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Reiki is a hands-on type of healing used as a complementary therapy.

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 you to feel deeply relaxed
  • help you 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 and 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.

How you have it

On your first visit, your Reiki practitioner will ask you about your general health and medical history. They will ask you why you would like to have Reiki and discuss your treatment plan with you.

You don’t have to get undressed for treatment. You usually take your shoes and coat off and have it sitting or lying down. You can have your eyes open or closed.

Your Reiki practitioner might 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 may focus on particular areas of the body.

The aim is to move and balance the energy within and around your body. And to get rid of any energy blocks to encourage physical healing and strengthen your energy.

You might feel a tingling sensation, a deep relaxation, or warmth or coolness throughout your body. Or, you might not feel anything at all. Practitioners say this doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t working.

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.

You might feel thirsty after a session. It can help to drink plenty of water and avoid strong caffeine based drinks, such as coffee.

You might 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.

Possible side effects

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.

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 which may help lower stress, promote relaxation and reduce pain.

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.

  • 2 trials found helpful effects for 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, so there is no strong evidence that Reiki is an effective treatment for any condition.

A 2009 review by Canadian researchers looked at 12 trials. They found that 9 of the trials showed Reiki to have significant helpful effects, but that the quality of 11 of the studies was poor.

A Canadian study in 2003 looked at whether Reiki could control pain in people with advanced cancer. It found that participants had a significant reduction in pain after treatment, but the study was small with only 20 patients.

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.

A US clinical trial looked at the effects of Reiki healing in men with prostate cancer. We need to do more large randomised clinical trials before we really know how much Reiki can help people with cancer.

How much it costs

Some cancer centres and hospitals in the UK offer free or low cost Reiki treatments for people with cancer. Ask your nurse or doctor if this is an option in your ward or treatment centre. If it isn’t, they might be able to direct you to nearby organisations or support groups that do.

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

Finding a Reiki practitioner

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 people
  • 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.

There is no law to say that practitioners have to have any specific qualifications. But, most reputable practitioners belong to a professional Reiki association.

Look on the UK Reiki Federation website first for a list of practitioners in your area. Or, use one of the other organisations listed below. Contact one or more of the practitioners and check what level qualification and training they have.

Questions you might ask

  • How many years of training have you had?
  • How long have you been practising?
  • Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
  • Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)

Reiki organisations

The organisations listed here can give helpful information about Reiki.

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.

2D Fitz Gilbert Court
Castledown Business Court
SP11 9FA

Telephone: 01264 791441

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


The leading body for Reiki in the UK that represents professional associations. There is useful information and copies of the National Occupational Standards on their website.


CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners. It protects the public by giving them access to a list of practitioners who have met national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners can use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials. Most NHS services only use CNHC registered practitioners.

46-48 East Smithfield

Phone: 0203 668 0406

The Federation of Holistic Therapists is the largest professional association for complementary therapists. They have a register of therapists who are qualified, insured, and who follow the FHT strict Code of Conduct and Professional Practice.

Phone: 023 8062 4350

Last reviewed: 
05 Feb 2015
  • The Directory of Complementary Therapies
    Consultant Editor - C N Dhealey, 2000
    Ivy Press Limited

  • A phase II trial of Reiki for the management of pain in advanced cancer patients.
    K Olson and others, 2003
    Journal of Pain Symptom Management, Volume 26, Issue 5

  • Review of studies of healing touch
    DW Wardell and KF Weymouth, 2004
    Journal of Nursing Scholarship, Volume 36, Issue 2

  • The increasing use of reiki as a complementary therapy in specialist palliative care.
    B Burden and others, 2005
    International Journal of Palliative Nursing. Volume 11, Issue 5

  • Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials.
    MS Lee and others, 2008
    International Journal of Clinical Practice, Volume 62, Issue 6

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in

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