What Is Reiki?

Reiki (霊気) is a form of alternative medicine called energy healing. Reiki practitioners use a technique called palm healing or hands-on healing through which a “universal energy” is said to be transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing.

Reiki is a pseudoscience,[1] and is used as an illustrative example of pseudoscience in scholarly texts and academic journal articles. It is based on qi (“chi”), which practitioners say is a universal life force, although there is no empirical evidence  that such a life force exists.[2][3] Clinical research has not shown reiki to be effective as a treatment for any medical condition.[2] There has been no proof of the effectiveness of reiki therapy compared to placebo. An overview of reiki investigations found that studies reporting positive effects had methodological flaws. The American Cancer Society stated that reiki should not replace conventional cancer treatment,[4] a sentiment echoed by Cancer Research UK[5] and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.[6]

Reiki Emotional Intelligence OvercomingDeveloped in Japan in 1922 by Mikao Usui,[1][7] it has been adapted into varying cultural traditions across the world.


Mikao Usui 臼井甕男 (1865–1926)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English alternative medicine word reiki is etymologically from Japanese reiki (霊気) “mysterious atmosphere, miraculous sign” (first recorded in 1001), combining rei “soul, spirit” and ki “vital energy”—the Sino-Japanese reading of Chinese língqì (靈氣) “numinous atmosphere”.[8] The earliest recorded English usage dates to 1975.[9]

The Japanese reiki is commonly written as レイキ in katakana syllabary or as 霊気 in shinjitai “new character form” kanji. It compounds the words rei (霊: “spirit, miraculous, divine”) and ki (気; qi: “gas, vital energy, breath of life, consciousness”).[10] Ki is additionally defined as “… spirits; one’s feelings, mood, frame of mind; temperament, temper, disposition, one’s nature, character; mind to do something, intention, will; care, attention, precaution”. Some reiki translation equivalents from Japanese-English dictionaries are: “feeling of mystery,”[11] “an atmosphere (feeling) of mystery”,[12] and “an ethereal atmosphere (that prevails in the sacred precincts of a shrine); (feel, sense) a spiritual (divine) presence.”[13] Besides the usual Sino-Japanese pronunciation reiki, these kanji 霊気 have an alternate Japanese reading, namely ryōge, meaning “demon; ghost” (especially in spirit possession).[14][15]

Chujiro Hayashi 林 忠次郎 (1880–1940)

Chinese língqì 靈氣 was first recorded in the (ca. 320 BCE) Neiye “Inward Training” section of the Guanzi, describing early Daoist meditation techniques. “That mysterious vital energy within the mind: One moment it arrives, the next it departs. So fine, there is nothing within it; so vast, there is nothing outside it. We lose it because of the harm caused by mental agitation.”[16] Modern Standard Chinese língqì is translated by Chinese-English dictionaries as: “(of beautiful mountains) spiritual influence or atmosphere”;[17] “1. intelligence; power of understanding; 2. supernatural power or force in fairy tales; miraculous power or force”;[18] and “1. spiritual influence (of mountains/etc.); 2. ingeniousness; cleverness.”[19]


According to the inscription on his memorial stone, Usui taught his system of reiki to more than 2,000 people during his lifetime. While teaching reiki in Fukuyama, Usui suffered a stroke and died on 9 March 1926.[20]

Research, critical evaluation, and controversy


Reiki’s teachings and adherents claim that qi is physiological and can be manipulated to treat a disease or condition. The existence of qi has not been established by medical research.[2] Therefore, reiki is a pseudoscientific theory based on metaphysical concepts.[1]

Reiki Relaxation Recovery Calm Relax WellnessThe existence of the proposed mechanism for reiki—qi or “life force” energy—has not been scientifically established.[2][21] Most research on reiki is poorly designed and prone to bias. There is no reliable empirical evidence that reiki is helpful for treating any medical condition,[2][4][5] although some physicians have said it might help promote general well-being.[5] In 2011, William T. Jarvis of The National Council Against Health Fraud stated that there “is no evidence that clinical reiki’s effects are due to anything other than suggestion” or the placebo effect.[22]

The April 22, 2014 Skeptoid podcast episode titled “Your Body’s Alleged Energy Fields” relates a reiki practitioner’s report of what was happening as she passed her hands over a subject’s body:

What we’ll be looking for here, within John’s auric field, is any areas of intense heat, unusual coldness, a repelling energy, a dense energy, a magnetizing energy, tingling sensations, or actually the body attracting the hands into that area where it needs the reiki energy, and balancing of John’s qi.[23]

Evaluating these claims scientific skeptic author Brian Dunning reported:

