Alternative medicine has long been a part of the medical landscape. Many practitioners and recipients of traditional care turn their noses up at the idea of alternative medicine. But still they exist, the thought being "if that's what people want to do, who are we to stop them?" But now the Catholic Church is taking steps to stop a Japanese healing technique called "Reiki." It is banning the treatment, which is growing in popularity, from all of its hospitals and facilities.
In a Reiki session, a trained practitioner places his or her hands lightly on or just above the client's body, holding the hands in place for a couple of minutes before moving to another “energy point’’ of the body. Supporters say that energy is transferred from the practitioner’s hands to the areas in the client’s body most in need of healing.
According to reiki.org:
"We are alive because life force is flowing through us... Life force nourishes the organs and cells of the body, supporting them in their vital functions.
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"The life force is responsive to thoughts and feelings. It becomes disrupted when we accept, either consciously or unconsciously, negative thoughts or feelings about ourselves... This diminishes the vital function of the organs and cells of the physical body.
"Reiki heals by flowing through the affected parts of the energy field and charging them with positive energy. It raises the vibratory level of the energy field in and around the physical body... This causes the negative energy to break apart and fall away."
But the Catholic Church doesn't agree with any of this. At its U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this past spring, the Bishops agreed that Reiki is not grounded in science or Christianity, and therefore is not appropriate for Catholic institutions.
In its guidelines, the Bishops wrote:
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“Without justification either from Christian faith or natural science, a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man’s-land that is neither faith nor science. Superstition corrupts one’s worship of God by turning one’s religious feeling and practice in a false direction.’’
Debbie Griseuk, who volunteered to treat people using Reiki at a Catholic hospital in New Hampshire, told The Boston Globe, "It must have been a slow day at the Vatican." The hospital told her her volunteer services would no longer be needed. She also had had to close a seven-year-old volunteer clinic located at a wellness center associated with the hospital. "The bishops did not do their research," she said. "Reiki is not a belief system, not a cult, not a weirdo thing."
But there is still no scientific evidence that Reiki works. Dr. Herbert Benson, who pioneered the field of mind-body science, is ambivalent about Reiki. "An extraordinary powerful aspect of healing comes from belief and expectancy," said Benson, a cardiologist and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “When one believes in something, when one expects something to occur, a mind-body effect occurs that has been classified as the placebo effect. The placebo effect is a remarkably powerful tool in healing."
With Reiki, he said, the question remains: Is it based in science or the placebo effect? “It’s not that the healing benefits are not valid; it’s simply that it hasn’t been worked out whether it’s the placebo effect or whether it’s the reiki itself."
All lof this comes as Reiki is seeing a rise in popularity. According to a 2007 report from the National Institutes of Health, 1.2 million Americans have had Reiki treatments. That's a 12% increase from 2002. The NIH is even funding a study of the effects of Reiki on stress. In a statement, the NIH said:
"Should Reiki decrease stress pathways or reduce physiological responses to stressful situations, it could be a useful adjunct to traditional medicine and have significant health and economic benefits."
Indeed, practitioners of Reiki stress it should be used in addition to traditional treaments, not as a substitute. And the Reiki website claims Reiki can never hurt anyone:
"Because Reiki is guided by the God-consciousness, it can never do harm. It always knows what a person needs and will adjust itself to create the effect that is appropriate for them. One never need worry about whether to give Reiki or not. It is always helpful."
So really, where's the harm in at least trying Reiki? Well, the Bishops' research concluded there is no medical proof that Reiki promotes healing, And Rev. Robert McManus, Bishop of Worcester, has other problems with it. "I think there was a concern on some level that this type of new age philosophy of life... as a spirituality, let’s say it’s lacking."