Measures of comfort and well-being among patients receiving chemotherapy improved significantly following a 20-minute reiki intervention, and also after a 20-minute intervention with a sham reiki placebo, according to recent research.

The study, “Investigation of Standard Care Versus Sham Reiki Placebo Versus Actual Reiki Therapy to Enhance Comfort and Well-Being in a Chemotherapy Infusion Center,” involved 189 people ages 18 and older receiving chemotherapy in a northern California infusion center.

These subjects were randomly assigned to receive either standard care, sham reiki placebo or actual reiki therapy for 20 minutes during one of their chemotherapy infusion appointments. These appointments typically involve the patient sitting quietly in a comfortable chair and receiving IV medications for three to five hours, often while reading, listening to music or watching TV.

Those subjects assigned to receive standard care went about their chemotherapy appointment as described above. As for the patients in the sham reiki placebo group, an oncology nurse pretended to perform a Reiki session for 20 minutes, moving her hands on the patient’s body in a specific order.

According to the researchers, “The sham reiki therapist was chosen in part because of her disbelief in biofield energy transfer. In an effort to prevent any possible healing energy coming from the sham therapist, [she] was asked to do math problems or create a shopping list in her head.”

Participants assigned to the study’s actual reiki therapy group received 20 minutes of reiki, provided by an oncology nurse who is also a certified reiki master. During these reiki sessions, the nurse addressed seven main chakras, all major organs and six major energy centers—crown, brow, throat, heart, solar plexus and sacrum—starting at the patient’s head and moving down.

“The reiki therapist managed the energy to treat ‘dis-ease’ and improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being,” state the study’s authors.

The Healing Touch Comfort Questionnaire and the Well-Being Analog Scale were the two tools employed to assess outcome measures for this study. These surveys were completed by subjects in each group before and after the chemotherapy infusion appointment in which they received either standard care, sham reiki placebo or actual reiki therapy.

Results of the research revealed that both actual reiki therapy and sham reiki placebo resulted in statistically significant improvements in the level of comfort and well-being among patients receiving chemotherapy.

“Some may say that healing went through the sham provider regardless, and that all nurses perform healing in their touch,” state the study’s authors. “Therefore, the investigators in this study postulate that the intervention that improved patient comfort and well-being may have been the attentive presence of a designated nurse at the bedside.

“More specifically, the investigators are focused on the one-on-one nursing presence, rather than human presence alone,” they continue, “because all three groups had the presence of family members at the bedside, and all groups had equal access to the regular chemotherapy unit nurses.”


Authors: Anita Catlin and Rebecca L. Taylor-Ford.

Sources: School of Nursing, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California; and Kaiser Santa Rosa Hospital, Santa Rosa, California. Originally published in Oncology Nursing Forum (2011), 38(3), 212-220.