…his aura, his qi, his reiki energy. None of these have any counterpart in the physical world. Although she attempted to describe their properties as heat or magnetism, those properties are already taken by—well, heat and magnetism. There are no properties attributable to the mysterious field she describes, thus it cannot be authoritatively said to exist.”[23]

Scholarly evaluation

Reiki is used as an illustrative example of pseudoscience in scholarly texts and academic journal articles.[1][24][25][26][27] Emily Rosa became the youngest person to publish in the medical literature at eleven years old when her school science project was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrating that reiki practitioners could not detect the alleged “life force” under experimental conditions.[28] A double-blind study where people were trained to administer reiki or another treatment found that the practitioners found no difference in terms of ability to feel ‘energy force’ in either procedure.[29]Energy Healing Healing Hands Healing Reiki

In criticizing the State University of New York for offering a continuing education course on reiki, one source stated, “reiki postulates the existence of a universal energy unknown to science and thus far undetectable surrounding the human body, which practitioners can learn to manipulate using their hands,”[30] and others said, “In spite of its [reiki] diffusion, the baseline mechanism of action has not been demonstrated…”[31] and, “Neither the forces involved nor the alleged therapeutic benefits have been demonstrated by scientific testing.”[32]

Several authors have pointed to the vitalistic energy which reiki is claimed to treat,[33][34][35] with one saying, “Ironically, the only thing that distinguishes reiki from Therapeutic Touch is that it [reiki] involves actual touch,”[35] and others stating that the International Center for Reiki Training “mimic[s] the institutional aspects of science” seeking legitimacy but holds no more promise than an alchemy society.[36]

A guideline published by the American Academy of Neurology, the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation states, “Reiki therapy should probably not be considered for the treatment of PDN [painful diabetic neuropathy].”[37] Canadian sociologist Susan J. Palmer has listed reiki as among the pseudoscientific healing methods used by cults in France to attract members.[38]

Evidence quality

A 2008 systematic review of 9 randomized clinical trials found several shortcomings in the literature on reiki.[39] Depending on the tools used to measure depression and anxiety, the results varied and were not reliable or valid. Furthermore, the scientific community has been unable to replicate the findings of studies that support reiki. The review also found issues in reporting methodology in some of the literature, in that often there were parts omitted completely or not clearly described.[39] Frequently in these studies, sample sizes were not calculated and adequate allocation and double-blind procedures were not followed. The review also reported that such studies exaggerated the effectiveness of treatment and there was no control for differences in experience of reiki practitioners or even the same practitioner at times produced different outcomes. None of the studies in the review provided a rationale for the treatment duration and no study reported adverse effects.[39]


Safety concerns for reiki sessions are very low and are akin to those of many complementary and alternative medicine practices. Some physicians and health care providers, however, believe that patients may unadvisedly substitute proven treatments for life-threatening conditions with unproven alternative modalities including reiki, thus endangering their health.[40][41][42]

Catholic Church concerns

In March 2009, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the document Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy, in which they declared that the practice of reiki was based on superstition, being neither truly faith healing nor science-based medicine.[43][44] Explaining that the Catholic church believes in healing, “the bishops noted that the Church recognizes two kinds of healing: healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature.”[45] The Church teaches that if a Catholic seeks “bodily healing from God, the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has been passed down … throughout the centuries” in order to trust in the Divine, strengthen resolve and authentically heal one in body and soul.[46] The 2009 guideline concluded that “since reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for reiki therapy.[47] [44] In December of 2014, the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship noted in an article about exorcism and its use in the Church that one of the regional or cultural influences that might open a person to demonic possession and the “current state of the afflicted person” includes involvement in the practice of reiki.[48] Since this announcement, some Catholic lay people have continued to practice reiki, but it has been removed from many Catholic hospitals and other institutions.[49]

Training, certification and adoption

There is no central authority controlling use of the words “reiki” or “reiki master”.[50] Certificates can be purchased online for under 100 dollars.[51] It is “not uncommon” for a course to offer attainment of reiki master in two weekends.[52] There is no regulation of practitioners or reiki master in the United States.[53]

The Washington Post reported in 2014 that in response to customer demand at least 60 hospitals in the United States offered reiki, at a cost of between $40 and $300 per session.[54]


