Archive for the ‘Massage Therapy Research’ Category

Shortly after my previous post on Reiki, where I cited scientific studies that give credibility to massage therapy, a new study about Reiki came out in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. This study took place at Yale Medical Center and found improved outcomes for patients who had received Reiki treatment within three days after suffering a heart attack.

This kind of research intrigues me and makes me want to learn more. I’ve been doing a great deal of reading on the topic in preparation for my Level 1 Reiki training in early November. However, I am having trouble accepting two basic principles: “attunement” and “distance Reiki.”

“Attunement” refers to a kind of initiation ritual wherein an advanced teacher (known as a “Master”) somehow activates a person’s ability to tap into Reiki energy, which is claimed to be a universal life force flowing through everyone. One of my colleagues, who has attained Master-level training and told me she needed to learn more about how to do attunements, agreed with my interpretation that it was like “flipping a switch.” Not having had my own switch flipped yet, I’m not really convinced. I’ll be sure to follow up with a report on my “attunement” after November 5.

“Distance Reiki” is something that happens during training for Reiki Level 2. As I understand it, practitioners are supposed to be able to send Reiki healing energy to those who are not present. This is where, as I mentioned in my last post, Reiki begins to seem suspiciously like religion. I received this impression quite strongly from looking at an internet message board where people were posting distance Reiki requests. Many of them were heartbreaking and desperate, just as prayer requests can be when presented at church or through support groups. But when I got to the post where someone asked for people to send Reiki to her lost kitten, I thought, “seriously?” I love my pets as much as the next person, and I’ve even had a cat jump out my window and run away, but I certainly wouldn’t expect strangers to care, or to attempt to intervene in some cosmic way.

And so “Confessions of a Reiki Sceptic” continues. I’ll be receiving a Reiki treatment in a couple of weeks as a prerequisite for my course, and I’ll post my observations here then.

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One of the most gratifying aspects of providing massage therapy in a medical setting involves seeing my profession gain respect and legitimacy among doctors, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.

More and more studies are appearing in mainstream medical journals documenting the clinical efficacy of massage therapy for symptom relief, and exploring massage as a way to promote well-being among people who face health challenges.

And then there’s Reiki.

Reiki is a hands-on therapeutic modality that relies primarily upon energy rather than the physical manipulation of muscle tissue, as in the case of massage. It is a spiritual practice that has its roots in Japanese bodywork and lots of people really believe in it. Me, I’m not so sure.

As a massage therapist I am certainly aware of energy in the body. I have felt myself interact with my clients’ energies in ways that I find a little bit mysterious. But I tend to be skeptical of larger claims about energy that can’t really be validated scientifically. I like science. I believe in science. Reiki seems more like religion to me.

In fact, Reiki is a lot of things to a lot of people. That’s part of the problem. There seem to be so many definitions of Reiki floating around out there, and such a wide variety of educational and practice standards, that the barriers to integrating this modality into medical settings seem particularly high.

Hospice, as a medical setting, is a bit of a rogue. It champions an interdisciplinary approach to treating patients and their families that most people do not encounter in doctors’ offices or hospitals. It uses volunteers as a core part of its mission. Pastoral care is routinely offered to every patient, and bereavement services are provided free of charge to families after the patient dies.

It’s not surprising that a hospice might be more open to Reiki than, say, an academic medical center. In fact, my own hospice has asked me to start a Reiki program.

So here I am, a Reiki sceptic, about to embark upon a research and educational process so that I can become better informed, in order to build a program that has clear (and high) standards of training and practice. I plan to document my own process here, on this blog, and I look forward to your feedback.

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Recently our hospice massage program was nominated for an Innovation Award within a large consortium of hospitals and healthcare organizations. Although we did not win, at the awards ceremony I had the opportunity to meet some other healthcare providers and learn about what they are doing.

One doctor I met, who is a medical school dean, expressed interest in our hospice massage program. “Eva,” he said, “Did you know that neurological research is discovering that touch has a significant physiological impact? Of course massage is a nice thing to do for people, but it’s turning out to be so much more than that!”

Usually it’s massage therapists trying to point out research findings to doctors: how lovely to experience this dynamic in reverse.

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The International Journal of Behavioral Medicine recently published a study by Shamini Jain and Paul J. Mills that reviewed 88 clinical studies of energetic healing techniques such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and laying on of hands. “Biofield therapies” is the preferred terminology used by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

As a massage therapist who values scientific inquiry, I found this article helpful. I have not studied any biofield therapy modalities and I am somewhat skeptical of them. I am also aware, in my clinical practice, of subtle forces that cannot be quantified in simple physiological terms. This means I have felt something that might be called “energy” in the course of performing massage therapy.

Jain and Mills have found strong evidence that biofield therapies can reduce pain for certain patients, and moderate evidence for reducing pain in others. They found moderate evidence for decreasing negative behaviors in dementia patients and moderate evidence for decreasing anxiety for people who are hospitalized. In other areas, the evidence was less clear, but the main conclusion of the article is that this is an area that merits further study.

I’ve come to the same basic conclusion myself: that it would probably benefit me to study at least one of these modalities so that I can make a more informed judgment about their usefulness.

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