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Is Reiki anti-church and is it harmful?

Q - Reiki is being offered at our local cancer centre. I was not aware that there was a spiritual dimension, but patients have told me it is anti-church and may be dangerous. Is this true?

A - Reiki is an energy healing system based on ancient Tibetan scriptures, which were rediscovered by Professor Mikao Usui in the mid-1800s.

Reiki ­ Japanese for 'universal life force energy' ­ is performed by practitioners who have been initiated through 'energy attunement' by a Reiki master, who then channel this energy to family, friends, and clients.

A Reiki practitioner is believed to act as a conduit for energy.

The source of the energy is described as 'cosmic' and could thus be described as non-denominational. The method entails both hands-on and distant healing.

Reiki is said to work by causing body molecules to 'vibrate' on a higher energy level and thus clear 'energy blockages' within the body.

It is conceivable that some therapists might try to influence patients against their church but I don't know of any cases personally.

What I do know, however, is that adverse effects of similar 'healing' methods have been described ­ for instance exacerbation of schizophrenia. The evidence that any spiritual healing methods have health effects beyond placebo is not convincing.

Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School, Exeter

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