Counseling Today, Online Exclusives

Reiki and psychotherapy

By Cheryl Fisher April 30, 2015

“Susan” walked into my office, shoulders slumped, clothes disheveled and hair unkempt. Eyes sunken, even the most mundane decision regarding where to sit challenged her on this day.

She stumbled into a chair and, without removing her coat, proceeded to tell me how she had reached a new low in her depression. She wasn’t eating. She hadn’t left her bed except to tend to the obligatory restroom break to relieve her discomfort, but even the importance of that she debated. She looked up, her despair emanating from her sad, drawn eyes.

“I am so desperate,” she pleaded. “I even read about alternative medicine that might help.”

She looked up seeking approval.

“Offer her Reiki,” the voice in my head whispered.

“I will not!” I replied to my internal consultant.

After all, I had just received my Reiki Level 2 training the previous weekend. What if I didn’t do it right?

Even though my training as a Reiki practitioner had fully prepared me to offer the ancient energy, my ego refused to get out of the way, and I continued to ignore the increasingly irritating internal prodding.

“I read about something called Reiki. Do you know anything about it?” Susan asked.

I almost fell out of my chair as my client continued her inquisition regarding energy psychology. My internal voice squealed with delight.

“Actually, I do know a bit about Reiki,” I finally said. “Would you like to experience Reiki with the brief time remaining?”

Susan’s eyes, now the size of saucers, took in my brief explanation about the energy therapy and, following an informed verbal consent, I began to prepare her to receive the treatment. I had her relax and close her eyes while sitting in her chair. I told her I would offer her the subtle energy from across the room, keeping the intention for her greater good and healing. I asked her to imagine a lighted stone pathway spanning the space between my heart and hers on which a bright, golden flow of rich, healing light flowed, filling any spaces in her body that wanted to receive the energy.

I prepared myself, holding the intention of healing and compassion for my client, and then, reciting the ancient symbols silently, I offered her Reiki. We sat in this quiet, contemplative space for 10 of the remaining 15 minutes of the session. I wanted to have time to debrief my client and assess her degree of despair and possible need for hospitalization.

When the time was up, I asked Susan to take a final cleansing breath and then open her eyes and return to the room when she felt the experience was complete. She inhaled deeply, smiled and released what felt like a millennium of discomfort. Her eyes sparkled, wet with tears, and she stated, “That was our best session yet.”

I could feel my heart leap with joy, and I began to assess Susan’s emotional pain and safety. She stated that she felt as if an enormous psychic weight had been lifted off her chest and she could finally breathe. She indicated that she actually felt hungry … famished … and was going to go home and eat for the first time in days.

Although I did not feel that hospitalization was warranted for Susan, I was still apprehensive about waiting until our regularly scheduled appointment to see her again, so I scheduled her to come in the following week. Imagine my delight and surprise when Susan arrived to her appointment the following week with makeup on and hair coiffed and a list of goals that she wanted to tackle in her life. That became the first of many integrated psychotherapy sessions in which I employed Reiki.


Reiki history

Reiki (pronounced RAY-kee) is from the Japanese words Rei, which translates to mean universal or being everywhere, and Ki, which translates to mean life energy. Reiki is believed to be spiritually guided life energy. It was developed by Mikao Usui in 1922. However, it has been practiced for thousands of years.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) categorizes Reiki as an energy therapy. Reiki practitioners place their hands on or just above their clients to offer healing Reikienergy that is believed to transmit through the attuned practitioner to the client. Practitioners believe this energy to be of the purest and highest frequency of energy or “life force,” allowing the client’s body to enter a relaxed state. This relaxed state helps the body to activate its natural healing properties. Because the practitioner is channeling the energy through the body, the belief is that it does not deplete the provider and, in fact, provides healing to the healer.

Initially, Usui employed Reiki with the poor in Kyoto, Japan. He then began training others to offer this energy, including a former naval officer, Chujiru Hayashi. Following the death of Usui, Hayashi opened a clinic in Tokyo and trained a Reiki patient named Madame Takata. It is Takata who is believed to be responsible for bringing Reiki to Europe and America.

Currently, there are an estimated 50,000 Reiki masters (of which I am one) and 1 million Reiki practitioners worldwide. These providers are from a variety of clinical and nonclinical fields and include physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, massage therapists and psychotherapists.


Reiki training

Reiki is easy to learn. It does not require that one meditate, nor does it require years of study. A practitioner is able to offer Reiki following attunement by a Reiki master-teacher.

There are three levels of learning in Reiki. The first level is learning to offer Reiki to oneself. The second level introduces three symbols considered to be sacred and promote a connection to the energy. Completion of Level 2 affords the title of Reiki practitioner and indicates that one is equipped to offer Reiki and distance Reiki to clients. A practitioner can be attuned in advanced Reiki to a higher frequency of energy.

