A study to test the effectiveness of placebo Reiki standardization procedures developed for a planned Reiki efficacy study

J Altern Complement Med. 1999 Apr;5(2):153-64. doi: 10.1089/acm.1999.5.153.


Reiki is one type of alternative therapy that is increasing in popularity. It is advocated by its practitioners as a precise method for connecting universal life energy with the body's innate process of healing through hands-on techniques. The claim of Reiki practitioners is that Reiki reduces a variety of physical problems and improves psychospiritual well-being. There are abundant anecdotal records that support the previous claim, and a few pioneer scientific studies are starting to emerge. Although the Reiki research in totality supports the anecdotal records, the absence of randomized and placebo-controlled trials precludes the interpretation of the outcomes as resulting from specific effects as opposed to placebo effects plus natural history. Authorities in the field indicate that researchers interested in placebo-controlled studies should have the placebo treatment look exactly like the real intervention in every respect. Because no studies could be found in the literature that tested standardization procedures for real and placebo Reiki, the decision was made to conduct one. The purpose of this study was to test the standardization procedures developed by our research team for placebo Reiki, before going ahead and conducting our planned full-scale randomized and placebo-controlled Reiki efficacy study. This study used a 4-round, crossover experimental design in which 20 blinded subjects (12 students, 4 breast cancer survivors, and 4 observers) were exposed to a combination of 2 interventions (Reiki plus Reiki, or placebo plus placebo, or Reiki plus placebo, or placebo plus Reiki); and were then asked to evaluate the interventions using a self-administered questionnaire. The blinded observers were used in round number 4. Two real Reiki practitioners in the Usui system were chosen first, then 2 placebo practitioners who closely resembled them were recruited. The placebo practitioners were trained in Reiki by the study Reiki Master and the principal investigator, but were not initiated. The belief in Reiki is that only practitioners that are initiated could give Reiki, thus making it possible to have a placebo arm in efficacy studies. The findings of the study indicate that the developed standardization procedures were successful because none of the final participants in round 4 (4 breast cancer patients and 4 observers) could differentiate between the identity of placebo and Reiki practitioners. The qualitative comments expressed by the participants further con-firmed the quantitative data. It was concluded based on these findings that it is safe to go ahead and conduct the planned randomized 3-arm Reiki efficacy clinical trial. It is recommended that scholars interested in Reiki research could incorporate our techniques to strengthen their designs by adding a placebo arm.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acupressure*
  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Complementary Therapies
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome