Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by "laying on hands" and 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.
I picked up a leaflet in my local florist which claimed: 'Reiki works at subtle levels to promote healing, balance and wholeness on spiritual, mental, physical & emotional levels.'
FANTASTIC - it cures everything!
Is this the answer to everyone's ills of whatever nature or is this - to borrown a phrase from Professor Brian Cox - another steaming pile of new age nonsense. I strongly suspect the latter; in fact, I am sure it's the latter.
Reiki comes from he mystical orient where they know a thing or two about being, well, mystical. But in the west we assume that anything eastern is good and it's always more convincing if there are Chinese or Japanese characters associated with it which 'mean something'. One symbol (Rei) means 'universal life energy' and the other (Ki) means 'breath'. Of course, these symbols mean other things too - don't they always? So 'spiritual consciousness' and 'life force' get thrown in for good measure.
Naturally, no rational person can take any of this seriously; energy is energy and there is only one way to look at energy whether it is of the 'life force' or not as in:
Energy is a function of mass and the velocity of light (squared); if our 'life force energy' is low - if such a thing existed - then there's damn all we can do about it.
But does reiki work? Well, of course it does, in the same way as homeopathy and visiting your GP does (even when your GP prescribes nothing). You feel better because you have done something or you think you've had something done to you; the notorious and highly effective placebo effect. If you think you have life energy forces and that they are depleted and you undertake some procedure that restores or realigns them then you are likely to believe that this works and then you are well down the road, actually, to feeling it has worked. However, I am guessing that the effect size for treatment of reiki - distinguishable only from the effect of other bogus treatments by how much faith the individual has in it - is very small. Its claim to universal treatment of all ills presumably stops around the level of 'I feel a little out of sorts - I know, it must be my life force energy' and does not extend to major trauma and terminal cancer...however, I am sure there will be claims of miracle cures somewhere on the internet.
Could reiki be tested? Of course it could but I can just hear the howls of protest from the reiki community about paradigmatic fallacy - you can't test reiki using conventional methods. Well, yes you can. Take a group of people - none of whom have previously been exposed to reiki (ie they must not know what is considered to be real reiki and what is just stroking various parts of the body) - the cure for whose disorder is considered to be reiki. Randomly allocate them to a reiki therapist and a sane person and then let them both loose. Measure the outcomes (if such can be agreed) and then see which, if any, is the more effective 'treatment'.
What's the harm?
In the field of bogus medicine (ie CAM) the 'what's the harm?' question is often raised. By this, CAM practitioners and users say that if people want to pay for this kind of treatment and they feel it works then why try to stop them? Well, there is good reason to stop them - especially the practitioners who are, essentially, fraudsters. Even if they truly believe in what they are doing there is no scientific evidence - theoretical or practical - to support them. This applies whether or not they are making extravagant (I'll cure your cancer) or mild (it's only an adjuvant) claims. If I decided to label myself and alternative mechanic and opened a garage on that basis where, when people took in their cars and I administered some hocus pocus without actually doing anything mechanical and let them drive away...I would be out of business in less than a week and probably - rightly - imprisoned. Why, when we will not tolerate bogus mechanics, do we take such risks and part with vast amounts of money when it comes to our bodies?