Reiki and cancer
Our modern healthcare system has a lot to offer to fight cancer but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to offering the much needed emotional connection and mental support our patients need while on this very difficult journey. When we think of the medical environment, we can see that it is a very stressful environment where it is all about tests and test results, examinations and scans, appointments and consultations and referrals, and where the healthcare professionals work under an ever-increasing pressure that simply doesn’t leave them time for genuine connection with the patient. As much as our patients need the medical treatments to fight the cancer, they also need emotional and mental support, gentle and compassionate care, a safe place where their fears and concerns can be heard and understood, and a place to grieve for having lost life as they once knew and loved it. As a holistic therapist I know how important it is to be cared for holistically, taking the person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being into consideration. I also know that very often the best treatment results are achieved when, in addition to medical care, patients get holistic treatments too.
How do cancer patients benefit from Reiki?
During my many years as a Reiki practitioner, I have had the privilege to work with many cancer patients. Some of those cancer patients had just been diagnosed with cancer, others were in the middle of their cancer treatment, others could no longer receive treatment, and there were a few who were in remission. Here are my findings from those many years of working with cancer patients:
- All cancer patients found that Reiki was very relaxing, calming and soothing.
- All cancer patients said that Reiki reduced tension and anxiety.
- All cancer patients noticed that Reiki reduced the side-effects of conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation and the side-effects of strong medication.
- All cancer patients explained that Reiki reduced their physical and emotional pain.
- All cancer patients stated that Reiki increased their energy-levels.
- Some cancer patients stated that Reiki improved their sleep-pattern.
- In all cases Reiki helped my cancer patients to have a more positive attitude towards life in general and improved the response to their often aggressive treatments.
What does the Reiki research say?
We don’t know the working mechanism of Reiki but we do know that Reiki is hugely beneficial for cancer patients. A cancer diagnosis and cancer treatments come with stress, anxiety, tension and all too often with less quality of life. Reiki induces the relaxation response helping the patient to feel less stressed, less anxious, less agitated, and less pain and discomfort and it increases the quality of life.
Reiki has been investigated for its effects on cancer symptoms such as anxiety and pain as well as its impact on quality of life and well-being. Several studies at infusion centres in several US states – where the patients had to rate their relaxation, anxiety, pain and over all well-being both before and after 20 minute long Reiki sessions on an analogue scale – show that those patients receiving Reiki felt less tense, less anxious, less pain or discomfort and had an increased sense of well-being compared to the patients in the control group who didn’t receive a Reiki session. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 110 presurgical patients with breast cancer found reduced anxiety and mood improvement in the Reiki treatment group. In 118 patients undergoing chemotherapy, the 90 patients who received four Reiki sessions had significant reductions in anxiety and pain. Also, results of a mixed methods study of pre-/post-surveys evaluating first-time Reiki sessions in 213 patients with cancer indicated that self-reported distress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue each decreased by more than 50%. And even though there are many more examples to show that it is very important to investigate the working mechanism of Reiki and its efficacy for cancer patients further, what we can already see from the research we have done is that Reiki plays an important role in cancer care. And my own opinion is that suffice to say that Reiki induces the relaxation response and that all the other positives we see in patients receiving Reiki are based on that.
Use of Reiki in Clinical Practice
Because Reiki does not require equipment and can be done at the bedside or during chemotherapy, it may be easily integrated into the oncology setting. Observational studies have evaluated such integration (see above). We need more research and study the efficacy of Reiki on a larger scale, and I have no doubt that this will happen and that Reiki will become an integral part of clinical practice in the years to come.
What Oncology Nurses Need to Know
Available evidence, although limited, supports Reiki for managing symptoms such as pain and anxiety and improving well-being and quality of life in people with cancer. In recent years, cancer centres in many countries around the world have begun offering Reiki. It is safe for people of all ages and is not associated with harmful effects. From time of diagnosis through long-term follow-up or end of life, oncology nurses serve a significant role as patient educators and care navigators. Understanding health promotion strategies and symptom management options such as Reiki is essential for building an arsenal of tools to improve quality of life and prevent or mitigate treatment sequelae. Knowing about Reiki as well as about other complementary therapies as a nurse working in oncology is important because you can talk to patients about them or, if they ask you what complementary therapies they could use alongside their conventional treatments, you can talk their choices through with them.