Recently I got embroiled in a conversation online about Reiki, as I’d posted on The Secular Buddhist Facebook Fan Page an online article which had the title “Using reiki to treat psoriasis and meditation for psychogenic seizures: Alternate Paths“. This came to my attention because of the use of the word “meditation”, but what made me post about it in a cautionary way was the very clear statement from the article title that Reiki treats psoriasis. As one of my efforts is to separate the woo from the realities of meditation, this kind of mixing sets off alarms. A few terms in that title tripped some alarms, actually, as they may with people in the skeptical community. Reiki; treats a medical condition; a completely different topic of meditation for a kind of seizure; and the biggest buzzword of all, “alternate”:
Per Reiki.org’s FAQ, “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.” The quotes are theirs. Even they do quotey fingers around “laying on hands” and “life force energy”!
A nine year old, Emily Rosa, made short work of the claims of therapeutic touch’s invisible fields, and pointed to the simple fact that there is no blinded study to suggest it’s valid medical practice. But when I brought this up, the woo contingent rose to the defense of Reiki, and that defense took the usual forms we skeptics have come to expect from people who have no evidence:
Disparage the Questioner — clearly my thinking is biased due to personal fault with my reasoning. True, it is biased: I want evidence, and there is none. Though I do have another bias in the next point.
Outrageous Claims — not in the article is my personal experience, that of a dear friend who also is a “Reiki Master” by his own words. His claims matched what’s on that website, but he added that it could cure my cancer. The only problem with that is, of course, that when it fails you’re not around to stand up and say “This didn’t work, and now I’m dead. Thanks for the ineffective treatment based on your unfounded belief in invisible ‘cosmic energies’ (ed. note — his words), and the dangerous claim that made me not get actual treatment.” So yes, I suppose that is bias on my part for still being alive to say modern medicine kept me that way, not dangerous belief in nonsense.
Redefine Reiki — one reader took up my quote above from a Reiki site by saying that there are lots of bad Reiki practices out there. Okay, I’ll bite, since we’re in the No True Scotsman fallacy — what is the authorizing body for what is “real” Reiki, then? No answer has yet been given. For a practice you can’t demonstrate because it involves (remember, this is from reiki.org) “life force energy” which is invisible, of course we see no body that would put itself up for lawsuits when Reiki fails to effect healing.
Redefine The Title — my issue was the title, but a comment was made that it’s not what the article says. Correct — but the title does, however inaccurately, reflect the contents and misrepresents it. The article talks about Reiki, but not as the title suggests treating psoriasis, but stress, an exacerbating factor of the condition. I’m not sure we see any illness for which an increase in stress offers a viable treatment option, so Reiki is no more called for than MBSR. Which is actually mentioned in the article as a 1998 study on this same topic, providing subtle indication that anything which helps reduce stress, can help provide “some relief”. Note that there does appear to be evidence around stress reduction helping healing.
Alternate Paths — as Richard Dawkins has famously stated, “There is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t work.” (A Devil’s Chaplain, pg. 58). If there’s a case of an alternative medicine producing repeatable effective treatment for disease while no other medical treatments are being done, they become actual medicine. Note that they used the word Paths, not Medicine. Maybe someone has pointed this out to them before.
What was missing from the responses? EVIDENCE.
When claims are made that are not in evidence, particularly those which can be demonstrated in the natural world like medical claims, please please please: Question With Confidence!