Given the dearth of data to prove Reiki's benefits, it's no wonder the therapy has vocal critics. "Many medical practitioners are troubled by the fact that no one has a clue of the mechanism. It's energy healing, but that sometimes infuriates people with a scientifically oriented mind. Often, when such people take Reiki classes, they have trouble learning it," says Ameling.
Although there are no large population studies to back up the benefits of Reiki, researchers are making small strides. An unpublished study of 23 people who received one Reiki touch session focused on the biochemical and physiological changes Reiki produces. The study was conducted in 1996 by Diane Wordell, Ph.D., and Joan Engebretson, Dr.P.H., associate professors at the University of Texas Houston Health Science Center.
The 23 participants were hooked up to machines that measured their skin temperature, blood pressure, and muscle responses before, during, and immediately after one 30-minute Reiki session. The results showed that a person's skin temperature increased, indicating relaxation. "When a person is stressed, the circulation goes to major organs instead of the skin. If a person's skin is warm, that indicates relaxation," says Wordell.
In addition, participants experienced a significant drop in blood pressure; saliva levels also rose significantly, indicating good immune functioning and anxiety levels dropped, says Wordell.
To help capture information on Reiki's benefits, Ameling and Pamela Potter, a Ph.D. student at Yale, are setting up a pilot study that will track 20 women with breast cancer. Ten of them will use Reiki as part of their treatment. The information will be used for a larger study on Reiki's benefits that Ameling and Potter are planning.