A recent medical review examined the research behind bio-energy healing therapies like Reiki, healing touch, qigong and others. What was discovered is that there is reasonable data to indicate that bio-energy healing therapies are not simply the result of the placebo effect but are indeed real.
The use of bio-energy in healing dates back to the beginning of recorded history. Bio-energy is the concept that all living matter has a field of energy that is dynamic and related to an organism's health. If the energy is strong and flowing well, health is the result. If the energy is low and/or not flowing well, there is an increased risk of illness.
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In this bio-field system, energy is readily exchanged, especially between people often through touch or close proximity. The "laying on of hands" as a healing technique is found in all cultures and medical systems (even ours). In the United States, more than 1.5 million people have actively sought out this healing method. If you include the number of people who, when ill, are physically touched or held by others (a very common practice), then bio-energy healing could potentially be the most common form of therapy in the world.
Bio-energy can be enhanced by meditation, exercise, diet and specific breathing exercises. For thousands of years in India, yoga and prana breathing have been practiced because of their profound health benefits. In Asia, qigong techniques have been incorporated into many healing therapies. Bio-energy can also be directly transferred from one person to another.
In this type of healing, the healer acts as a conduit for energy flow and, if done correctly, their own energy is not depleted. In the U.S. medical literature, there are a significant number of clinical trials evaluating bio-energy healing. Since the mid-1980s, therapeutic touch has been most studied followed by qigong, Reiki, spiritual healing and healing touch.
A recent medical summary, at the University of California -- San Diego, compiled 66 studies on bio-energy healing. This type of research is called a meta-analysis. The analysis concluded that bio-energy healing therapies may be effective for many acute pain conditions, including cancer. Some of the best pain relief was when bio-energy therapies were used right after surgery.
The research with cancer-related fatigue was split. Some studies showed benefit and others no improvement. Improvement was seen in patients with agitation and dementia, and helped reduce anxiety in patients before heart surgery. Overall pretty positive, but, as always, more research is needed.
I have found bio-energy therapies to be helpful as part of a comprehensive medical approach. The effectiveness seems to be related to the experience and qualifications of the healer. There are no known side effects and, in my experience, the results are positive. While it is rarely covered by insurance, it may be worth trying.
• Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.