Alternative Medicine

Reiki Used as New Therapy for Cancer Patients

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By Kate Wharmby Seldman

More cancer patients in the US are receiving reiki treatments to calm nausea, anxiety, fatigue and pain stemming from their illness, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Reiki is a form of massage that originated in Japan in the 1920s, and was developed by Buddhist doctor Mikao Usui. Practitioners touch the patient’s body lightly, or let their hands hover just above the body, and work with the body’s life force. The name Reiki is made up of two Japanese words: rei, which means God’s wisdom or the higher power, and ki, which signifies the energy flowing through the body. Reiki, then, means spiritually guided life energy. Reiki practitioners claim to transmit healing energy through their palms when they work on a patient. This energy is also referred to as ki.

According to Web site’s FAQ on the massage method, reiki “has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.” Traditional medical professionals are still waiting for conclusive scientific evidence that the first claim is true, although a few studies have been conducted that suggest reiki can help cancer patients relax. Dr. David S. Rosenthal, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and medical director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, puts it this way: “The evidence for Reiki is still slim, but there are trends and we have to show whether those trends are real.”

As for the claim that reiki can work in conjunction with other medical techniques, doctors are starting to explore it: patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City can receive reiki treatment for free if they’re in-patients, and for a fee if they’re outpatients. Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, N.H., also offers reiki for its patients. While the jury’s still out on whether reiki is producing any beneficial physical effects, it seems to have a definite impact on patients’ emotions: even critics of alternative medical practices - like Barrie Cassileth, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service of Sloan-Kettering, who calls reiki’s purported energy manipulation “absurd” – say that the gentle massage relaxes patients. The Wall Street Journal piece sums up the position of traditional medical practitioners on reiki and cancer like this: “Some scientists think the benefits may be as simple as the warmth of human touch and the feeling that someone is caring for you.”

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