Tag Archives: reiki

Why reiki masters can’t lose

by Orac via Respectful Insolence

reiki 1225Regular 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 cat 139_300pxReiki 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.

reiki-cat 1104_250pxSee 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  .  .  .

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Back to the future with the healing energy of reiki

By Orac via Respectful Insolence

reiki_IHdsCxZvUnGm_200pxOver the last two days, both Mark Crislip and Jann Bellamy wrote great pieces over at Science-Based Medicine about reiki. In particular, Jann Bellamy discussed reiki starting with an example that I’ve been citing in my talks about the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia for at least four or five years now: The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and its website, which describes reiki thusly:

Reiki is a form of hands-on, natural healing that uses universal life force energy. The term comes from the Japanese words “rei,” which translates into universal, and “ki,” which means vital life force energy that flows through all living things. This gentle energy is limitless in abundance and is believed to be a spiritual form of energy. It is not tied to any specific religion or nationality.

The Reiki practitioner is the conduit between you and the source of the universal life force energy. The energy flows through the practitioner’s energy field and through his or her hands to you. The energy does not come from the practitioner; it comes through the practitioner from the universal source. There is no energy drain on the person giving the treatment. You may experience the energy as sensations such as heat, tingling, or pulsing where the practitioner places her hands on your body, or you may feel these sensations move through your body to other locations. This is the energy flowing into you. Some people may not perceive any change at all. Most people feel very relaxed and peaceful. Many clients even fall asleep while receiving Reiki treatment.

The way I like to handle this during a talk is to place an excerpt from the above two paragraphs onto a slide and just let the audience soak in the stupidity. Generally, they react with utter shock that a respected academic medical center would have something so unbelievably ridiculous on their website. I then continue my talk by explaining how reiki is faith healing that substitutes Eastern mysticism for Christian beliefs. reiki-cat 1104_300pxThink about it. In reiki, reiki masters claim to be able to tap into “life force energy” from the “universal source,” as described above, and channel it into a patient for healing effect. Now, substitute the word “God” or “Jesus” for “universal source” in the description above. Yes, that’s faith healing. Stripped to its essence, there’s no difference between reiki and channeling the healing power of Jesus or God into a patient to try to heal him.

That’s why the Catholic Church doesn’t like reiki being practiced in its hospitals, and that’s why fundamentalist Christians view reiki as a “sin.”

Next, I list some of the high profile medical schools and academic medical centers that offer reiki to patients, the most recent of which I discussed was the University of Arizona Cancer Center. It’s a depressing litany that includes luminaries such as M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Yale University (sorry, Steve Novella!), and Harvard, among many others.

Going back and reading about reiki again after having seen Jann’s discussion of whether advertising reiki as medicine could be viewed as fraud and whether there a class action lawsuit charging that could actually succeed, I came upon a hilarious article on reiki that helps to illustrate just how utterly nonsensical the ideas behind reiki are. Now, I’ve discussed how reiki isn’t really any “ancient” Japanese art of healing, having been invented out of whole cloth by a man named Mikao Usui back in the 1920s. I’m referring to an article on About.com’s Holistic Healing page by Phylameana lila Desy entitled Projecting Reiki Energies into Past and Future.

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Also see:

reiki 1225

The Weekend I Became a Reiki Healer

Carrie PoppyBy Carrie Poppy via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

I am a Reiki practitioner, but I don’t believe in Reiki.

That may sound like a contradiction, but apparently it isn’t. One of the lessons Jenny, my Reiki master, taught my class when we first gathered in her small, purple classroom in La Crescenta, California, was this:

poppy-reiki-certificate_cropped_350px“Belief is irrelevant. You don’t have to believe a single word I say. If you have the Reiki energy and even the vaguest intention to heal, it will work.”

