As with many CAM therapies, literature on reiki research contains too few and mostly flawed randomized controlled trials (RTC), along with observational and descriptive studies, and exploratory studies of physiological changes. In an overview of reiki in the same issue of ATHM, Reiki master Pamela Miles, founding director of the Institute for the Advancement of Complementary Studies in New York, N.Y. and associate Gale True, Ph.D., provide a summarization of the current state of this research, pointing to the usefulness of a more inclusive criteria — one that also embraces qualitative and mixed methodological design. Noting that patient-centered outcomes can be as meaningful as clinical ones, they state, “Randomized, controlled trials may not be the ideal strategy in cases where the outcomes being measured are related to chronic disease with uncertain trajectory, or where the treatment being investigated is not easily standardized or consists of multiple components.” Nevertheless, there will continue to be a demand for RTCs in this field, and this need must be addressed.
Among the reports to date, a number have studied reiki together with other energy therapies, “confounding the ability to evaluate the separate effects of those therapies.” Wirth et al, conducted a series of small studies throughout the 1990s focused primarily on measurable physiological reactions, all fraught with limitations but indicating some promising results. In a 1996 report on hematological measures, the team documented significant effects of reduced pain and blood urea nitrogen (kidney function), as well as a trend toward normalizing blood glucose following reiki.
In a study to determine if blinding in reiki research is possible, Mansour et al. (1999) reported participants were unable to distinguish reiki practitioners from placebo practitioners. Despite the subjects’ personal evaluation of therapist status (reiki or placebo), it was noted in participants’ self-report that the most intense sensations of tingling and warmth were experienced during reiki sessions versus placebo.
Shiflett et al., evaluating effectiveness of reiki for subacute stroke patients (2002), concluded, “Reiki did not have any clinically useful effect on stroke recovery in subacute hospitalized patients receiving standard-of-care rehabilitation therapy.” Although there was no short-term benefit for depression and function, researchers did note some limited effect on mood and energy.
Included in this study was an assessment of double-blinding in training procedures for reiki practitioners. The team found no reported difference between blinded practitioners of reiki and sham (sham being those trained in reiki technique who only went through the motions) in ability to feel energy flowing through the hands.
In exploratory studies of physiological changes attributed to reiki, researchers have documented increased oxygen-carrying capability in the blood (Wetzel 1989), biochemical markers indicating increased relaxation and immune response (Wardell and Engebretson 2001), and changes in electrical skin resistance at sites corresponding to acupuncture meridians, with accompanying relaxation and reduction of pain in chronically ill subjects (Brewitt et al. 1997). Additional observational and descriptive studies have indicated multiple benefits of reiki, including pain reduction (Olson and Hansen 1997), and profound relaxation and sense of well-being (Chapman and Milton 2002).