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Reiki and Pallative Care / Hospices

Originally from Ontario Reiki Programme Centre
www.magma.ca/~peterz/index.htm - given to Angela Gorman, PRO, RFI by kind permission

The World Health Organization defines palliative care as "active total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. Control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social and spiritual problems, is paramount. The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families. Many aspects of palliative care are also applicable in the course of the illness in conjunction with anti-cancer treatment." [i] In addition to coping with the illness that is causing the imminent death, patients are psychologically and spiritually challenged at this point in their lives. This article examines some of the measures of effective palliative care and describes how Reiki may be effective as part of a palliative care regimen.

A Palliative Care Programme

The World Health Organization says that Palliative Care[ii]:

  • Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
  • Neither hastens nor postpones death
  • Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
  • Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of care
  • Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
  • Offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient's illness and in their own bereavement

The following sections describe how Reiki supports and augments the delivery of care according to these themes.

Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process

The "Ki" in Reiki is universal life energy, and a long study of Ki/Qi/Prana and associated practices can certainly bring one to a Zen-like worldview. The most probable life-affirming aspect of the Reiki will be the caring touch of the practitioner when the patient receives Reiki.[iii]

Neither hastens nor postpones death

Reiki has been anecdotally associated with significant healing in contexts that were considered hopeless or untreatable. That said, Reiki practitioners generally intend that the energy being used be "for [the client's] greatest good". Unlike other forms of therapy, there is no attempt to control or direct how the healing is used, be it physical, mental, or spiritual; Reiki may (for instance) help the client with acceptance, reduce pain, and/or reduce depression, depending on the client's need. The practitioner does not direct the energy.

Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms

"We use probably 50-80 percent of nonpharmacologic methods in our NIH pain clinic, meaning non-medication. The things we use include massage, relaxation, hypnosis, and Reiki therapy, which is also very helpful in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndromes." [iv] - Ann Berger, R.N., M.S.N., M.D., Medical oncologist specializing in pain treatment, Chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C.

Medical studies using sham practitioners have been carried out with Reiki, and it has been shown to be effective for pain management. For example: one double-blind study[v] found that "Reiki is an effective modality for reducing pain, depression, and anxiety"; Hartford hospital reports that Reiki provides significant pain relief for surgery patients[vi]; Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute concluded that Reiki showed a highly significant reduction in pain in a pain management study including cancer.

In a study of Reiki for treating HIV-related pain and anxiety[vii], Pamela Miles found that newly trained Reiki practitioners perceived reductions in pain and anxiety when they performed Reiki on themselves or classmates. Breast cancer patients can, similarly, be taught first-level Reiki (which only takes about a day, and has no significant age or ability barriers). Miles found no significant differences between improvements whether oneself or a classmate did the treatments.

What constitutes "Other distressing symptoms" is naturally specific to the condition and the subjective perception of "distressing". Reiki provides a reduction in anxiety - hence distress, which is consistent with the intent of this theme.

Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of care

Reiki has no religious affiliation, nor is an enhanced religiosity per se an intended outcome of Reiki, however Reiki practice is commonly associated with spiritual growth. One of the early studies[viii] found that not only is Reiki "an effective modality for reducing pain, depression, and anxiety", but that it is also "effective in enhancing desirable changes in personality and strengthening the faith in God."  Reducing depression and anxiety, and strengthening spirituality effectively integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of care.

There is also the matter of empowerment for those who have the capacity to perform their own Reiki. Reiki requires very little in terms of physical or mental prowess to perform, and can be taught for self-application very easily. What is needed is that the patient not be in so much pain that they are incapable of focusing on anything other than the pain, nor is (s)he always medicated to such an extent that they cannot form the intention to perform Reiki. Palliative care patients lose a sense of control, due to the illness, to their dependence on other people for help, and to their dependence on the doctors and hospitals for relief of pain. Learning to relieve symptoms on their own provides patients with a renewed sense of having some input and control over their lives.

Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death

Reiki (and other forms of energy therapy [ix]) have been associated with improved quality of life in palliative situations. "Some general trends seen with Reiki include: periods of stabilization in which there is time to enjoy the last days of one's life; a peaceful and calm passing if death is imminent; and relief from pain, anxiety, dyspnea and edema. Reiki is a valuable complement in supporting patients in their end-of-life journey, enhancing the quality of their remaining days." [x]

Offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient's illness and in their own bereavement

Caring family members can learn Reiki as easily as the palliative patient can. Caregivers experience stress and the first thing taught in Reiki Level 1 is self-care. This ability can be used to care for the palliative patient, thereby making the family member "feel useful", as (s)he is materially contributing to the patient's well-being (as above). Additionally, the self-care is immediately available to the caregiver him/herself when Level1 is taught [xi] and the reduced anxiety and spiritual growth are thereby available to the family member who has learned this practice (and to any other family members to whom (s)he provides Reiki).


Reiki provides the patient and the patient's family with tools to deal with body, mind, and spirit, all of which must be nurtured during the end-of-life of a family member. That it can be learned by anyone, and is useful immediately upon learning, suggest that teaching Reiki to professional staff involved in palliative care, palliative patients and their family members who are open to an energy therapy can improve palliative care.


The Ontario Reiki Programme Centre is an Ontario not-for-profit corporation dedicated to providing Reiki programmes in health care centres. They provide presentations, training and treatments, and have a comprehensive website (at www.onreiki.com) of research on this non-invasive therapy. Therapists and teachers are registered with the Canadian Reiki Association. These articles are presented as part of our mandate to inform people who may benefit from Reiki that this therapy exists, and how it has been shown to apply. This material may be used to promote Reiki and Reiki programmes in health care centres so long as the material is used intact and includes the copyright and attribution.

Reiki is a complement to treatment by a physician. It does not provide services in lieu of a doctor, nor is it a medical diagnostic tool. However, there is a growing body of opinion that integrative medicine that takes advantage of all parts of the care spectrum as appropriate is more effective (and cost-effective) than allopathic treatment alone.

Author: Peter Zorzella, BASc, RT-CRA, founded the Ontario Reiki Programme Centre to make healing through Reiki available to everyone who could benefit from it. Peter is a registered teacher with the Canadian Reiki Association; in addition to the work associated with the Centre, he has a clinical practice South of Ottawa.





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