The master level of learning involves additional symbols and another attunement or ignition to the energy. A person is not considered a master-teacher until she or he has taught a class. Organizations such as the International Association of Reiki Professionals and the International Center for Reiki Training promote quality and standardized approaches to Reiki training.


Mechanisms of Reiki

According to Eastern medicine, life energy or ki flows through the body. When this energy is compromised in some capacity, it hinders well-being. The goal of Reiki is to allow the body to be at its optimal condition for life energy to flow freely, thereby affording the opportunity for natural healing properties to occur in the body. The natural healing mechanism is promoted by helping the client to obtain a relaxed state through the laying on of hands or distance treatment and channeling the energy to the client.


Clinical uses

Records of Reiki’s use are growing as Western medicine seeks ways to provide care in a holistic manner. Reiki is currently being offered not only for management of physical pain but emotional pain as well. According to a survey conducted by Health Forum, a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association, 42 percent of the responding hospitals in the United States and 70 percent of the responding hospitals in Canada offer complementary and alternative treatments including Reiki and healing touch. Reiki is used in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, stress and memory loss, as well as in palliative and oncological care.

Reiki is offered in hospitals, clinics and hospice settings. For example, the Integrative Medicine Department of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital offers and teaches Reiki to patients and caregivers. In a 2010 study conducted by Yale University and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers Rachel Friedman, Matthew Burg, Pamela Miles, Forrester Lee and Rachel Lampert found that 20 minutes of Reiki significantly improved mood and variable heart rate following a heart attack. This was above and beyond control for other variables.


Reiki and psychotherapy

The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology is a nonprofit organization of international licensed mental health professionals and allied health practitioners who are “dedicated to exploring, developing, researching and applying energy psychology methods to alleviate human suffering, enhance human performance and access human potential.”

More and more mental health professionals are seeking ways to empower clients with tools to manage their emotional and physical discomfort. Anxiety and emotional discomfort may provide information regarding behavioral and life changes that would be more healthful. Reiki allows clients to ground and be fully present in their bodies, listening to what the body, mind and soul are disclosing and manifesting as symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Reiki provides a tool that integrates grounding exercises with talk therapy. For example, I like to use a Reiki tool that allows clients to imagine whatever they want to rid themselves of as a shape with color, weight and texture. Once they have completely created their image, I ask them if they really want to release themselves from this (anxiety, resentment, depression, anger, etc.). They affirm this out loud. I then ask if they are willing to make the necessary changes to release their manifestation. Again, they affirm this out loud.

These preparations for the actual Reiki healing resonate with cognitive behavior therapy and expressive therapies. Clients employ their senses in creating an image that captures their sensory experience of their perceived angst. They are then asked to affirm their desire for change and their desire to make the changes necessary to affect change. Following this setup, I prepare myself and energetically help clients excise the imagined object from their being. This is one of my favorite tools because it has led to great success with clients who just seem stuck and need additional clearing.

Reiki is also a tool that clients can learn for their own personal use in self-care. The tenets of counseling promote the empowerment and self-sufficiency of the client. Reiki promotes a practice of clients becoming more self-aware to their physiological and energetic needs and provides a means to address care and healing.



A variety of universities, hospitals and organizations are conducting research to assess the efficacy of Reiki and touch therapies. The Center for Reiki Research (TCRR) uses a Touchstone Process of peer-reviewed consultation and analysis of current research projects.

In a controlled experiment reviewed by TCRR, Ann Baldwin and colleagues were able to demonstrate that Reiki offered at a distance decreased the stress response in rats. This was indicated by a reduction in heart rate and a significant increase in the physiological indicators of relaxation state. Animal studies reduce the placebo bias previously suggested by critics.



Ancient modalities appear to have wisdom to offer Western medicine. As mental health providers continue to seek ways to help clients with pain reduction and self-care, Reiki and touch therapies will be further explored. As a Karuna Reiki master practitioner, I have countless anecdotal experiences that speak to the effectiveness of Reiki. However, as a scholar-practitioner, I recognize the need for continued rigor in research as we discern the efficacy and standard of practice in the integration of Reiki and counseling practices.



Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor and a Karuna Reiki master in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland. In addition to her practice, she is a visiting full-time faculty in the pastoral counseling program for Loyola University Maryland. Contact her at


See also: Fisher’s previous article, “What would Yalom do? Ten nuggets of wisdom for counselors old and new.”



