Tag Archives: energy medicine


steven_novellaby via Science-Based Medicine

Reiki (pronounced raykey) is a form of “energy healing,” essentially the Asian version of faith healing or laying on of hands. Practitioners believe they are transferring life energy to the patient, increasing their well-being. The practice is popular among nurses, and in fact is practiced by nurses at my own institution (Yale).

From reiki.org, we get this description:

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.

reiki-healing-the-world_250pxReiki is therefore a form of vitalism – the pre-scientific belief that some spiritual energy animates the living, and is what separates living things from non-living things. The notion of vitalism was always an intellectual place-holder, responsible for whatever aspects of biology were not currently understood. But as science progressed, eventually we figured out all of the basic functions of life and there was simply nothing left for the vital force to do. It therefore faded from scientific thinking. We can add to that the fact that no one has been able to provide positive evidence for the existence of a vital force – it remains entirely unknown to science.

But the discarded science and superstition of the past is the “alternative medicine” of today. There are many so-called “CAM” modalities that are based on vitalism, including Reiki. Reiki, in fact, is very similar to therapeutic touch, reiki-cat 1104_300pxanother energy healing modality that was popular among nurses, and although it continues to be used it is much less popular after 9 year old girl (Emily Rosa) performed an elegant experiment to show that it was nothing but self-deception. Reiki nicely moved in to fill the void.

The research on Reiki, and energy healing in general, is similar to that of many similar modalities – those with very low scientific plausibility that are not taken very seriously by medical scientists. The research is of generally low quality, poorly controlled small studies that seem designed to justify Reiki rather than see if it actually works. The most recently published study, for example, looks at anxiety levels and self-reported well being in cancer patient and finds, unsurprisingly, that patients feel better when they receive the kind attention of a nurse. The study is completely uncontrolled, and therefore of dubious value. One might consider such a study a complete waste of time and effort, as the results were never in doubt.

A 2011 review of reiki studies concluded:

The existing research does not allow conclusions regarding the efficacy or effectiveness of energy healing. Future studies should adhere to existing standards of research on the efficacy and effectiveness of a treatment, and given the complex character of potential outcomes, cross-disciplinary methodologies may be relevant. To extend the scope of clinical trials, psychosocial processes should be taken into account and explored, rather than dismissed as placebo.

In other words – existing research is a such poor quality we cannot draw any useful conclusion from it. I disagree, however, that this necessarily means that more research is needed. The low plausibility of using magical energy that has never been demonstrated to exist by medical science argues otherwise. Further, the last sentence is odd – it suggests the authors are trying to spin placebo effects into real effects. This is increasingly the strategy of alternative medicine advocates as it becomes clear that most of the modalities they favor do not work any better than placebo (which means they don’t work).

Reiki is now squarely in that camp.

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Also See: Full of Energy « Science-Based Medicine

Therapeutic Touch

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Therapeutic touch is a kind of energy medicine. Those who do therapeutic touch wave their hands over a patient’s body to fix their subtle energy. The science says there is no such subtle energy.

energyhealingTherapeutic touch is a kind of energy healing. Some people believe that health and sickness are caused by some sort of magical energy being blocked or out of whack in some way. There is no scientific support for this magical energy. It can’t be measured by any of our very high tech machines. Yet, many people swear it exists and that they can move it around or transfer some of their energy into another person.

Energy healers say they can “feel” the energy going through or around a person’s body. This is odd because the human hand is not a very sensitive instrument compared to some of the million-dollar machines we have these days to measure very small particles or packets of energy.

Therapeutic touch healers wave their hands over the body of a sick person. The healer thinks she is moving energy around and that this somehow helps the healing.

patlinsedrawingNine-year-old Emily Rosa tested twenty-one therapeutic touch healers to see if they could feel the energy in one of her hands when they could not see if a hand was actually placed under theirs. She placed a screen with a hole in it for the healer’s arm to go through. Emily sat on the other side of the screen and placed her hand or didn’t place her hand under the healers hand for each test. The healers had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 123 times in 280 tests. Wild guessing would have got about 140 correct answers. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not feel the energy of Emily’s hands when placed near theirs. If they can’t feel the energy, how can they move or transfer it? What are they feeling? Most likely they are feeling what has been suggested to them by those who taught them this practice. Their feelings of energy appear to be created in their own minds.

How does energy healing work?

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Eneregy Healing: Looking in all the Wrong Places

By Robert Todd Carroll via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

(This article was written in response to “The energy to heal” by Jenny Hontz, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2004.)

reiki-hand_200pxHow is it possible to get relief from swelling, pain, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and an assortment of other ailments without the use of medicine or surgery? It happens all the time and has been going on for centuries. It’s called by many names but these days it’s mostly called “energy healing.” Whatever name it goes by, ultimately it amounts to faith healing. The amazing thing about it is that the healer need not even touch the patient. In fact, the healer need not even be in the presence of the patient. Powerful medicine, no? Yes, very powerful and not completely understood, though there are many theories being offered, the most common ones these days being couched in terms of chi or prana, meridians, auras, and chakras. Is there any evidence that there is a metaphysical life force (call it “energy” or “chi” or whatever you want) that determines health depending on whether it is blocked or flowing? If there is, I’d like to see evidence for it that’s not just post hoc reasoning and begging the question.

