Sunday, 24 September 2017

Reiki: Stuff and nonsense?

I know that some of my NHS colleagues regard me as "weird" because I practice reiki. To some, it's seen as a sham therapy, it's nonsense, it probably doesn't work, it has no scientific basis and it's a waste of money. 

As a nurse, I work on evidence-based care. I use facts and data to support my work, I analyse information to help gain a clinical picture. 

So I sometimes find it annoying that I practice reiki. I know that sounds weird, too; but the thing is, I often find myself sitting on the fence in contentious issues, because I can see both sides. I often wish I could be more certain, more definite. 
Here's where I am on the reiki fence: One leg either side of it. 
On one side, I see reiki as an unproven modality with little rigorously-tested research to prove that it does (or does not) work. As a critical thinker, I could say that as there is little conclusive evidence, I shouldn't practice it any more.

On the other side of the fence, I have tested it anecdotally and found that reiki has made a difference. An example of me seeing it work in practice is based on a situation where I was asked to give reiki to a patient many years ago, when I worked in an intensive care unit. The patient had suffered a catastrophic head injury. Brain scans revealed that his brain had been irreversibly damaged. Tests on his brain stem, the part of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure - all the basics for survival - had been irreversibly damaged. Tragically, there was no hope for this man. The family, who were devastated, were reaching out for any sign that their loved one could survive, as well as accepting that his life had come to an abrupt end. They were worried that he was in pain. They were told by one of my colleagues that I practised reiki, so asked me to give him some. I was initially reluctant to do so, but they really wanted to give him some comfort, knowing that he was unconscious, on life supporting machines and medicines to keep him alive. I asked the family if it would be acceptable for me to check his observations at the beginning and at the end of the therapy, to see if there were any changes, to which they agreed.
I asked a colleague to do a full set of observations, which included:
  •  blood pressure (which was being continuously measured through an invasive line in his artery, and visible on a monitor next to the patient's bed);
  • heart rate 
  • oxygen levels.
  • The patient's breathing was being controlled entirely by a machine called a ventilator, which was artificially inflating his lungs to deliver oxygen into his body. 
  • My colleague also checked his neurological status, which included:  
  1. pupil reaction to light (his eyes did not react), 
  2. movement (he was unconscious and not making purposeful movement)
  3. response to painful stimuli (he had an abnormal response to pain, showing grossly abnormal brain function). 
She wrote everything down and completed the patient's ICU chart, which had been recording all of these vital signs hourly for the past 2 days. Without looking at her results, I repeated a full set of observations and then began giving the reiki therapy for half an hour (free of charge of course, and with permission from the nurse in charge at the time).
At the end of the session I asked the same colleague to repeat the full set of observations and I did the same. What we discovered was that the heart rate, although still abnormally high, had reduced; the blood pressure had also reduced, despite remaining high; oxygen saturations had improved by 1%; and although the neurological observations were still abnormal, the overall score had improved by 1 point. All of these observations marked a noticeable difference in the data we had in that time-frame. The family were comforted by this, although we knew that the patient was not going to survive.
For me it raised a whole number of questions about how it worked (or was a coincidental finding); how to repeat the test again, whether it would be possible to do further research, and also blew the placebo theory out of the water, because the patient was unconscious and apparently unaware of the fact that he had just received half an hour of therapeutic touch. Although the data was measured and the findings could have implied that something had affected the measurements, there was still no hard evidence to support the theory that reiki therapy had made a difference to the patient.
To this day, I question that situation. For the most part, I believe that the patient benefited from the therapy. I would be interested in conducting further research. Reiki is being offered to cancer patients around the UK, with projects such as the Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust working within the NHS. 
The other interesting thing to note is that recently I was asked by a friend to give some reiki to him. I did so, and picked up a very specific medical side-effect of some treatment he'd been having. I'd had no idea at all from him that this side-effect had occurred, but I had discovered it during the session. I don't do guess-work,  and I don't do cold-readings. But I was spot-on about what I'd picked up. How? I dunno!
Whenever I treat a client, I take a full history, using assessments akin to my nursing work, I write notes and keep them confidentially locked away. I take confidentiality very seriously, adhering to ethics and respect at all times. I never claim to be able to cure anyone of anything. If you ever visit a reiki therapist who makes these kind of claims, walk away from them immediately.
Finally, and importantly, is the subject of money. I don't always charge people. I am often asked by friends and family to give reiki - if I do it's free or at a greatly reduced rate for close friends. For clients I  often under-charge, not because I don't value my work, but because I feel inclined to do so if I know they cannot afford to pay me. For others I combine my work as a mindfulness coach with the session to help the client in a broader sense, encouraging them to take on an interactive role in their own healing. After all, it's their body, they know how they feel. I facilitate the process of being able to tune in to themselves mindfully and work on self-care.
So does reiki work? Not, it would seem, for everyone - some of those I have treated have reported no effects whatsoever. Others have felt amazing results from the treatments. All I can say, is that although I am on the fence, I am leaning more to one side than the other, with the label of weirdness a factor in my leanings. But then again, what's wrong about being weird?!


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