Now I had paid $350 to learn the “ancient” technique myself in a class called “Reiki 1-2.” But, contrary to popular myth, Reiki isn’t all that ancient. This hands-on healing method was developed by Mikao Usui just shy of one hundred years ago. The stories are not entirely clear, but the general idea is that he went up on a mountain top in Japan, fasted, and ended up receiving special healing energy from the Heavens, which he then passed down to his students. Reiki is hugely popular in the United States, where you can find a healer in nearly every city. During a Reiki treatment, you can expect your practitioner to wave his or her hands over you, often without even touching you, to heal your body, mind, and spirit. The National Institutes of Health warn that Reiki hasn’t been thoroughly studied and should never replace conventional health care.[1] Our best bet, my instructor told us, was to always assume that whoever we were dealing with was skeptical of Reiki. And plenty of people are.

When I told Jenny I didn’t know whether I thought Reiki was real myself, she said, “Oh, perfect! People who believe in Reiki are so boring. Skeptics are so much fun! Skeptics are the easiest to work with, because they want to be fair. Just go through the motions, and let them tell you if it worked. Pretend you know what you’re doing.”

reiki-cat 1104_300pxThe six of us students looked at our hands, which would soon be divine instruments.

“This is a metaphysical software download,” Jenny said. “It works as long as you have the software.”

Jenny explained that everyone’s hands have some healing energy, but 10–20 percent of the population have enough to be healers already. People who get the special healing Reiki energy (passed down from Usui to every other master and student since Reiki’s birth) have the strongest, most divinely guided healing powers possible. And receiving the two “attunements” we would get in this class meant having “Super Hands” forever. It couldn’t be undone. Jenny had guided this process many times, training 2,000 students, ages five to one hundred, over twenty-three years.

For the most part, Jenny seemed like a warm, intelligent woman who defied my expectations of a Reiki teacher at every turn. She studied biology in college and was staunchly pro-GMO. Although she wore a fair amount of green and purple, her outfit was simple and all-American. Her long, brown hair was cut in straight bangs, and she was as glued to her iPhone as everyone else in the class. Besides her odd habit of saying “yesterday” instead of “tomorrow”—“We’ll learn about animal Reiki yesterday”—she was downright normal.

When it came time to receive the sacred Reiki attunements, we all sat in a circle, closed our eyes, and waited for Jenny to walk around the outer edge of our chairs, giving the six of us the holy energy one at a time.reiki 1225 I was sitting with my hands in prayer position, centering myself and focusing on the holy energy within me already, though what I felt most strongly was a longing for the Thai restaurant next door. She reached in front of me and grasped my palms with hers, lifting my arms above my head. Then she patted my crown three times, whistled a strange tune, and touched my back. That was it. I now had partial Reiki powers.

When we opened our eyes, my classmates and I exchanged notes. Richard felt his heart become heavy and his hunger go away upon receiving the energy. Mary felt lightning bolts in her head. Tasha felt vulnerable, like wings had popped open on her back, exposing her spine. Priscilla, a physical therapist, said she was relieved she could finally be a true healer. Pablo and I were the only ones who didn’t feel much. Jenny said all our experiences were equal. We didn’t need to feel anything.

Now that we had received half of the full Reiki energy, we practiced on each other. First, the class tried to cure my headaches by feeling for lumps in the energy field above my head. I was as lumpy-headed as my teacher had expected. My fellow students all stood above me, their hands miming the removal of stagnant energy about three inches above my skull.

“Oh wow,” they said. “I can definitely feel it.”

When it was over, the teacher asked me how I felt.

“Well, fine… But I didn’t have a headache before.”

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Earth Day Festival 2014: How was the Woo?

by The Locke via The Soap Box

Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.

Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.

The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.

Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year  .  .  .


.  .  .  and the chiropractors from last year are back as well  .  .  .


.  .  .  but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:


Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.

Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.

Then there’s the woo.

They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.

In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.

The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was  .  .  .

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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

5 Things I’ve noticed about… Alternative Medicine

by via The Soap Box

alternative-medicine-for-dummies_150pxAlternative Medicine.

It’s a multi-billion dollar scam industry that millions of people around the world use the products and services of year after year.

Many people who use alternative medicine will say it works, while many, many others will say otherwise.

