Reiki: Hype or Help?

How Does Reiki Work?

A Reiki practitioner holds his or her hands in one of 12 positions designed to bring energy into the recipient's body. There is no massaging, kneading or any other intense motion. These positions are grouped into three portions of the body: On or near the head, on the front torso, and on the back torso. While there are standard positions, practitioners will often adapt or add new ones depending on a patient's needs.

Practitioners receive the energy first, says Patricia Alandydy, who heads the Reiki program at Portsmouth (NH) Regional Hospital. The practitioner's body then acts as a conduit for the energy to be drawn through and delivered to the recipient.

"The result is rejuvenating, rather than draining, for the practitioner," says Alandydy. "I'm never drained of my own personal energy, because the Universal Life Force comes through me and into the person. If I'm working on someone who is highly emotional or anxious, I don't absorb those feelings."

The Health Benefits of Reiki

The recipient, meanwhile, generally feels a warm flow or tingling sensation in his or her body, but the feeling varies with each person, says Connie Hoy, executive director of The Reiki Alliance. "Sometimes people feel sleepy and relaxed, while others may nap through a session and wake up energized. Reiki brings about what the person's body needs," says Hoy.

Stephen Sinatra, a cardiologist and head of the New England Heart Center in Manchester. CT, recommends Reiki when he believes an energy block is hindering a patient's ability to heal. An experienced Reiki practitioner can pick up on the part(s) of the body that may be blocked energetically and emotionally, he explains, which is "valuable feedback for the patient."

Reiki advocates stress that the length of a Reiki treatment is not the issue; it is the touch that counts. Ann Ameling practices Reiki on herself daily, sometimes for just five minutes at a time to regroup during the day. The professor of Psychiatric Nursing at Yale University started practicing Reiki four years ago after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"There is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to make you feel out of control. Reiki helped me gain personal power," says Ameling, who feels that Reiki allows her to slow down, relax, and think positive, healthy thoughts.

Connecting with Patients

Reiki is a way for healthcare professionals to stay connected with patients, says Alandydy. Patients "feel that someone is focused solely on them, and it allows [them] to feel cared for in a hospital setting [where] they sometimes feel lonely and disconnected from all of the commotion."

At Portsmouth Hospital, a Reiki session may last 15 minutes or longer and is often offered in a preoperative care room or at the patient's bedside. Since starting its Reiki program two years ago, Portsmouth has conducted 2,500 Reiki sessions for free. The hospital has 20 employees trained in Reiki. An additional 2,000 sessions have been provided to patients who want to continue receiving treatments at an offsite rehabilitation clinic for a small $10 donation. The hospital also offers its Reiki treatments to caregivers.

While Reiki is not covered by insurance, a grassroots movement of 19 hospitals called The Alliance for Integrative Medicine of Northern New England is trying to change that. The group is seeking to create a baseline standard of care for various complementary therapies, including Reiki. "We want insurance providers to feel confident that we're delivering something well organized, so that...reimbursement will follow," reports Alandydy.