The Benefits of Reiki Therapy During Cancer Treatment

Reiki is a Japanese energy-based therapy. Among the reasons it is used is the possible reduction of certain symptoms related to cancer and its treatment, including fatigue, pain, and sleep issues. While research on its effectiveness is not considered conclusive, reiki is considered safe and a potentially helpful complementary cancer therapy—so much so that many major cancer treatment centers now offer it.

Woman undergoing alternative therapy treatment, therapist's hands over woman's head
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How Reiki Is Performed

Born in the late 1930s, reiki means "universal life energy." The therapy is based on the idea that a practitioner can promote healing and overall wellness by encouraging the flow and free circulation of a recipient's own spiritual energy via touch or closeness.

Reiki sessions typically last 30 to 90 minutes. The therapy may be administered on its own or in combination with other complementary and conventional medical treatments. While practitioners generally perform reiki within close proximity of the recipient, many believe it can be successfully performed from a distance.

During a reiki session, a specially trained practitioner will use their hands to transmit "life force energy" while the recipient is sitting or lying down, fully clothed. The practitioner's hands are placed on or slightly above the recipient's body with the goal of directing the flow of energy to where it's most needed. The practitioner may also utilize hand positions on various parts of the body for two to five minutes at a time.

Many people report feeling a sense of warmth and deep relaxation during reiki sessions. They may also feel sleepy or refreshed, or generally less tense and anxious.

Uses for Reiki During Cancer Treatment

For cancer patients, reiki treatment is often offered along with massage therapy and other complementary therapies.

Some research has shown that it can help with symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Distress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Sleep difficulties

Research has also shown that cancer patients receiving reiki treatment have reported improvements in their overall well-being and ability to relax.

One study showed that reiki and massage can provide similar improvements and relief for issues such as pain, nausea, and depression. Reiki also proved to relieve fatigue and anxiety more than massage therapy.

Similarly, another study compared the status of symptoms in patients who did and did not receive reiki treatment, finding that the reiki group experienced lowered levels of pain, anxiety, and fatigue.

That said, research has not been consistent enough for experts to consider it to be reliable and conclusive. But because reiki doesn't come with any lasting or dangerous side effects, more clinical settings are starting to offer it in addition to medical cancer treatments.

Reiki is a complementary therapy used to ease the emotional and physical side effects of treatment. It is not an alternative cancer treatment and cannot be used to cure cancer.

Finding a Reiki Practitioner

In many states, a reiki practitioner must also be a licensed massage therapist. While reiki is commonly offered in wellness clinics and sometimes by a spiritual minister, it is also sometimes available in hospital and hospice settings, making it even easier for cancer patients to find a practitioner. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City has even offered monthly reiki sessions, as well as opportunities to learn the practice.

Check the International Association of Reiki Professionals list for a practitioner in your area.

Reiki sessions can range from no cost to about $100 per session. Insurance companies do not normally cover this therapy. Feel free to as your provider for referrals or about available holistic or integrative care programs.

A Word From Verywell

While reiki is considered to be safe and non-invasive, it's still important to remember that it's not an approved cancer treatment. Don't delay pursuing standard treatment in favor of an alternative method like reiki. Be sure to always talk to your doctor prior to having any alternative or complementary treatment.

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Article Sources
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  1. International Association of Reiki Professionals. How reiki helps cancer patients.

  2. Gateway for Cancer Research. Reiki therapy improves symptoms in cancer patients. Updated September 17, 2015.

  3. Penn Medicine News. Reiki: A light touch that helps cancer patients. Updated January 6, 2014.

  4. International Association of Reiki Practitioners. Reiki in the clinical setting.

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