Now there are a lot of things that I have notice about alternative medicine, but I have narrowed it down to five different things.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about alternative medicine:

5. It has a lot to do about nothing.

Alternative medicine products and services basically comes in two different forms: does nothing and uses nothing.

homeopathic-remedy-lol_200pxMost alternative medicine just doesn’t work at all (such as homeopathy), and the few that actually does do something, the effects are minor and no where near as effective as real medicine, and could even be harmful if done improperly.

Then there are some that not only does nothing, but uses nothing as well. Reiki healing is a prime example of this as practitioners of Reiki healing practitioners claim that they use “energy” from some unknown source to “heal” people. Sometimes they will use crystals to harness this power. Sometimes they’ll just use their hands. Regardless of how they “harness” this energy, they all do the same thing: nothing.

4. It works off of anecdotal evidence

anecdotal evidence_300pxSome of the best “evidence” that practitioners of alternative medicine have about how effect the products and services they offer works is anecdotal evidence. In fact it’s not just best evidence they can give, it’s also often the only evidence they can ever give (besides the stuff they make up) mainly because scientific experimentation and testing have proven that their products and services are useless.

Most practitioners of alternative medicine will tell you that their products and services does make people feel better, what they often don’t tell you is how long it took to fix or cure whatever was ailing those who used their products or services, or whether they were using real medicine and medical services along with the alternative medicine, or how many people it didn’t work for and ended up having to go and get real medicine and medical services when the alternative medicine failed to cure any thing but perhaps a heavy wallet. And that’s another thing about alternative medicine…

3. It gets expensive.

Some alternative medicine is cheap (or at least it seems that way) but a lot of it is either over priced and even cost to much for some to use (which can be a good thing in a way, because the expense forces that person to go get real medicine). Even for people with health insurance it can still get expensive because most health insurance companies will not pay for alternative medicine, so a person who wants to use alternative medicine will have to pay for it out of pocket.

Even for the alternative medicine that isn’t expensive, and can still get expensive because . . .

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Reiki Healing

Via The Soap Box

reiki-cat 1104_250pxReiki healing. It is a form of alternative medicine that was invented in 1922 by Mikao Usui that many people (particularly those in the New Age Movement) believe that people can focus this energy from some supernatural source and use it to heal people.

While there are a lot of things that I’ve noticed about Reiki healing, there are five particular things that I’ve noticed about it.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about Reiki healing:

5. It’s like faith healing without God.

Reiki healing is to the New Age Movement what faith healing is to Christian Fundamentalist: they both are using a source of energy from a supernatural power that is basically far beyond what they can really comprehend (and that they will admit to not fully understanding it) and expect it to do your bidding. Also, practitioners tend use their hands as a way to channel this energy into the “patient”.

That is the basics of what both faith healing and Reiki healing is, the only real differences is that with faith healing you at least know where this energy is suppose to be coming from, where as in Reiki healing there can be multiple sources where this supposed energy is coming from (except from God… usually). And that’s another thing about Reiki healing…

4. There is no set source from where this energy comes from.

reiki_IHdsCxZvUnGm_200pxDo you know where your spiritual healing energy is coming from? Well, neither do Reiki healing practitioners.

The range of alleged sources for the energy that Reiki healers claim they get this energy from to do their healing varies. Some claims it’s from themselves. Some claims it’s from the “patient”. Some claims it’s all life around us (kind of like the Force from Star Wars). Some claims it’s from the Earth. Some claims it’s from spirits. Some claims it’s from the Sun. Some claim it’s from the Universe.

In other words there is no agreement on where this alleged energy comes from. The only agreement amongst Reiki healing practitioners is that this energy is good for you.

3. It should be cheap.

money-stacks-psd70735_200pxAccording to Reiki healing practitioners, Reiki energy is all around us and/or inside of us, and if you believe them, it is an unlimited resource that can be used by anyone… theoretical speaking.

Now considering this it should be pretty darn cheap to go to a Reiki healing practitioner and have them try to heal you (hence the word “try”) because they don’t have to buy anything to do what they do, they’re just using their own mental power to force your body to heal.

