This article is the latest in my discussion of alternative medicine approaches that have become commonplace in the care and treatment of our companion animals. Today, we will discuss the art of Reiki.
What is Reiki?
According to its practitioners
“Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.” (What is Reiki, nd)
The origin of Reiki dates back to the early 20th century Japan and is credited to Mikao Usei. Usei is said to have investigated ancient, lost healing arts and rediscovered the art of directing Universal Life-Force Energy (Rowland, 2010) for the purpose of healing illness and injury. The research he is supposed to have performed in recovering this healing art is not documented and a plethora of legends have sprung up about it. Some accounts invented by later Reiki practitioners say that he journeyed to India to study with healing mystics there and others imply that he learned the methods by which the Buddha performed healing miracles (Monckton, nd). He is said to have trained a few disciples in this healing art who, in turn, trained others. Over the years, this practice has become both refined and varied in its application.
What is a Reiki practitioner?
There are three levels of Reiki “mastery”, each of which can be learned from a course of instruction. There is no oversight or professional certification for Reiki; students are certified by whichever organization they enroll in for courses of training (Nelson, nd; Crowhurst, nd.) Many of these courses are available online for home study. Reiki practitioners are said to be “attuned” by the Reiki master who trains them, either in person or by correspondence (Adams, 2016)
How is Reiki administered?
There really is no standard of treatment for Reiki practitioners.
- Touch: Traditional Reiki is administered by the practitioner physically touching the person who is under treatment and channeling healing energy to that person through his or her hands.
There are standard locations for this touching to take place (the seven chakras of the human body), however the practitioner is also able to place his hands anywhere that he feels the flow of energy is required (Cutler, 2011)
- Non-touch: In cases of physical injury, Reiki practitioners will often position their hands over the injury, claiming that healing energies are being channeled into the wounded or injured area. This is often done in Reiki treatments of animals. This is often done from a considerable distance, for the safety of the Reiki practitioner (Adams 2016). Practitioners will also “beam” Reiki from across a room for safety reasons (Paul, nd).
- Remotely: Reiki is also administered remotely, over great distances, across time and space, by the practitioner holding a piece of paper with a “patient’s” name and address, or even a picture of that person, while manipulating symbols or crystals. This is done by means of “The Hermetic Law of Similarity” which states that we are all made of energy and are therefore all connected (Johnson, 2015).
What is the standard of treatment?
Given that Reiki is administered either by touch, without touching, across a room or across great distances, there is no standard of treatment. Nor are there any specific standards for addressing particular injuries or ailments; this is all left to the subjective judgement of the Reiki practitioner.
And there is no standard of training. Every Reiki instructor certifies his or her own students in whatever methods are included in that course of training. There is no measurement of effectiveness except for the subjects’ feelings of whether they have been helped by the treatment.
How is it used in veterinary treatment?
It is used to treat animals for a variety of conditions, by the same touch, non-touch, distance methods discussed above. Some Reiki practitioners have identified the locations of animals’ chakras, which would server to determine where the healing energy should be directed.
Does Reiki work?
There are very few quality studies of Reiki. Most have been found to be seriously flawed by lack of control groups, subjective interpretation of data and other flaw. A 2008 review of clinical trials of Reiki treatment for a variety of conditions concluded:
“In total, the trial data for any one condition are scarce and independent replications are not available for each condition. Most trials suffered from methodological flaws such as small sample size, inadequate study design and poor reporting…In conclusion, the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.” (Lee, Pittler & Ernst, 2008)
One 2017 review of studies, performed by a member of the Australian Usei Reiki Association, claimed that the majority of clinical trials indicate that Reiki is ‘a safe and gentle “complementary” therapy that activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind.’ (McManus, 2017). However, it should be noted that the author of this review has no medical qualifications, and that the parasympathetic nervous system controls resting heart rate and digestion and performs no healing functions.
