It’s not like we haven’t had this discussion before. I have, on previous blogs, written about the fantasy that is reiki, as have my colleagues. In fact, the very same colleague turned me on to a recent news piece out of Cleveland. Here’s my problem with reiki—it’s bullshit, pure and simple.
“But how can you be so dismissive?,” a credulous reader might ask. My answer comes in two parts.
OK, so I made up that phrase—which is exactly what I have in common with the founder of reiki. In 1922 Mikao Usui (JSG) fasted on a mountaintop in Japan and “received” the revelation of reiki. In other words, he made it up. Of course, the concept of qi was not foreign to Japanese culture, so it’s not like he made up the very idea of life energy, just the entire system of so-called energy healing. Still, life energy as a concept is a horrid anachronism, dating back to a time before we understood biology. There is no such thing as “life energy”. Since it is immeasurable, unobservable, and exerts no measurable effects, it is almost by definition non-existent. (Note, one of the key words there is “measurable”, but more on that in a minute.) Reiki is really nothing more than vitalism, the discredited ancient idea that there is an immaterial life force separate from the physical body. Of course, this vitalism infuses some other modern idiocies as well, such as Michael Egnor’s mind-body dualism. Once you’ve let one implausible medical practice in the door, you’ll let anyone in.
One of the reiki websites says something that pretty much sums it up:
Its use is not dependent on one’s intellectual capacity or spiritual development and therefore is available to everyone.
First of all, just about everything in some way depends on one’s intellectual capacity, but that’s perhaps being pedantic. But really, human medicine is a pretty intellectually demanding field. Applying it properly demands not only an expertise in human biology, but also an ability to read and understand the evidence supporting various practices. Evidence?
Evidence—there isn’t any
Really, there isn’t. Every once in a while, I skim the literature to see what may be new regarding various cult medicine practices. There are dozens of pilot studies and case reports, which are basically useless, but most of the controlled trials have failed to show any benefit to reiki above that of placebo. (The pilot studies mostly evaluate the safety of reiki, which shouldn’t be in doubt given its inert nature.) For example, an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (not exactly hostile ground for reiki) published a randomized controlled trial of reiki for fibromyalgia pain. The conclusions?
Neither Reiki nor touch improved the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Energy medicine modalities such as Reiki should be rigorously studied before being recommended to patients with chronic pain symptoms. (J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Nov;14(9):1115-22.)
If reiki is so damned promising, it shouldn’t be all that hard to measure an effect.
Same as the old boss
Reiki is no different from any other cult medicine practice. There are charismatic leaders, credulous believers, and a lot of folks who want to make sure no one is peeking around to see how money is being separated from suffering patients. You see, the reiki folks want it both ways: they don’t want to be seen as health care providers and subjected to licensing and oversight, but they are also claiming to be able to positively affect a person’s health. Which is it? Are you a healer or not? If so, you shouldn’t be afraid to be licensed. After all, if you can manipulate body energies for good, who says you can’t also do it for ill? Shouldn’t we have a board to investigate the improper use of reiki to put a mojo on people?
Reiki is no different from any other woo. It is an unproven and unproveable practice based on discredited ideas about the human body, and those who practice it are often looking to make a buck at the expense of those in need. For shame.