Is Reiki Legit or Bullshit?

woman having reiki performed on her
Image by Jürgen Rübig from Pixabay

A couple of people commented on a recent post about my take on reiki. Essentially, their question was: is reiki bullshit? Ask and ye shall receive.

What is it?

First, what exactly is reiki? The International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT) says that reiki “is based on the idea that an unseen ‘life force energy’ flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.” The website adds: “It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect.”

Anytime the proponents of something are claiming that it works for absolutely everything, red flags should start going up. 🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩

Practitioner training

The ICRT tells us: “An amazingly simple technique to learn, the ability to use Reiki is not taught in the usual sense, but is transferred to the student during a Reiki class. This ability is passed on during an “attunement” given by a Reiki master and allows the student to tap into an unlimited supply of “life force energy” to improve one’s health and enhance the quality of life.” Huh?

According to the reiki Center of Excellence, “Receiving a reiki attunement is a powerful spiritual experience, as your energetic pathways are opened by a reiki master. This energetic opening allows the reiki energy to flow freely through your body to impact your health and the health of others.” It’s recommended to do a 3-day cleanse before an attunement (a dopamine fast?). Once you’ve been attuned, you’re like a life force energy riverbed for the rest of your life. Oh, and the ICRT site says that a God-consciousness and various spiritual beings will be joining in the attunement party.

Reiki sessions

The International Association of Reiki Professionals tells us that reiki sessions typically last 60-90 minutes. They’re performed either lying on a massage table or seated. The session can be done hands-on, with a light touch, or with the practitioner’s hands a short distance away from the body. The touch is done over your clothing. The session progresses through specific hand positions, moving from one end of the body to the other.

The IARP has a few videos on their site. None of them show an actual treatment, but there is a reiki rap. And yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. If you’re curious about what a reiki treatment looks like, including “sweeping” the aura, you can check out this video:

Distance reiki

Do you not live near a reiki practitioner? Don’t worry—one can perform a treatment for you from a distance. The Center for True Health assures us that “Distance Reiki is a technique within the system of Reiki that enables you to give a Reiki session beyond the limitations of time and space. It expands the practitioner’s ability to transmit spiritual energy beyond physical touch.” You’re supposed to send the practitioner a picture of you ahead of time; dick pics probably aren’t appropriate in this case.

According to an article in Mind Body Green, distance reiki is based on the Hermetic Law of Similarity. A very quick and easy way to distinguish bullshit from non-bullshit is to plug a term into Google Scholar. “Hermetic Law of Similarity” yields a whopping zero hits. Ding ding ding, it wins the BS prize!

Science or pseudoscience?

In science, there is a logical progression of steps. You come up with an idea to explain a phenomenon, and then use this to formulate a hypothesis.& You come up with an experiment to test your hypothesis. If the results of your experiment support your hypothesis, you can do further work to explore this further. If the data from your experiment don’t support your hypothesis, it’s back to the drawing board.

In pseudoscience, you come up with an explanation for a phenomenon. You like your explanation, mostly because it fits with your worldview. You decide that it’s the way things are until someone can prove otherwise. The thing is, it’s much harder to prove something is not than to prove that something is.

As an example, let’s say I decide that purple people eaters are responsible for phenomenon X. I can’t actually prove that there are purple people eaters, but you can’t prove that there isn’t at least one hanging out somewhere on the planet. Therefore, I feel justified in insisting that there are purple people eaters, and you just can’t see them or don’t know where to look.

There is no proof that the energy fields described by reiki practitioners are real. However, just like the purple people eater, there isn’t absolute proof that they do not. The logical conclusion would be that this supposed energy doesn’t exist until there is proof that it does, just like the logical conclusion would be that purple people eaters don’t exist until such time as we actually see one doing its thing.

Should you get reiki?

I can see a few areas where reiki really could have some legitimate benefit, like relaxation, supporting mindfulness, and promoting the mind and body’s natural healing processes. However, none of that is the foundation that reiki has built its house on. If your house is constructed on a foundation of rotting logs and BS, having some nice ornaments in the window doesn’t make the house a hot commodity.

So, if you want to go to a reiki practitioner and potentially experience some of those side benefits, more power to you. As for the energy fields? Unless you spot a purple people eater in the parking lot, you’re probably shit outta luck.

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37 thoughts on “Is Reiki Legit or Bullshit?”

  1. Johnzelle Anderson

    Great post. My therapist is very new agey. I love her use of EMDR but don’t ever request reiki after she did a demo one time. Too woo woo for me.

