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Posted: January 21, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

Energy Medicine Goes Main Street


MD?s and Reiki

If your doctor lays a hand on your back and lingers longer than diagnosis might require, she may be quietly practicing Reiki, a gentle, non-intrusive form of energy healing. Practitioners claim that Reiki is one of the safest and easiest holistic therapies around. The technique, inspired by both Christianity and Buddhism, has been passed from master to initiate since the late 1800s, when it was founded by a teacher at a Christian school in Japan. What?s new is that physicians at major hospitals are now taking the practice into their own hands.

At New York?s Continuum Center for Complementary Care, pediatrician Dr. Larry Palevsky uses Reiki on babies and children. ?I first began using it in the delivery room,? Palevsky recalls. ?If a newborn had good vital signs, but wasn?t very responsive, instead of slapping him or her, which was the normal procedure, I would lay my hands on the infant for 10 minutes or so and just watch him wake up.? Now, as a holistic pediatrician, Palevsky often performs Reiki on his pint-sized patients, who are highly responsive to it, he claims. ?I don?t necessarily wave my hands around or make the announcement: ?I am performing Reiki.? One of the great things about it is that it?s subtle.?

?Patients can use it for their own self-care,? says Pamela Miles, who has launched programs in Reiki at Columbia and Roosevelt-St. Luke?s Hospitals in New York.

Those working with patients suffering from AIDS or sickle cell anemia and other under-served populations find it a low-tech method loaded with benefits. ?Students say it builds energy and lessens pain,? Miles reports, adding that doctors have noticed it improves the efficacy of other medications a patient is receiving.

But just exactly what does a Reiki practitioner do? The answer is: very little. There are several basic hand placements ? on the client?s face, neck, head, feet, torso, legs and back, and no kneading, pummeling, or massaging is required. The Reiki practitioner simply places his or her hands, waits, and allows the energy to flow. What flows forth, practitioners attest, is universal life force, a natural healing energy.

The American Medical Association classifies Reiki as merely a ?manual healing technique? (no ?energy? involved), but they aren?t fighting the wave. ?Studies show Reiki can be beneficial,? says Dr. George Kessler, who teaches at Cornell Medical School and has a practice in New York. ?But doctors question whether it?s just a placebo effect,? since studies have demonstrated that even simple therapeutic touch can reduce the length of a hospital stay.

Whether that energy will ever be observed in the lab is an open question, but more and more doctors seem to agree with Kessler: ?Even though we don?t know the mechanism, we?re happy to see positive outcomes.?

-- Alison Rose Levy


Research Update: Can Your Prayer Heal Others?

Numerous medical studies suggest that prayer is healthy for the one who does the praying, but does intercessory prayer ? the kind you do on someone else?s behalf ? also show measurable effects? Two pioneers in the field of soul/body health, Dr. Dale A. Matthews and Francis S. MacNutt, Ph.D., teamed up to shed light on that controversial question, and their recently published results show some surprises.

Working with Sally M. Marlowe, N.P. of the Arthritis/Pain Treatment Center in Clearwater, Florida, the researchers recruited 40 adults with moderately severe rheumatoid arthritis. Over a three-day period, all of the participants received six hours of in-person intercessory prayer (including both praying aloud and ?laying on of hands?), augmented by six hours of educational sessions on spirituality and healing. Nineteen patients were randomly selected to receive additional prayer from people in distant locations. Both groups also received standard medical treatment.

Follow-ups done at six and 12 months after the intervention found significant overall improvement in 10 variables ? including reduction of tender and swollen joints ? compared with a control group. This improvement, says Matthews, is ?not characteristic of the natural history of the disease or the expected treatment course of individuals taking stable doses of medication.? In fact, it?s on a par with the introduction of a new drug.

To the researchers? admitted surprise, the distant prayer intervention showed no additional benefits. Also ?unexpected and unexplained? to Matthews was the fact that the improvement ?wasn?t accompanied by a parallel reduction in serum inflammatory markers,? so the benefits ?may be attributable more to alteration of patients? perceptions regarding their illness than to changes in the inflammatory pathways affecting their joints.?

Conclusions? Matthews notes the study?s limitations but argues that its compelling results mandate more study (see Southern Medical Journal, Vol. 93, No. 12).

-- The Editors of Spirituality & Health

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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