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What Reiki is

Reiki is a Japanese healing art that was developed by Dr Usui in Japan in the early 20th century. It is pronounced ray-key. You may also hear it called

  • Reiki healing
  • Usui system of Reiki
  • Therapeutic touch

The Japanese word Reiki means universal energy. Eastern medicine systems work with this energy, which flows through all living things and is vital to well being. The energy is known as 'Ki' in Japan, 'Chi' in China and 'prana' in India. Reiki isn't part of any type of religion or belief system. It is best described as a hands on healing used as a complementary therapy.

A Reiki practitioner aims to change and balance the energy fields in and around your body to help on a physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual level.


Why people with cancer use Reiki

Reiki practitioners say that it can

  • Help some people to feel deeply relaxed
  • Help people cope with difficult situations
  • Relieve emotional stress and tension
  • Help to improve overall wellbeing

Some people with cancer say they feel better after using therapies such as Reiki. Studies show that this is often because a therapist spends time with the person, and touches them. After the rush and stress of hospitals and treatment, it can be very relaxing when someone gives you attention for an hour or more, in a calm setting. Reiki is sometimes used in palliative care, especially in hospices.

Some people say that Reiki has helped to control side effects of their cancer treatments, such as

  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Sickness

They also say that it helps them cope better with their cancer and its treatment. But it’s important to bear in mind that while Reiki may help you to cope with your symptoms or side effects, it is not able to treat your cancer. We have general information about why people with cancer use complementary therapies.


Research into Reiki for people with cancer

There is no scientific evidence to prove that Reiki can prevent, treat or cure cancer or any other disease. But many healthcare professionals accept Reiki as a useful complementary therapy that may help to lower stress, promote relaxation and possibly help reduce some types of pain.

General studies of Reiki

In 2008 UK researchers carried out a review of studies into Reiki for any medical or psychological condition. They looked at 9 randomised clinical trials that used Reiki. 

  • 2 trials found helpful effects of Reiki in people with depression but another trial did not
  • 1 trial found that Reiki seemed to help to reduce pain and anxiety
  • 2 other trials seemed to show that Reiki and distant Reiki reduced stress and hopelessness.
  • 1 trial showed that Reiki did not seem to reduce anxiety and depression in women having breast biopsy

The researchers stated that all the trials were small and there is no strong evidence that Reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. 

A 2009 review by Canadian researchers looked at 12 trials and they found that 9 of the trials showed that Reiki had significant helpful effects but the quality of 11 of the studies was poor.

Reiki for pain control

A Canadian study in 2003 looked at whether Reiki could control pain in people with advanced cancer. People did have a significant reduction in pain after Reiki treatment but the study was small and had only 20 patients.

Therapeutic touch to treat pain review

In 2008 another review looked at 24 studies using therapeutic touch to treat pain. 3 trials used Reiki. Overall, the review found that people who had the touch therapies had less pain than people who did not have the therapies. Trials carried out by more experienced touch practitioners seemed to give better results in pain reduction. Reiki also seemed to give greater benefit than other types of touch therapy. 

The researchers in the 2008 review suggested that more research should be done into whether experienced practitioners or certain types of touch therapy can give better pain reduction. 2 of 5 studies looking at painkiller use supported the claim that touch therapies lowered painkiller use. 

You can read about this touch therapy review on the Cochrane Library website.

Further research

We need to do large randomised clinical trials before we really know how much Reiki can help people with cancer. An American clinical trial is currently looking at the effects of Reiki healing in men with prostate cancer. 

You can see the details of this trial on Reiki in prostate cancer on the American National Centre of Complementary and Alternative Medicine website (NCCAM).


How you have Reiki

When you first see a Reiki practitioner, they will ask you about your general health and medical history. They will also ask you why you would like to have Reiki and discuss a possible treatment plan with you.

During a Reiki treatment, you don’t have to get undressed but you usually take off your shoes and coat and sit or lie down. You can have your eyes open or closed. The Reiki practitioner may dim the lights or play soothing music. They put their hands on, or a few inches above, your body. They will move their hands across your body, usually starting at your head and working down to your feet, but they may focus on particular areas of the body.