  2. I am going to keep on saying purple people eaters over and over… hahahahahahaha I love it. Yep and I can be stoned,,but some years ago I witnessed how a reiki practitioner milked a woman for all her money emotionally. The woman had/has fibromyalgia I think. She was in such a bad state and I felt so sorry for her. She just continued to go back. Apparently they have some pendulum that they use as well. woo woo…. purple people eaters haahahah

  3. If anybody ever says, “Well prove it’s not real” then you know it’s not real. That’s not how proving things happens. I can’t just take your word for it that you’re shooting powerful invisible laser beams of energy out of your hands, and I can’t disprove something that isn’t actually happening. But while we’re at it, I want to thank whoever is reading this and fixing my neck right now. Much appreciated.

  4. Dang, Ashley… Tell us how you really feel? LOL!
    Hey, what works for some doesn’t work for all. Not everyone agrees with me over the benefits of meditation. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong or right, it’s a personal preference.
    Personally, I have read up on reiki in the past… My view is that I can’t see myself doing it. For one, I don’t like people touching me. A massage sounds lovely and yet, just the mere thought of someone rubbing me down freaks me out.

    1. I have no problem with meditation. I’m not against alternative health strategies in general, just those that are based on underlying principles that are simply made up. And regardless of whether people feel reiki works for them or not, either way the ideas it’s based on are still made up.

  5. Thanks for breaking it down! I pretty much decided it was woo woo after reading Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World, but would have friends swear about its effectiveness and some go to therapists who do talk therapy and that.

    Once a friend asked me what’s the harm in someone believing in it? It’s fine if you’re also getting proper treatment ALSO for your medical conditions, but too often people will just do reiki. While there might be a strong placebo effect, it’s still pseudoscience.

    1. And just because the placebo effect works doesn’t mean the pseudoscience is actually valid, and I think some people have a hard time separating that out.

  6. Also I’m curious about your thoughts on acupuncture! It’s offered in some government hospitals where I live, and my parents have used it for themselves as well. Insurance even covers it even when they refuse to cover ANY mental health treatment!

    1. I found an interesting systematic review that found that acupuncture was no better for pain than sticking needles into people in random place, but the random needles were better than getting no treatment at all, which suggests some physiological benefit but not based on the underlying principles of acupuncture.

  7. It’s similar to homeopathy. People go around proclaiming “The one who heals is the one who is right!”. Yeah, no. Our mind likes to infer causal relationships between seemingly connected events without even thinking about other explanations.
    I feel bad. I visited a reiki practitioner. I feel better. Therefore, reiki works.
    Anybody who thinks this is proof for anything should take a course in formal logic and reasoning.

      1. Probably not. I tend to reply something like “If homeopathy worked, I could get drunk with a single drop of alcohol.”

        Sadly, that’s not how physics work 🙁

  8. I don’t like the word at all, Rei-ki, doesn’t fit into my ear! I believe that there are plenty of things we don’t understand, like the brain and the universe. So I do not dismiss everything ‘weird’ I like to think about the ‘weird’ solutions bc you never know. How ever 1 found one very good method to see if something will work: tell them you have none or very little money. You’ll see your ‘options’ will be drasticly smaller 🤣

    1. It’s something that’s been around for almost 100 years, and it may have some benefits, but the energy field stuff essentially someone just made up for whatever their reasons might have been at the time.

  9. Friends practice this Reiki and I stay quiet. I want no bad vibes between us.. which is essentially the point of these people pushing their brand of wellness. Maybe we could all be practitioners by just being nice and not charging $$$$ for their wellbeing?

  10. I think it’s more of a mental thing. The placebo effect is very real, often if you believe something it can manifest in the body. I thought I was pregnant when I was in middle school (it’s a long story and I didn’t even do tha nasty at the time, I thought kissing led to pregnancy… whole school got involved the counselors… it was a huge mess haha) my body grew a stomach as if I were actually pregnant. It was bizarre. So going based on the placebo effect and having someone claim they can heal you per say, I think the body responds to your belief system. So, if you feel like your energy is clearer after a session then you feel mentally lighter. So, people think it works. If you go in skeptical, chances are you may just have an odd experience. I got my Reiki Masters, if you can even call it that, just to see what the hype was about. From what I’ve learned and witnessed these are the conclusions that I came to. Spirituality, Energy healing, and all that are a major market at the end of the day. If it helps great, but I don’t think anyone should just rely on Reiki as an all-powerful healing technique. Though I had some odd experiences after getting involved with all this. Things science cannot explain. Though there is a lot to be discovered, so I just observe quietly for now. Speaking up here and there.

    1. The placebo effect is definitely a powerful thing. I guess I would prefer a “this helps but it’s not clear how exactly that happens” over “this helps by specific mechanism [x]” when [x] isn’t grounded in facts.

  11. A more profound level of bullshit are the reiki symbols. They are Japanese ideograms on paper that by focusing on them energy is transferred to you!

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