A 2011 study examined the use of Reiki in which a group of people undergoing chemotherapy underwent treatment by certified practitioners, while another group were treated by untrained persons performing “sham Reiki”, with a third (control) group of patients undergoing standard care. This study found that the persons treated by both the certified and “sham” (placebo) groups reported the same results in terms of well-being and comfort in comparison with the control group. The study concluded that there is no medical benefit derived from Reiki, but that patients derive a sense of well-being from one-on-one care from a nurse practitioner, regardless of the care being provided (Catlin & Taylor-Ford, 2011). I was also able to find a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study found that Reiki had no effect over placebo on subject’s heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and stress (Bat, 2021).
So, based on the evidence, we can only conclude that Reiki is a placebo. And, despite its popularity and the mythology surrounding it, there is no indication that it has any medical or therapeutic value. As the Catlin and Taylor-Ford study indicated, the value of Reiki is simply the one-on-one presence of a supportive person.
But, if it’s a placebo, how can it work on pets?
The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The placebo effect is felt by the animals’ owners. The owners are primed by the Reiki practitioner to see signs of improvement in their animals and, being inclined to believe in this treatment, fall victim to confirmation bias. This is particularly the case with dogs. Dogs are very attuned to our moods and are adept at reading our body language and facial expressions, and they look to us for social cues. If a dog sees that his owner is encouraged or relieved that a treatment is perceived to be working, then that dog will respond to the owner’s change in mood – further reinforcing the owner’s belief that Reiki has worked wonders.
I am sure that many Reiki practitioners are sincere and honestly believe in their work. But the simple fact is that there is no medical value in this “therapy”. And, if it is used in place of proven, science-based veterinary medicine, then it is harmful and amounts to withholding care from suffering animals.
Adams, T. (January 4, 2016). Reiki for Animals. Retrieved from Reiki for Animals | Intuitive Understanding
Bat, N. (2021). The Effects of Reiki on Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, Body Temperature, and Stress Levels: a Pilot Randomized, Double-Blinded, and Placebo-Controlled Study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 43 (5). doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101328
Catlin, A. and Taylor-Ford, R. L. (2011). Investigation of Standard Care Versus Reiki Placebo Versus Actual Reiki Therapy to Enhance Comfort and Well-Being in a Chemotherapy Infusion Center. Oncology Nursing Forum 38 (3). doi: 10.1188/11.ONF.E212-E220
Crowhurst, M. (nd). Reiki Level I, II and Master Certification – Energy Healing. Retrieved from Reiki Certificate: Master Certification in Energy Healing | Udemy
Cutler, N. (2011). Reiki Hand Positions. Institute for Integrative Healthcare. Retrieved from Reiki Hand Positions | Massage Professionals Update (integrativehealthcare.org)
Johnson, K. (2015). The Awesomeness of Distance Reiki. Retrieved from universoulheart.net/soul-journeys-2/the-awesomeness-of-distance-reiki.html
Lee, M. S., Pittler, M. H. and Ernst, E. (2008). Effects of Reiki in Clinical Practice: A Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials. The International Journal of Clinical Practice 62 (6). P 947-954. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.x
McManus, D. E. (2017). Reiki is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine 22 (4). 1051 – 1057. doi: 10.1177/2156587217728644
Monckton, G. (nd). The History of Reiki. Retrieved from The History of Reiki (georgianamoncktonreiki.com)
Nelson, D. (nd). Reiki Infinite Healer. Retrieved from Reiki Infinite Healer Course | Chakras, Symbols + Certification
Paul, N. (nd). Using Reiki for the Family Pet. Retrieved from Using Reiki for the Family Pet – dummies
Rowland, A. Z. (2010). The Complete Book of Traditional Reiki, Practical Methods for Personal and Planetary Healing. Kindle Edition, Retrieved from Amazon.com
What is Reiki? (nd), The International Center for Reiki Training. Retrieved from What is Reiki? | Reiki