57 jane
    April 14, 2014

    Of course there are medical researchers who have looked at the overall body of human and animal studies of acupuncture (not just the unblinded Toothpick study) and concluded that it does seem likely to have some sort of bioactivity, even if ancient Chinese physicians did not correctly explain why. But of course your opinion trumps theirs because… um….

  58. #58 Chris,
    April 14, 2014

    “But of course your opinion trumps theirs because… um….”

    Because it is backed by science and reality.

  59. #59 Narad
    April 14, 2014

    even if ancient Chinese physicians did not correctly explain why

    I don’t think 80 years ago qualifies as “ancient.”

  60. #60 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    April 14, 2014

    jane, you are correct that there are researchers who have concluded that acupuncture works after testing it on animals. *Someone* had to publish those studies that exist, after all. But the point is, just because someone believes something strongly enough to go to the effort of publication does not mean they’re right. I have yet to see a study of acupuncture on animals that was actually blinded. The people evaluating the animals knew the animals had been treated. That could certainly color their evaluation of the animals, especially given that they were the sorts of people who wanted to have acupuncture done on animals.

    Oh, and everybody accepts that acupuncture has some activity. How can turning someone into a pincushion not accomplish something? The question is whether or not it has any *useful* activity. We know it causes localized irritation, same as any injury. We know it can have serious side effects, same as any puncture by a sharp, thin foreign body. That’s not really enough to go on when claiming it’s a good idea to do acupuncture.

  61. #61 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 14, 2014

    Jane – if you have a compelling example of a repeated, well done, double blinded, placebo controlled study that shows a clinically significant benefit in a statistically significant percent of the population for acupuncture, I’m willing to discuss whether that’s enough to prove that acupuncture is a valid treatment for that illness.

  62. #62 Narad
    April 14, 2014

    you are correct that there are researchers who have concluded that acupuncture works after testing it on animals

    Don’t forget that it works on cell cultures, too.

  63. #63 LW
    April 14, 2014

    Doesn’t tapping on acupuncture points on dolls while thinking about cell cultures also work on the cell cultures?

  64. #64 AnnB
    April 14, 2014

    Plants have feelings!

    Ok, I am kidding; just using this as an example of when science isn’t science.

    Jane,

    I found a good explanation of why people state that it doesn’t work here.

  65. #65 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 14, 2014

    Cells show remarkably little appreciation for the arts and are unable to discuss the finer points of poetry, even if cultured.

  66. #66 Overseasvet
    April 15, 2014

    This brings up a question of why this nonsense is so persuasive in once noble medical establishments. Given that medicine has been made into a for-profit system with customers replacing patients, is the growth of such woo due to an easy stream of revenue or due to relinquishment of authority from the medical practitioner to the hospital administrator (both?)? Has the insurance companies found a cheap, highly profitable alternative to real medicine and are exploiting what is now their businesses or do they actually believe in the utility of such treatment? Either way it is a sad commentary on the future of medicine in this country. Do doctors have any remaining authority when it comes to the type of medicine offered in hospitals or taught in medical schools or is the system now completely out of the medical professionals hands?

  67. #67 Dorothy
    Oz
    April 15, 2014

    Despite being an atheist, it doesn’t bother me at all if clergy representing traditions with which the sufferers are familiar step forward and ask if the patient or the family would like to pray but somehow I find it irksome that reiki advocates offer their services at this time of vulnerability and extreme emotional trauma.

    Indeed. I’ve often said that I have no objection to chaplains in hospitals and that I would have no objection if reiki practitioners were treated as chaplains and spiritual advisors, rather than as actual health care providers.

    I would tend to reverse this thinking as I think it’s just an extension of religion to begin with. Get rid of the chapels I say! No, actually it’s reasonable to agree with you and Denice. The BIG difference being that the chaplains don’t CHARGE for their services and the chapel is open to everyone free of charge. That’s the only way I would accept these modalities being offered. No putting out donation boxes either.

  68. #68 Dorothy
    April 15, 2014

    I didn’t set off the first two paragraph as quotes. Not sure how to do that other than the use of “s

    Sorry.

  69. #69 Margaret
    Sydney Australia
    April 15, 2014

    If, as physicists tell us, the only basis of the universe is the concept we have of it then, surely bringing that concept into line with a universal sense of goodness must result in a good experience. Delving into matter is like spending time examining and treating what was used to write numbers – chalk, pen, pencil, large, small, blue, red, or green when confronted by an error in a mathematical equation. Wake up!

  70. #70 AlisonM
    http://adhdcommunity.boards.net/
    April 15, 2014

    You know, I could have used a reiki practitioner when I was in intensive care last year. The nurses weren’t too good at getting me settled on the bedpan and changing the pads afterwards. Oh, and they didn’t bring me a toothbrush until the third day. I would have let her wave her hands over me all she wanted as long as she also did the bedpan and toothbrush thing.

  71. #71 LW
    April 15, 2014

    “If, as physicists tell us, the only basis of the universe is the concept we have of it”

    Is that actually what physicists tell us? I’m pretty sure gravity works on rocks, and also pretty sure rocks don’t have any concept of gravity.

  72. #72 herr doktor bimler
    April 15, 2014

    If, as physicists tell us, the only basis of the universe is the concept we have of it

    That never came up when I was getting my degree. Was Margaret using the New-Age Poppycock Generator?

  73. #73 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 15, 2014

    Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
    – Philip K. Dick

  74. #74 Narad
    April 16, 2014

    If, as physicists tell us, the only basis of the universe is the concept we have of it then, surely bringing that concept into line with a universal sense of goodness must result in a good experience.

