What Makes a Therapy Real? Part II: What We Don’t Know

Posted on July 9, 2013 By

I practice Reiki.  I am, in fact, a Reiki Master/Teacher.  That implies (as it should) that I know a little bit about Reiki, and that I believe it has some efficacy.

Reiki is one of the “alternative” therapies one hears about, sometimes with great praise, and sometimes with disdain.  Reiki is one of many therapies for which there is little if any “Scientific Proof”.  As I discussed earlier, the existence or lack thereof of scientific proof for most massage modalities doesn’t necessarily mean that the modality is “valid” — there simply haven’t been enough studies done on most modalities.  Part of that is because we’re still trying to understand the human body/mind.

So.  There are no studies published in the American Journal of Medicine that prove that a) there is a universal life energy that b) has any affect whatsoever on a human body, mind, or sense of well being, or that c) one human can have any effect on that energy at all, much less d) have an affect on that energy as it exists within or around another human being.  Furthermore, there are no such studies that prove that, assuming the existence of that life force energy and my ability to manipulate it in any way, manipulation by one person of that energy in a way to affect the energy in another person can or will relieve stress, anxiety, or pain or will facilitate healing in any capacity.

And yet.  I offer Reiki to my clients.  And my clients tell me that they feel better.

One client came to me with anxiety issues that were affecting her so severely that she dreaded the upcoming celebration of one of her achievements.  I worked on her with Reiki.  She felt a significant reduction in her anxiety after her first treatment.  That reduction in anxiety lasted, and she felt even better, and was able to do things she’d been afraid to do after her second treatment.  After three sessions, she was fully calm about the upcoming event, and was able to look forward to it (and ultimately go and enjoy it).  Was it the Reiki?  Or was it simply the power of suggestion — did her mind do it all?  Who knows.  Currently there is simply no way to prove it one way or the other.

We don’t understand the power of the mind.  We don’t understand the WAY that Reiki energy works.  We didn’t understand electricity either (or that the thing that makes your heart beat reliably for decades on end is, effectively, an electrical impulse timed just right by an amazing combination of bio-chemicals and other electrical signals).  Our lack of understanding did not make that little impulse any less valid.  It didn’t keep it from working either.

Similarly, no one really understands exactly how Reflexology works.  And yet, it does appear to work.  Reflexology has been used for thousands of years (as has acupuncture), and people have been getting relief from all sorts of issues through the use of Reflexology — even if we don’t fully understand it; and even if no scientific study has proven it.  Similarly, no scientific study proves that health conditions can be reflected in one’s feet – even so, people have been alerted to serious but hidden illnesses by their Reflexologists – they’ve been urged to ask their doctor about something and learned that without surgery or some other intervention, they might have died.

No, neither Reiki nor Reflexology will cure cancer, but both can help alleviate some cancer patient’s pain.  No, they won’t cure a raging sinus infection — but I’ve used Reflexology techniques to alleviate sinus pressure and pain for several of my clients.  It works.  When clients have told me that they’re experiencing sinus pressure or pain, I often add those techniques to their regular foot massage; even without prompting, they’ll tell me that their sinuses feel better when they get up from the table. One client swears that I’ve helped her stave off two sinus infections — she felt them coming on before the massage, and felt the pressure ease and dissipate after I used Reflexology techniques, and the full bore infection never rose up.

Does this PROVE that Reflexology works?  Even that it works for sinus issues? No.  It’s anecdotal evidence at best.  But just because I have no irrefutable proof doesn’t mean that the modality is “invalid”.

This is not to say we’ll never know, or that we’ll never have any evidence to back these more esoteric bodywork modalities.  For example, a series of studies has shown that the electrical impedance of the skin is significantly different at the points on the body that have been identified as acupuncture points.  Additional studies show that the impedance at these points changes after manual stimulation by an acupuncture needle, and after stimulation by violet laser.  These studies have been duplicated and refined.  It doesn’t yet show us they why and how, but is providing scientific evidence that there is something significant about these particular points on the body.

Why isn’t there more research on these topics?  The answer is simple:  money.  Research studies that include enough people to be reliable and statistically relevant are expensive.  There is not a lot of funding available for studies like these (yet).  And frankly, if we’re going to fund research, even I agree that the research for a cure for cancer should get funding before the research that proves whether or not Reiki can alleviate pain.  On the other hand, I’d probably fund research on whether Reiki can alleviate pain or improve sleep before I’d research another pain killer destined for Over the Counter use or sleep aid.