Reiki research trashed by alternative medicine sceptic

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Edzard1Reiki is one of the most popular types of “energy healing”. Reiki healers believe to be able to channel “healing energy” into patients’ body thus enabling them to get healthy. Edzard Ernst, an academic physician and researcher specialising in the study of complementary and alternative medicine and formerly professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, writes in his blog, if Reiki were not such a popular treatment, one could brush such claims aside and think “let the lunatic fringe believe what they want”. But, he says, “as Reiki so effectively undermines consumers’ sense of reality and rationality, I feel I should continue informing the public about this subject – despite the fact that I have already reported about it several times before.

Ernst writes: “A new randomised control trial (RCT), published in a respected journal looks interesting enough for a further blog-post on the subject. The main aim of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of two psycho-therapeutic approaches, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and a complementary medicine method Reiki, in reducing depression scores in adolescents. The researchers from Canada, Malaysia and Australia recruited 188 adolescent depressed adolescents. They were randomly assigned to CBT, Reiki or wait-list. Depression scores were assessed before and after 12 weeks of treatments/wait list. CBT showed a significantly greater decrease in Child Depression Inventory (CDI) scores across treatment than both Reiki (p<.001) and the wait-list control (p<.001). Reiki also showed greater decreases in CDI scores across treatment relative to the wait-list control condition (p=.031). Male participants showed a smaller treatment effects for Reiki than did female participants. The authors concluded that both CBT and Reiki were effective in reducing the symptoms of depression over the treatment period, with effect for CBT greater than Reiki.

“I find it most disappointing that these days even respected journals publish such RCTs without the necessary critical input. This study may appear to be rigorous but, in fact, it is hardly worth the paper it was printed on. The results show that Reiki produced worse results than CBT. That I can well believe!

“However, the findings also suggest that Reiki was nevertheless ‘effective in reducing the symptoms of depression’, as the authors put it in their conclusions. This statement is misleading!

“It is based on the comparison of Reiki with doing nothing. As Reiki involves lots of attention, it can be assumed to generate a sizable placebo effect. As a proportion of the patients in the wait list group are probably disappointed for not getting such attention, they can be assumed to experience the adverse effects of their disappointment. The two phenomena combined can easily explain the result without any ‘effectiveness’ of Reiki per se.

“If such considerations are not fully discussed and made amply clear even in the conclusions of the abstract, it seems reasonable to accuse the journal of being less than responsible and the authors of being outright misleading.

“As with so many papers in this area, one has to ask: Where does sloppy research end and where does scientific misconduct begin?”

Abstract
The main aim of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of two psychotherapeutic approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a complementary medicine method Reiki, in reducing depression scores in adolescents. We recruited 188 adolescent patients who were 12-17 years old. Participants were randomly assigned to CBT, Reiki or wait-list. Depression scores were assessed before and after the 12 week interventions or wait-list. CBT showed a significantly greater decrease in Child Depression Inventory (CDI) scores across treatment than both Reiki (p<.001) and the wait-list control (p<.001). Reiki also showed greater decreases in CDI scores across treatment relative to the wait-list control condition (p=.031). The analyses indicated a significant interaction between gender, condition and change in CDI scores, such that male participants showed a smaller treatment effect for Reiki than did female participants. Both CBT and Reiki were effective in reducing the symptoms of depression over the treatment period, with effect for CBT greater than Reiki. These findings highlight the importance of early intervention for treatment of depression using both cognitive and complementary medicine approaches. However, research that tests complementary therapies over a follow-up period and against a placebo treatment is required.

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Psychiatry Research abstract


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