Most people would think that after considering all of these factors that Reiki healing would be cheap, except…

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The Three Categories of Alternative Medicine

Via The Soap Box

alternative_759_400pxAlternative medicine is a really big business, and is practiced around the world (in some places more than others).

In some place in the world it might be practiced because the people there either can’t afford modern medicine, or more likely they either just can’t get access to modern medicine, or they feel they have no need for modern medicine because they have been taught that their local folk medicine works. In other places in the world it could be just simply that they don’t trust pharmaceutical companies.

So back at the subject at hand, alternative medicine can be basically categorized into three different types:


While many people might say that no forms of alternative medicine work, there are in fact a few that do work to some extent, they just don’t do to the extent that many of the practitioners of that alternative medicine claims, and that there are more effective (and sometimes cheaper) conventional medical practices that can be done.

Examples of this would be acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and even vitamin supplements can be categorized into this group, and that is if these things done correctly, otherwise some of these things could be not effective at all, or even dangerous.

It should also be noted that this is the smallest category for alternative medicines as most alternative medical practices are like the next two categories.


This is the largest of the three alternative medicine categories as simply put, almost all alternative medical practices just do not work at all, and is mainly based off of anecdotal evidence, rather than real, scientific evidence.

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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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Does Reiki really work?

via Relatively Interesting

Reiki, a spiritual practice developed by a Japanese Buddhist in 1992, has developed into various traditions. reiki-healing-the-world_250pxSome call is palm healing, others label it hands on healing – bottom line, it’s complementary therapy and a form of meditation. That being said, Reiki stands out in the world of meditation – but why?

A traditional Reiki whole-body Reiki treatment would go like this: The Reiki practitioner has the patient lie down and relax on a massage table, and then helps bring the patient to a clear and more peaceful state of mind. The practitioner places his hands either on or above various positions and is kept for a few minutes on each position. The main areas covered by this process are the head, back and front of the upper body, the knees and the feet. A general treatment usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

The practitioners believe they are “transferring universal energy (known as reiki) through the palms that allow self-healing and a state of equilibrium.” The process is energizing as a massage and there is a unique emotional/mental level of enhancement that the form of meditation provides. Reiki is unique for having its own array of formats and soundtracks.

Some hospitals have adapted Reiki principles in their programs to help cancer patients and other ill-bodied folk. reiki-hand_200pxThroughout the country, Reiki has become a regular practice for them. However, according to the American Cancer Society, “Available scientific evidence at this time does not support claims that Reiki can help treat cancer or any other illness. More study may help determine to what extent, if at all, it can improve a patient’s sense of well being.” Backed by the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) on that theory, Reiki has no scientific evidence to help anyone with anything. But then again, the art of meditation and massage has never been backed by science (other than for general relaxation and localized improvements, respectively) – it dates back for centuries and is based on anecdotal results rather than scientific research. There must be something to it; otherwise the tradition would have died down over the years instead of finding its way into modern-era hospitals.  That something is called “the placebo effect“.  Throw in a little confirmation bias, and a dash of  personalized 1-on-1 attention from another person, and you’ve got yourself an “effective treatment“.

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Reiki – Based on a nonexistent spiritual “energy”

Reiki (sometimes mispronounced as /rejˌiki/, it is properly pronounced /reːki/) is a pseudoscientific therapy based on the following beliefs:

  • there is a universal and inexhaustible spiritual “energy”[1] which can be used for healing purposes
  • through an attunement process carried out by a Reiki Master, any person can gain access to this “energy”
  • this “energy” will flow through the Reiki Master’s hands when he/she places his/her hands near the patient
  • this “energy” has human-like intelligence
  • as this “energy” is intelligent, there is no need for diagnosis. This “energy” will automatically judge the disease and will heal the patient.

It can be dangerous, or even life-threatening, if someone avoids evidence-based medicine and relies upon Reiki for treatment.

Keep Reading: Reiki – RationalWiki.

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