    Even the strictest of monist idealists would tell you that this is at most a recommendation for keeping a pleasantly decorated, tidy, and clean home. Sound enough advice, but if you’re blaming the “concept” “you” “have” of “the universe” for not being sufficiently “in line” with “a universal sense of goodness,” there’s no point popping up to complain to “other people” about it – it’s a reflection of a character flaw, so get to work on yourself.

    Delving into matter is like spending time examining and treating what was used to write numbers – chalk, pen, pencil, large, small, blue, red, or green when confronted by an error in a mathematical equation. Wake up!

    Given the foregoing, what you’re doing here (and I suspect deliberately, if very poorly) is invoking the rhetoric of the Ch’an encounter dialog (chi-yüan wen ta, J. kien-mondō). Part of the art of this is pithiness; an appropriate summary would be, e.g., “you are trying to hit the Moon with a stick.”

    However, a vastly more important part – and herein lies the terrible irony – is that the goal is to correct students who understand One but don’t understand Two. Even Donovan sort of got this.

    You would castigate “delving into matter”? What do you think made that magic box called “computer”? Did it spring into being because of thinking hard about “universal goodness”? If so, isn’t “universal goodness” nothing other than “delving into matter”? I mean, “you” didn’t simply “will” “it” into “being.”

    So, let’s return explicitly to Ch’an. You know the wild-fox kōan, yah? No? OK, I’ll try to make it short. An old man would come to listen to Huai-hai’s dharma lectures in the Pai-chang temple. One day, he stayed after, and Huai-hai asked what was going on. The old guy had previously been the abbot of Pai-chang but had suffered 500 rebirths for answering the question “Does even a person of great cultivation fall into causality” with pu-lo yin-kuo, “not falling into causality.”

    So, the old guy wanted out of this and asked Huai-hai for liberation. Old guy repeats the original question, and Huai-hai changes one syllable: “pu-mei yin-kuo” – “not obscuring or remaining subject to causality.” The End, mostly.

    Now Haui-hai made “Wake up!” Come back when you drop six inches; then you’ll be closer.

  75. #75 JGC
    April 16, 2014

    Of course there are medical researchers who have looked at the overall body of human and animal studies of acupuncture (not just the unblinded Toothpick study) and concluded that it does seem likely to have some sort of bioactivity, even if ancient Chinese physicians did not correctly explain why.

    Or apparently perform it correctly.. The acupuncture performed by “ancient” Chinese physicians was a form of bloddletting: the thin needle acupuncture popular today was invented around the time of China’s cultural revolution.

    But of course your opinion trumps theirs because… um….

    Becaue there’s a large body of evidence demonstrating that acupuncture is no more effective at treating disease than appropriately matched placebo treatments (e.g., that toothpick study) but no real evidence demonstrating it’s more effective than placebos, or effective at all at treating non-self limiting disase.

  76. #76 Shay
    April 16, 2014

    But of course your opinion trumps theirs because… um….

    Because no proof exists that a) acupuncture is an ancient technique or that b) it acts as more than a temporary, feel-good palliative for those gullible enough to believe in it.

  77. #77 Crystal
    April 18, 2014

    Reiki practices seem to offer comfort to patients who are obviously oblivious to the fact that such a thing as channeling energy from the universe from one person to another is outlandish. How is that even possible. I say it’s a way for these practitioners to make easy money.

    But since it seems to be true that the mind is a powerful tool, if one believes strongly enough in the energies of the universe I suppose they could be healed. Maybe that’s why these practices seem as if though they work.

  78. #78 Crystal 14030706
    April 18, 2014

    Reiki practices seem to offer comfort to patients who are obviously oblivious to the fact that such a thing as channeling energy from the universe from one person to another is outlandish. How is that even possible. I say it’s a way for these practitioners to make easy money.

    But since it seems to be true that the mind is a powerful tool, if one believes strongly enough in the energies of the universe I suppose they could be healed. Maybe that’s why these practices seem as if though they work.

  79. #79 Richard
    Salt Lake City
    April 18, 2014

    I, too, wouldn’t mind if alt med practitioners were treated like chaplans, priests, or bishops whom the patient brought in for spiritual ministrations. But they should not be part of the hospital’s medical program.

  80. #80 Marechelle
    April 21, 2014

    In 2013, I attended a healing service where more than 4000 people were either healed from having cancer, aids, being paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc. Can this healing be classified as ‘Reiki’ if the laying on of hands also occurred, but people did not pay the Pasto’ to heal them, but it just happened?
    I think if the intention of the person ‘healing’ the patient is in his/her own benefit, we can say that – it can find its way into so many academic medical centers, I almost fear that all hope is lost.
    I do agree that:
    If faith healing—which, let’s face it, is all that reiki is
    So, what I am trying to say is that Reiki can be seen as faith healing, but I think the expectations that the patient has when going to a Reiki practitioner, can only be met according to the patients’ faith. The mind also plays a role, because as it was said earlier:
    If I know that a Reiki practitioner has spent some time doing whatever he does with the intention of healing me, that may make me feel better, simply because someone caring about me and taking the time and trouble to help me makes me feel good (even if I pay them to do so).
    Your belief in either a Doctor, Pastor, Reiki practitioner, etc. can only be met according to your belief. If you believe that only an operation or chemo will heal cancer, then that will happen. If you believe that only a Pastor or forgiveness can heal cancer, then that is where your attention to the situation will be placed. If it is being healed by a Doctor, Pastor or Reiki practitioner – that will be classified as your “faith healing.”

  81. #81 Bruce
    April 23, 2014

    @Marechelle, You state that, “In 2013, I attended a healing service where more than 4000 people were either healed from having cancer, aids, being paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc.”
    1. Is your entire post a joke?
    2. If not, what are you doing on Science Blogs?

  82. […] I list some of the high profile medical schools and academic medical centers that offer reiki to patients, the most recent of which I discussed was the University of Arizona Cancer Center. It’s a […]

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