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Reiki and Energy Psychology in Mental Health Care

Limited preliminary findings require confirmation by large controlled studies.

Preliminary findings for Reiki in depressed mood and generalized anxiety:

Findings of a 6-week, single-blind, sham-controlled trial of Reiki on depressed mood (73 subjects) suggested that regular Reiki treatments may increase feelings of general well-being and reduce stress. The study population consisted of volunteers who complained of depressed mood or “stress” but did not meet diagnostic criteria for a major psychiatric disorder. Subjects were randomized to weekly 1½-hour, hands-on Reiki versus distant Reiki or distant sham Reiki treatments. Patients who received hands-on or distant Reiki treatments experienced significant and equivalent improvements in depressed mood and stress, which were sustained one year after treatment was terminated. No one in the sham Reiki group improved during or following the study.

There is some evidence that Reiki treatments may improve anxiety in chronic pain patients. In a small sham-controlled study (12 subjects), chronic pain patients were randomized to receive Reiki versus sham Reiki, progressive muscle relaxation, or no treatment. Improvements in pain and anxiety were significantly greater among patients receiving Reiki than sham-Reiki and relaxation training. The significance of these findings is limited by the absence of controls on anti-anxiety medications during the study.

Energy psychology therapies are probably ineffective for anxiety and mood disorders.

Emotional freedom therapy (EFT), thought field therapy (TFT), and body psychotherapy are “energy psychology” techniques used to treat mood disorders, phobias, and other anxiety disorders. Few sham-controlled studies have been done to date, and most studies are small, methodologically flawed and report highly inconsistent findings. EFT treatments can be self-administered using a manual following an initial training session, and no technical expertise is required. In a double-blind, prospective trial (35 subjects), patients who met DSM-IV-TR criteria for a specific phobia were randomized to receive one EFT treatment versus one session of diaphragmatic breathing (DB) while exposed to a feared small animal. EFT-treated patients experienced greater improvement than DB-treated patients in four of five measures of anxiety, and improvements were sustained at 3 months in the absence of further EFT or DB treatments. These findings were replicated in a subsequent study. A study comparing EFT and sham EFT in anxious individuals who had not been formally diagnosed found no differences in anxiety reduction between a defined EFT protocol and a sham protocol. These findings suggested that therapeutic benefits of EFT may be attributable to desensitization and distraction. A sham-controlled study on EFT in depression found equivalent non-significant changes in mood following EFT and sham treatment.

Large well-designed prospective sham-controlled studies on Reiki and different energy psychology techniques on individuals diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders using formal DSM diagnostic criteria are needed before any conclusions can be made about the efficacy of these approaches.


Anxiety: The Integrative Mental Health Solution, J. Lake MD


About the Author

James Lake, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, works to transform mental health care through the evidence-based uses of alternative therapies.