Why reiki masters can’t lose


Regular readers of my not-so-super-secret other blog, where I write under my own name, know that last month Steve Novella and I published a rather nice (if I do say so myself) opinion piece in a peer-reviewed journal about what we called “clinical trials of magic.” In it, we argued that certain alternative medicine modalities are so incredibly implausible from a purely basic science viewpoint, on physics and chemistry considerations alone, that it is a waste of time and resources, not to mention unethical, to do clinical trials testing them. Two of the main examples we used were homeopathy (of course!) and reiki.

Reiki, as you recall, is a form of “energy healing” that I’ve discussed many times before. Its basic precept is that reiki healers, known as reiki masters, can, through a series of hand gestures that might or might not involve touching the patient and often involve symbols drawn in the air over the patient, tap into what they call the “universal source” and channel energy into the person being treated to heal them. You can probably see why I generally refer to reiki as faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for Christian beliefs. If you can’t see why, then simply substitute the word “God” or “Jesus” for the term “universal source,” and my meaning becomes obvious. Of course, reiki can get even more bizarre, particularly when it’s used in distant healing, which can only be likened (to me, at least) to intercessory prayer or when reiki masters claim to be able to send reiki energy into the past or the future. Yes, it does get even woo-ier than claiming to be able to channel healing energy.

Reiki is, without a doubt, far more a mystical belief system akin to religion than it is anything having to do with medicine. That much is obvious. That’s why I couldn’t resist a bit of amusement when I somehow (don’t ask how!) came across an article by someone named Tammy Hatherill, who runs Tammy’s Tarot and Healing entitled When Your Reiki Client Doesn’t Feel the ‘Energy’.

Wow. So reiki doesn’t always work? Who knew? Well, not exactly. Remember, reiki is a mystical magical belief system. Like a religion, it always works, and if it doesn’t it isn’t because the reiki has failed. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. First, savor the frustration of reiki masters who can’t get their clients to “feel it”:

It doesn’t happen to me very often, but on occasion it does. A client will say, “I don’t feel any different.” Or they may say, “In all honesty I didn’t feel the energy at all”.

What!!! How could the client not feel the wonderful and glorious energy that I felt and sensed whilst giving the treatment? How could they not ‘feel’ any different!!!

Please don’t despair, as the Reiki energy will still be working its magic and will still support the client on all the different levels (emotional/psychological/physical and spiritually.) Just because the client didn’t ‘feel’ anything doesn’t mean the Reiki wasn’t working.

See what I mean? If the patient doesn’t feel any different after the mystical magical glory that is reiki, it doesn’t mean anything at all. The reiki’s still working. How do you know? Well, you don’t. But if you’re a reiki master you do have a patter ready for your client before and after. Before, you basically tell the client that they will feel “something.” That something could range from tingles, colors, heat, cool, floating, heaviness, sleepiness, or peacefulness, to nothing at all. Convenient, isn’t it? I wonder what it would be like to be able to tell my patients that virtually any sensations they feel mean that the treatment worked—even if they feel nothing at all! Talk about a “can’t lose” setup. You really have to tip your hat to whoever thought of this scam.

Then, of course, there’s the after treatment patter for the mark client:

Reiki Practitioner: “So did you experience any of the sensations we discussed at the beginning of the appointment?”

Client: “No I’m sorry I didn’t feel a thing? I don’t think I feel any different”

Reiki Practitioner: “That’s ok, we know that some clients, feel no sensations. That’s perfectly Ok. I can still guarantee that the Reiki will have helped on many different levels, and it most certainly hasn’t caused any harm. I recommend that you keep an eye on your mood and your emotions, and your intake of water. You will probably be very thirsty over the coming days, and may have heightened emotions. If this occurs, please know that this is a natural part of Reiki. “Stuff” will be coming to the surface for you to deal with. Within a few days, you will probably feel the positives that Reiki has done for you. If you have any questions or concerns at all, please know you can ring me or email me and I will talk you through whatever you are experiencing.”

Gee, you don’t think that any of this might be the power of suggestion, would you? Naaah! Perish the thought! Of course, if we listen to Hatherill, the reasons for “failure” could be:

  1. The client may have ‘high’ expectations of what Reiki is (even if you have discussed it prior)
  2. The client may be extremely analytical
  3. Perhaps Reiki is truly not the modality for them
  4. Maybe you are not the right Reiki practitioner for the client
  5. Perhaps you as the practitioner were off balance or not 100 per cent

But don’t worry. Hatherill points out that it’s important that the practitioner understand and accept that “the Reiki is still helping and assisting even if the above factors are present.” This makes me wonder: Who is the reiki for, the client or the practitioner? I mean, I can understand that the poor reiki master’s confidence in the mystical magical energy fields that she claims to be manipulating for therapeutic intent might be shaken by a client taking the best that she can deliver and, despite the priming of the pump with the best pre-reiki patter the reiki master can come up with, basically shrugs her shoulders and says, “Meh.” But, hey, we doctors are not infrequently faced with patients for whom an intervention doesn’t work, failing to relieve the patient’s symptoms. We don’t have the luxury of telling the patient that our treatment worked, even though the patient doesn’t feel any different. We have to have a “Plan B.”

Perhaps the most incredible bit of nonsense comes near the end:

A person does not need to believe in nor feel the Reiki for it to work. So please don’t lose faith in yourself or the modality of Reiki. Some people really don’t feel the benefits during the treatment and yet we know as Practitioners the amazing benefits it will reap for them in the coming days/weeks/months.

No, you don’t need to believe in science-based medicine for it to work. Antibiotics will still cure your pneumonia, whether you “believe” in them or not. An appendectomy will cure your appendicitis, whether you “believe” in appendectomy or not. Lumpectomy or mastectomy can cure a woman’s breast cancer, whether she believes in surgery or not. Reiki is pure placebo, and there is no such thing as reiki energy. it’s never been detected. It’s faith healing. Indeed, even Hatherill says so. Her last wish in her post is that she hopes “it helps you to keep your faith and your belief in Reiki.”

That’s all that really matters, isn’t it? Just like religion. No wonder reiki masters can’t lose.

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