  1. Semple, D.; Smyth, R. (2013). “Ch. 1: Psychomythology”. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 20ISBN9780199693887.
  2. Lee, MS; Pittler, MH; Ernst, E (2008). “Effects of reiki in clinical practice: A systematic review of randomised clinical trials”. International Journal of Clinical Practice (Systematic Review). 62 (6): 947–54. doi:10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.xPMID18410352In conclusion, the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.
  3. Reiki: Fraudulent Misrepresentation « Science-Based MedicineReiki: Fraudulent Misrepresentation « Science-Based Medicine, accessdate: May 28, 2016
  4. Russell J, Rovere A, eds. (2009). “Reiki”. American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd ed.). American Cancer Society. pp. 243–45. ISBN9780944235713.
  5. “Reiki”Cancer Research UK. 2017-08-30. Archived from the original on 18 March 2015.
  6. “Reiki: What You Need To Know”National Center for Complementary and Integrative HealthArchived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  7. Novella, Steven (19 October 2011). “Reiki”Science-Based MedicineArchived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  8. “Reiki”Oxford English Dictionary (OED). 2003. Sino-Japanese readings were historically borrowed from Middle Chinese pronunciations, reconstructed by Baxter-Sagart as lengkhj (靈氣).
  9. The OED cites The San Mateo Times, 2 May 1975, 32/1, announcing Hawayo Takata‘s lecture “A Reiki Master’s Prediction and Participation in his Own Transition”.
  10. Halpern, Jack (1993) [1990]. New Japanese-English Character Dictionary (新漢英字典) (NTC reprint ed.). Kenkyūsha.
  11. Spahn, Mark; Hadamidtzy, Wolfgang, eds. (1989). Japanese Character Dictionary With Compound Lookup via Any Kanji. With Fujie-Winter, Kimiko. Tokyo: Nichigai. ISBN978-4816908286.
  12. Nelson, Andrew N.; Haig, John H., eds. (1997). The New Nelson Japanese-English Character DictionaryTuttle PublishingISBN9780804820363.
  13. Watanabe, Toshiro; Skrzypczak, Edmund R.; Snowden, Paul, eds. (2003). Kenkyūsha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary (5th ed.). Tokyo: Kenkyūsha.
  14. Tetsuji, Morohashi, ed. (1960). Dai Kan-Wa jiten 大漢和辞典. Taishukan.
    Akiyasu, Todo, ed. (1978). Kan-Wa Daijiten 漢和大字典Gakken.
    Both dictionaries define ryōge as a mononoke もののけ, meaning “ghost; demon; evil spirit” that possesses people.
  15. Nelson & Haig (1997)Ryō 霊 means “evil spirit who possesses a human”.
  16. Roth, Harold D. (2004). Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist MysticismColumbia University Press. p. 97. ISBN9780231115650.
    Compare translating 靈氣在心 as “The magical qi within the heart”
    Eno, R. (2005). “Guanzi: “The Inner Enterprise(PDF). Section 18: Moderation. Archived from the original(PDF) on 21 June 2007.[unreliable source?]
  17. Yutang, Lin, ed. (1972). Lin Yutang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage. Chinese University of Hong Kong Press.
  18. Yuan, Ling, ed. (2002). The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, Chinese-English Edition. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
  19. DeFrancis, John, ed. (2003). ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive DictionaryUniversity of Hawaii Press.
  20. Inscription on Usui’s memorial
  21. L Rosa, E Rosa, L Sarner, S Barrett (April 1, 1998). “A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch”. Journal of the American Medical Association279(13): 1005–10. doi:10.1001/jama.279.13.1005PMID9533499.
  22. Jarvis, William T. “Reiki”National Council Against Health Fraud. Retrieved 31 March 2011.
  23. Dunning, Brian“Skeptoid #411: Your Body’s Alleged Energy Fields”Skeptoid. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  24. Winchester, Simon (2012). Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious CollectionBlack Dog & Leventhal. pp. 97–ISBN9781579129125.
  25. Donlan, Joseph E. (2009). Ordaining Reality in Brief: The Shortcut to Your FutureUniversal Publishers. pp. 63–ISBN9781599428925.
  26. Lobato, E; Mendoza, J; Sims, V; Chin, M (2014). “Examining the relationship between conspiracy theories, paranormal beliefs, and pseudoscience acceptance among a university population”. Applied Cognitive Psychology28 (5): 617–25. doi:10.1002/acp.3042.
  27. Gorski, DHNovella, SP (2014). “Clinical trials of integrative medicine: Testing whether magic works?”. Trends in Molecular Medicine20 (9): 473–76. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2014.06.007PMID25150944.
  28. Kolata, Gina (1 April 1998). “A Child’s Paper Poses a Medical Challenge”The New York TimesISSN0362-4331. Retrieved 3 June2016.
  29. Shiflett, Samuel C.; Nayak, Sangeetha; Bid, Champa; Miles, Pamela; Agostinelli, Sandra (2004-07-05). “Effect of Reiki Treatments on Functional Recovery in Patients in Poststroke Rehabilitation: A Pilot Study”. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine8 (6): 755–763. doi:10.1089/10755530260511766PMID12614528.
