Advances in medical research, the consumer empowerment, and rising cost of health care have demonstrated the need to treatment models that are holistic and client driven. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) offers consumers choices. It includes traditional healing practices, medical systems that are thousands of years old and new or innovative treatments that may be consider unconventional. Well known examples of CAM include herbal remedies, mindfulness, meditation, manipulative/movement therapies, and Chinese Medicine. Knowledge of CAM offers social workers in all settings the opportunity to provide education and advocacy in seeking client centered and culturally competent treatment options.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Avuryedic Medicine are founded on alternative beliefs about health, wellness and disease.  Some Eastern healing traditions are founded on the premise that energy, ki (Japan), chi (China), and prana (India) flows through all living beings.  Illness can occur when this life energy is out of balance.  Reiki, an ancient Japanese form of healing, was developed by Dr. Mikao Usui in Japan in the late 1800s.  It is one of many biofield therapies used to promote balance.  The term Reiki is derived from two words Rei "the hidden force" and ki "life energy".  Reiki practitioners focus on manipulating the body’s energy field, ki, to aid in healing.  The practitioner accomplishes this by either placing their hands directly or slightly above the patient (Herron-Marx, Price-Knol, Burden & Hicks, 2008).  A full treatment typically includes placing the hands in twelve positions on the head and on the front and back of the torso that correspond to the body’s endocrine and lymph systems. As hands are placed on the body for 3 to5 minutes at each position, the energy flows according to the needs of the person receiving it (LaTorre, 2005).  There are three levels of Reiki practitioners. Level I Reiki involves learning to transmit healing energy through your touch for yourself or another. Level II Reiki involves learning to send the energy across a distance.  Level III Reiki involves advanced practice and master teaching.  Students wishing to progress in Reiki practice need to receive an “attunement”, which facilitates the alignment of the student’s own energy receptivity from a Reiki master (Freeman, 2009).  Reiki practitioners in California do not need a license to practice.
Research on the efficacy of Reiki is limited, despite these interesting findings.  According to Herron-Marx et al (p. 37), research conducted in the 1980s by Becker and Zimmerman revealed that brain wave patterns of the practitioner and the receiver enter into a synchronized state of relaxation and pulse in unison with the earth's magnetic field (Schuman Resonance).  In addition, the biomagnetic field around the practitioner’s hands is at least 1000 times greater than normal. Herron-Marx et al and vanderVaart, Gijsen, de Wildt, & Koren, (2009) completed an extended literature review of Reiki and independently found that the research studies available had a limited number of participants, control groups and/or were poorly designed.  Additional studies in the efficacy of Reiki on immune functioning (Bowden, Goddard & Gruzelier, 2010) and in treating cardiovascular disease (Friedman, Burg, Miles, Lee, & Lampert, 2010) both found that the participants in the control groups experienced improvement in symptoms, though their findings were not statistically significant.  Researchers in the cardiovascular study and in Herron-Marx review emphasize the importance of additional qualitative research studies focusing on patients’ experiences of Reiki.    

Bowden, D., Goddard, L., & Gruzelier, J. (2010). A randomized controlled single-blind trial of the effects of Reiki and positive imagery on well-being and salivary cortisol. Brain Research Bulletin, 81, 66–72. doi:10.1016/j.brainresbull.2009.10.002
Freeman, L.W. (2009) Mosby's complementary & alternative medicine: A research-based approach (3rd ed.). Mosby Elsevier Press.
Friedman, R. S. C., Burg, M. M., Miles, P., Lee, F., & Lampert, R. (2010). Effects of Reiki on autonomic activity early after acute coronary syndrome. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 56(12), 995-996. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.082
Herron-Marx, S., Price-Knol, F., Burden, B., & Hicks, C. (2008). A Systematic Review of the Use of Reiki in Health Care. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 14(1), 37-42. doi:10.1089/act.2008.14108
LaTorre, M. (2005). The use of Reiki in Psychotherapy.  Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 41(4), 184-187.
vanderVaart, S., Gijsen, V. J., de Wildt, S. N., & Koren, G. (2009). A Systematic Review of the Therapeutic Effects of Reiki. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 15(11), 1157-1169. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0036


  1. Reiki sounds really interesting. I think the level of energy in the body should be evenly distributed to achieve balance. My concern is a person does not need a license to practice in the state of California. It is important that more research is conducted, also specific guidelines across the board, to ensure the technique is being used properly.

    Deirdre Coleman, MSW

  2. I have heard positive things about Reiki in the past. It seems to be growing in popularity. I think that with popularity we will see some kind of standardization or certification as lack of one is somewhat concerning. Aside from anxiety and pain management I would be curious to see the efficacy of this treatment for other mental health disorders.