  1. John Hawkins

    Lots of anecdotal testimonies and a some non-rigorous research studies support the effectiveness of Reiki in treating some disorders, but the evidence is clearly insufficient to know if the Reiki treatment is making the difference or some other factor (such as a caring relationship with the practitioner) or simply a placebo effect. Before suggesting that counselors use this modality in psychotherapy, much more research and evidence is needed. There has yet to be one double-blind, controlled research study using rigorous statistical analysis showing the effectiveness of Reiki. So far, energy therapies have not been found to be grounded in empirical, scientific evidence and developed into a coherent, scientific theory; rather, they are based on ancient religious/wisdom traditions.

    C.7. Treatment Modalities
    C.7.a. Scientific Basis for Treatment
    When providing services, counselors use techniques/procedures/modalities that are grounded in theory and/or have an empirical or scientific foundation.

    A licensed counselor in my area is using aromatherapy to treat mood and anxiety disorders. She tells me that aromatherapy is another energy therapy and very effective. Of course, she also has no empirical support of its effectiveness, and I’m betting that the client’s insurance company has no idea that she’s using this method when she bills for her sessions.

    1. Raquel

      I am wondering why no one has responded to John’s well-founded comment. As a graduate student in counseling and a student of Reiki, I would love to integrate the two but fear that such a method in practice would be insursnce fraud.

    2. Counseling Today

      Hi Raquel,
      The author’s email is listed at the bottom of the article — feel free to contact her directly. Also, see her comment from 2017 at the bottom of this thread. Thanks!

  2. Reiki comment

    Many examples of positive, effective applications of Reiki practice are not as dramatic as the one presented here, but they are beneficial nonetheless. Rest, a common “side effect” of Reiki practice, is of great value to many people who experience stress. Mindfulness, meditative, and somatic practices can complement traditional therapies. As for the science, remember that medical and scientific practices also have roots in ancient practices that pre-date the science. While it is irresponsible to make unfounded claims of miraculous cures or disregard effective conventional treatments, appropriate and ethical use of practices such as Reiki can benefit patients and clients in numerous ways.

    1. Cheryl Fisher

      Thank you for your comments regarding the beneficial uses of Reiki. So much of the current research examines Reiki as a complement to traditional approaches to care. I have found that in some clients it provides just the ‘shift’ that allows forward movement in treatment. There are oodles of research projects in the works and here are a few articles for further information:

      Anderson, J.G. & Taylor, A.G. (2012). Biofield therapies and cancer pain. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 16, 43-48. doi:10.188/12.CJON.43-48
      Barnett, J., Shale, A., Elkins, G., Fisher, W. (2014). Complementary and alternative medicine for psychologists: An essential resource. Washington: DC. American Psychological Association.
      Baldwin, A. L., Wager, C., & Schwartz, G. E. (2008). Reiki improves heart rate homeostasis in Laboratory rats. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14, 417-422. doi:10.1089/acm.2007.0753
      Curtin, R. (2015). Psychotherapeutic reiki: a holistic body-mind approach to psychotherapy.

      Thank you for the comment,

  3. Len Bergantino

    Psychotherapy works, and a few sorts of treatments have been demonstrated to be significantly more successful than antidepressants as time goes on.
    Thank you for sharing your article.

  4. Margaret

    There is still the question of, is Reiki allowed to be practiced in psychotherapy under licensure? I spoke with CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) who provide legal consultation, as they were a strong “No” on practicing holistic treatments outside of traditional (evidence based) psychotherapy.

  5. Alex Edgar

    Yes. I am a massage therapist and Reiki practitioner who has started the long path towards becoming a counseling psychologist (still at undergraduate level).

    On the one hand, I love Reiki and I feel like I am being helpful. Most of the time – not always by any stretch.

    On the other, sometimes it feels so up in the air and subjective. I think there is always going to be uncertainty around this kind of work. Yes, evidence points to an objective reality that both client and practitioner are tapping into.

    On the other hand, there is always something that lies beyond the frontier of what could ever seem to be real. Even for the most ungrounded intuitive…

    Sometimes this uncertainty feels delicious – when things are going well. Sometimes it is deeply uncomfortable. Confusing. A question thrown at the sanity and integrity of the practitioner and the client with no clear answer except that we don’t really know what is real and what is not.

    For me, it is all about helping people. The tools, and even the validity of the tools come secondary. If the client improves, I’ll take it. Placebo or no.

    Thank you for this article. I love it! I hope one day we better understand what we are doing and how it works.

  6. Melissa

    I have been to several therapists over the last two decades and the one who had the single most impact was the one who incorporated energy medicine in her practice. I don’t really care about scientific studies and data, what matters to me as a patient is what actually works for me, in real life, not what some study says should work cause it did for some people (or vice versa).
    I very much appreciate those who are willing to explore the unknown. There is so much more to the mind, body, spirit connection and I am grateful for the impact my licensed therapist had on my life who was also trained in other ways.


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