In the eighteenth century, Franz Anton Mesmer had the ladies of Paris convinced he could heal them. He convinced himself he had tapped into a new force. He called it “animal magnetism.” There’s about as much evidence for animal magnetism as there is for chi. Most scholars now believe that Mesmer stumbled upon hypnotism. He eventually figured out that he didn’t need the magnets he was using. Just waving his hands did the trick. Modern day nurses practicing what they call “therapeutic touch” seem to have hit upon the same formula. Aura healers and chakra healers have been practicing their craft under different names for centuries. In Japan the practice of energy healing is known as reiki. Psychometry636They just wave their hands over the patient and “feel” the energy moving. The patient feels it, too. Great stuff but what’s really going on? How did so many different people independently discover energy healing? It must be because there really is energy that can be manipulated to bring about healing, right? Not necessarily.

Nine-year old Emily Rosa tested 21 therapeutic touch (TT) practitioners to see if they could feel her life energy when they could not see its source. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not detect the life energy of the little girl’s hands when placed near theirs. They had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 44% of the time in 280 trials. If they can’t detect the energy, how can they manipulate or transfer it? What are they detecting? Dr. Dolores Krieger, one of the creators of TT, has been offered $1,000,000 by James Randi to demonstrate that she, or anyone else for that matter, can detect the human energy field. So far, Dr. Krieger has not been tested.

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via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

reiki_300pxReiki (pronounced ray-key) is a form of energy healing that centers on the manipulation of ki, the Japanese version of chiRei means spirit in Japanese, so reiki literally means spirit life force.

Like their counterparts in traditional Chinese medicine who useacupuncture, as well as their counterparts in the West who usetherapeutic touch (TT), the practitioners of reiki believe that health and disease are a matter of the life force being disrupted. Belief in a life force, known as vitalism, was common in the West until the 19th century. Since then, the concept of life force has joined phlogiston, ether, and many other superannuated ideas on the rubbish heap of discarded scientific notions.

The belief in vitalism is still strong in China, India (where the life force is called prana), Africa (animism), and Japan  Each believes that the universe is full of some sort of vital energy that cannot be detected by any scientific instruments, but which can be felt and controlled, often by special people who learn the tricks of the trade.

reiki-cat 1104Reiki healers differ from acupuncturists in that they do not try tounblock a person’s ki, but to channel the ki of the universe so that the client or patient heals. The channeling is done with the hands, and like TT no physical massaging is necessary since ki flows through the body of the healer into the patient. The reiki master claims to be able to draw upon the energy of the universe and increase his or her own energy while performing a healing. Reiki healers claim to channel ki into ill or injured individuals for “rebalancing.” Depending on the training and beliefs of the healer, reiki is used to treat a wide array of ailments. Larry Arnold and Sandra Nevins claim in The Reiki Handbook (1992) that reiki is useful for treating brain damage, cancer, diabetes, and venereal diseases. Many reiki healers are more modest and treat lesser problems such as fatigue or muscle soreness. I was once treated by a reiki practitioner for a wrist injury. The treatment didn’t work because I was a non-believer, or so I was told. If the healing fails—and it will inevitably fail for such things as cancer—it is because the patient is resisting the healing energy. Non-belief is one of the great blocks to healing energy. There is a reason for that, which we will explore below.

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Vibrational Medicine

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

NewAgeVibrational medicine is a type of energy medicine. Energy medicine is based on vitalism, the metaphysical doctrine that living organisms possess a non-physical inner force or energy that gives them the property of life. This metaphysical force goes by many names: chi or qi (China), prana (India), ki (Japan); Wilhelm Reich’s orgone, Mesmer’s animal magnetism, Bergson’s élan vital (vital force), Reichenbach’s odic force, etc. American advocates much prefer the term energy or subtle energy. Many kinds of alternative therapies or energy medicines are based on a belief that health is determined by the flow of this alleged energy: acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, crystal therapy, therapeutic touch, reiki, and qigong are a few of the better known therapies. Not so well known are practices such as Aura-Soma, aura therapy, Comprehensive Energy Psychology, radionics, Sacred Santémony, and tone vibration transformation.


Dr. Albert Abrams (1863-1924)

The founding father of modern vibrational medicine was Dr. Albert Abrams (1863-1924), the “dean of twentieth century charlatans.”* Abrams called his healing method radionics and claimed that he was able to detect distinct energies or vibrations (radiation) being emitted from healthy and diseased tissue in all living things. He invented devices that allegedly could measure this energy (vibration, radiation) and he created a system for evaluating vibrations as signs of health or disease.

The fact that no scientific instrument has been able to detect subtle energy and that modern science abandoned vitalism more than a century ago has had little deterrent effect on the belief that health depends on an invisible form of energy. Worse, despite the lack of compelling scientific evidence for any form of energy medicine, there are many pseudoscientific devices on the market that claim to heal by vibrational therapy (see here). The sellers of these devices have found a niche market among the desperate who cling to magical thinking against the claims of science.

aura_150pxAs true believers are wont to say: the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That is, just because there is no compelling scientific evidence that subtle energy exists doesn’t mean that such energy doesn’t exist. True, but belief in subtle energy is based on faith. The compelling scientific evidence shows that what is often attributed to subtle energy is due to the placebo effect, is an illusion, or can be easily accounted for by other non-mysterious factors such as poor study design, regression to the mean, suggestion, conditioning, or the body healing itself naturally.

Vibrational medicine adds the twisted belief that subtle energies vibrate and that these vibrations are either healthy or unhealthy. (Note: there is absolutely no evidence for these beliefs about vibrations and there have been no scientific studies that have ever identified such vibrations.)

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