As a skeptic, I'm generally suspicious of what people call "alternative medicine". When I hear that term, I am reminded of the lyrics from Tim Minchin's song, "Storm": By definition ... alternative medicine ... has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine.
I've recently discovered the existence of an alternative medicine called Reiki. This isn't anything new, by the way. Wikipedia informs me that it's been around since the 1920s . It is just new to me and apparently quite popular. The latest fad, if you will.
When I hear about a new alternative medicine my inner skeptic nudges me to find out more about it. Here is what I've discovered.
What is it? Reiki is a form of energy healing. In Japan, ki is what chi is in China - a life energy or force that cannot be detected by scientific instruments but apparently can be felt and manipulated by people. Reiki healers try to channel the universe's ki into the patient to heal them. This is done by holding the hands over a person's body - or lightly touching them. Ki flows through the body of the healer into the patient.
Does it work? Reiki may seem to work because of a placebo affect or the power of suggestion but there is no scientific evidence that it is an effective therapy for any medical condition.
Have there been scientific studies of Reiki? Yes. This 2008 study concluded "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition" and this 2011 study showed that reiki was just as effective as "sham" reiki (where a person pretended to be a reiki healer but just went through the motions).
Is it dangerous? Since only light touch or no touch is involved in the therapy, it should not be dangerous to undergo a treatment session. The only danger involved would be if one were to rely on this therapy over actual medicine to treat a disease or serious illness.
What sort of training does a Reiki healer go through? It can only be learned from a reiki master through a process called attunement where the student's chakras are opened to create a link between the student and the reiki source. This is described as a spiritual process. There are three levels of training. Level one is described here with links to level II and III on that page. It seems like level I and II training costs anywhere from $150 to $350 and level III (or master training) costs from $350 to $10,000.
What does treatment cost? I checked a few places near me who had websites indicating cost. A one hour session of just reiki costs $60 to $70 but some places offered sessions combined with massage that were more expensive. It's not cheap, then!
Conclusion: Reiki is not proven to work any better than "sham" reiki. It is not harmful in itself - though it could cause some damage to your bank account over time. It seems best to steer clear of this "therapy" as paying for it will only encourage healers to continue with the practice and we need a little less "woo" and more science in this world.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia and found here