  30. Lilienfeld, Scott O.; Lynn, Steven Jay; Lohr, Jeffrey M. (2014). Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologyGuilford Press. pp. 202–ISBN9781462517893.
  31. Ferraresi, M; Clari, R; Moro, I; Banino, E; et al. (2013). “Reiki and related therapies in the dialysis ward: An evidence-based and ethical discussion to debate if these complementary and alternative medicines are welcomed or banned”BMC Nephrology14 (1): 129–. doi:10.1186/1471-2369-14-129PMC3694469PMID23799960.
  32. Reiboldt, Wendy (2013). Consumer Survival: An Encyclopedia of Consumer Rights, Safety, and ProtectionABC-CLIO. p. 765ISBN9781598849370.
  33. Canter, Peter H. (2013). “Vitalism and Other Pseudoscience in Alternative Medicine: The Retreat from Science”. In Ernst, Edzard (ed.). Healing, Hype or Harm?: A Critical Analysis of Complementary or Alternative Medicine. Andrews UK Limited. pp. 116–ISBN9781845407117.
  34. Smith, Jonathan C. (2011). Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker’s ToolkitJohn Wiley & Sons. pp. 251–ISBN9781444358940.
  35. Sarner, Larry. “Therapeutic Touch”. In Shermer, Michael (ed.). The Skeptic Encyclopedia of PseudoscienceABC-CLIO. pp. 252–ISBN9781576076538.
  36. Pigliucci, MassimoBoudry, Maarten (2013). Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation ProblemUniversity of Chicago Press. pp. 178–ISBN9780226051826.
  37. Bril, V; England, J; Franklin, GM; Backonja, M; et al. (2011). “Evidence-based guideline: Treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy: Report of the American Academy of Neurology, the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation”(PDF)Neurology76(20): 1758–65. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182166ebePMC3100130PMID21482920.
  38. Palmer, Susan (2011). The New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la Republique, and the Government-Sponsored “War on Sects”Oxford University Press. pp. 129–ISBN9780199875993.
  39. Lee, M.; Pittler, M.; Ernst, E. (2008). “Effects of reiki in clinical practice: A systematic review of randomised clinical trials”. International Journal of Clinical Practice62 (6): 947–54. doi:10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.xPMID18410352.
  40. “Reiki: Holistic Therapy Treatment Information”Disabled world.com. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  41. “Reiki: In Depth”National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  42. Ventola, C. L. (2010). “Current Issues Regarding Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the United States”P & T : A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management35 (9): 514–522. PMC2957745PMID20975811.
  43. United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee of Doctrine. “GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING REIKI AS AN ALTERNATIVE THERAPY”(PDF)USCCB Publications on Doctrine. United State Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  44. Committee on Doctrine United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (25 March 2010). “Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy”(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 31 March 2015.
  45. Fernandes, Earl. “WHAT DOES THE CHURCH TEACH ABOUT REIKI?”The Catholic Telegraph. Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  46. Kosloski, Phillip (23 October 2018). “The spiritual dangers behind Reiki healing services”. Aletia. Média-Participations Group and WordPress. Foundation for Evangelization through the Media.
  47. United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee of Doctrine. “GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING REIKI AS AN ALTERNATIVE THERAPY”(PDF)USCCB Publications on Doctrine. United State Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  48. USCCB Committee on Divine Worship and the Secretariat of Divine Worship (December 2014). “29 Questions on Exorcism and Its Use in the Church, Part Two”(PDF)Committee on Divine Worship Newsletter(Volume L). United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  49. Lawton, Kim (12 February 2010). “Reiki and the Catholic Church”PBS. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  50. Elaine Stillerman (2014), Modalities for Massage and Bodywork, Elsevier Health Sciences, p. 295, ISBN9780323260794Currently there is no standard for certification in Reiki throughout the world.
  51. Diane Stein (2011), Essential Reiki Teaching Manual: A Companion Guide for Reiki Healers, Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, pp. 7–8, ISBN9780307783806
  52. Penelope Quest and Kathy Roberts (2012), “Reiki Training Levels”Reiki Collection, Penguin, ISBN9781101576205
  53. Nina L. Paul (2011), “Reiki classes and certification”, Reiki for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN9781118054741
  54. Sacks B (16 May 2014). “Reiki goes mainstream: Spiritual touch practice now commonplace in hospitals”Washington Post.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Scroll Up