The practitioner aims to move and balance the energy within and around your body. And they try and get rid of any energy blocks to encourage physical healing and strengthen your energy.

During the session you may feel a tingling sensation, a sense of deep relaxation, or warmth or coolness throughout your body. You may not feel anything, but practitioners say this doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t working. You can stop the treatment at any time.

A session usually lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. Many practitioners say you will get the best results from 3 sessions within a fairly short space of time. Then take a break before having more treatments. 

After a Reiki session you may feel thirsty. It can help to drink plenty of water and avoid strong caffeine based drinks, such as coffee. You may feel deeply relaxed, and resting at home afterwards can help you get the full benefit of the treatment.

Reiki can be sent remotely. An appropriately trained practitioner can send healing over a distance. So you can be in your own home having Reiki from a person elsewhere.

If you don’t feel comfortable with anything, it’s important to discuss this with your practitioner. Look at our information about what to do if you have difficulties with your practitioner.


Side effects of Reiki

Generally speaking, Reiki is safe for most people with cancer. Most practitioners will advise you to rest and drink plenty of water after treatment. There are no reports of harmful side effects.

It is safe to have Reiki alongside your cancer treatment. But it’s important to tell your doctor about any complementary therapy, alternative therapy or diet supplement that you use. Then your doctor will always have the full picture about your care and treatment.


The cost of Reiki

Some cancer centres and hospitals in the UK offer free or low cost Reiki treatments to patients. Ask your nurse or doctor if this is an option in your ward or treatment centre. If not, they may be able to tell you about nearby organisations or support groups that provide complementary therapies.

Private Reiki treatments usually cost £15 to £100 an hour. Treatments may be more expensive in bigger cities. 


Finding a Reiki practitioner

There is no law to say that practitioners have to have any specific qualifications. But it is vital that the person who gives you Reiki is properly trained. 

There are 3 different levels of Reiki practitioners

  • Level 1 means you can use Reiki to treat yourself, family and friends but are not able to treat other people or charge money for treatment
  • Level 2 (also called practitioner level) means you have studied to a higher level and can use Reiki to treat patients
  • Level 3 means you are a Reiki master or teacher

Anyone treating you should hold a minimum Level 2 Reiki qualification and should be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) as a Reiki practitioner.

Most practitioners belong to a reputable professional association for Reiki. The best way to find a trained practitioner in your area is to look on the UK Reiki Federation website for a list of practitioners by region. Contact one or more of the practitioners and ask them the following questions

  • What level of Reiki qualification and training do you have?
  • How many hours of training have you had?
  • Have you worked with cancer patients before?
  • What are your costs?

If you contact a practitioner who is not on the lists then you need to also ask the following questions

  • Are you a member of a professional association for Reiki?
  • How long have you been practicing Reiki?
  • Do you have indemnity insurance (in case anything goes wrong)?

Or you can contact any of the Reiki organisations and ask them for a list of Reiki practitioners.


Reiki organisations

The organisations listed here can give helpful information about Reiki.

UK Reiki Federation
2D Fitz Gilbert Court
Castledown Business Court
SP11 9FA
Telephone: 01264 791441

One of the largest professional associations for Reiki in the UK. Offers support and guidance to Reiki professionals and the public. Has a searchable database of Reiki practitioners.

The Reiki Guild

An independent, non profit making society for people who are attuned to Reiki, whether they’re practicing publicly or not.

The Reiki Council (Formerly the UK Reiki Regulatory Working Group)

The lead body for Reiki in the UK, representing professional associations. The website has information for the public, together with copies of the National Occupational Standards. 

Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)
CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners and covers Reiki therapists. Its key function is to improve public protection by giving the general public access to a list of practitioners who meet national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners are able to use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials.

Phone: 0207 653 1971

The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)
18 Shakespeare Business Centre
Hathaway Close
SO50 4SR
Phone: 023 8062 4350

The Federation of Holistic Therapists has a register of therapists who are qualified, insured, and who follow the FHT strict Code of Conduct and Professional Practice.

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Updated: 5 February 2015