Blog Post

Nurse: Patients Must be Fully Informed About Reiki/CAM Therapies

reiki 2A Catholic nurse is campaigning to encourage hospitals to provide full disclosure to patients about alternative therapies, particularly practices such as Reiki which have spiritual aspects, by utilizing a spiritual consent form designed to inform patients of possible spiritual conflicts and protect institutions from potential legal liability.

In an article published in the Linacre Quarterly, Maria Marra Arvonio, R.N., B.S.N., M.A., wages an impressive argument in favor of providing patients with enough facts about practices such as Reiki and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to enable them to give fully informed consent before these practices are administered.

Her campaign to encourage hospitals to use a spiritual consent form for Reiki and other CAM practices caught my attention because of the many letters we receive on this site from persons who received a Reiki treatment in a hospital, which they thought was just a “massage,” only to learn later that this is an occult-based practice.

As Arvonio correctly describes in her article, before becoming a Reiki practitioner, students must attend an attunement ritual, a spiritual ceremony led by a Reiki master that involves channeling Reiki energy from the master to the student while tracing invisible “sacred” symbols on their heads and hands. Because Scripture condemns the channeling of spirits (see Deuteronomy 18:9-14), these persons were understandably upset and insisted that they would never had consented to the treatment had they known about its background.

That this practice violates Christian beliefs is not a matter of personal opinion. Competent ecclesial authorities, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are of the same opinion. The bishops issued a statement in 2009 prohibiting the use of Reiki by any Catholic healthcare facility, retreat center, or person representing the Catholic Church because it conflicts with Christian beliefs.

reiki massageHowever, as Arvonio points out, this information is not routinely provided to patients. She cites prestigious hospitals such as The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York which offers Reiki and describes it only as a therapy meant for the healing of physical and emotional ailments through gentle touch with the use of “light pressure techniques to restore harmony and provide deep relaxation and a sense of clarity.”

MetroHealth System of Northeast Ohio, which is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, discloses on their website that their practitioners are volunteers who are trained in Reiki levels I, II, and III; however, they make no mention of the fact that this training is in the form of spiritual attunement rituals.

Portsmouth Regional Hospital offers more specific details about the origin of Reiki and states that practitioners are trained during an attunement process where they are taught the hand positions used during the session. However, as Arvonio points out, “they do not indicate that it is a spiritual ritual involving the transferring of energy from a Reiki master to the student.”

She asks, “Is this full disclosure?”

Of course not.

Nor are patients being informed that there is no adequate research to indicate its effectiveness or safety. As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states on its website: “Several groups of experts have evaluated the evidence on Reiki, and all of them have concluded that it’s uncertain whether Reiki is helpful.”

Shouldn’t patients be informed about this as well?

And wouldn’t they also be interested to know that there are “no licensing, professional standards, or formal regulation exists for the practice of Reiki….No special background or credentials are needed to receive training.”

This raised another important point  – could physicians be held liable if they refer a client to a CAM practitioner (i.e., Reiki master) without obtaining an informed consent that includes the risks and benefits of the therapy? Arvonio says there is precedent for this, such as a 1957 case in which a court ruled that physicians can be liable if they omit facts that are necessary for patients to make an informed decision when choosing health treatments.

She’s not alone in her call for the need to provide patients with all of the facts about CAM treatments such as Reiki. Jeremy Sugarman, M.D., a professor of bioethics and medicine at John Hopkins Berman Institute, also believes physicians should obtain informed consent when offering alternative therapies such as Reiki, especially if the therapy is associated with risk.

Which begs the question - is the spiritual risk associated with Reiki substantial enough to warrant its disclosure in the consent? And who decides if it is?

There are many studies substantiating the fact that patients’ spirituality is important in relation to health and should be respected accordingly, Arvonio found. In fact, The Joint Commission, which accredits more than 21,000 U.S. hospitals, obligates hospitals to safeguard patient's cultural, spiritual, and belief systems when offering medical therapies. It clearly states patients’ cultural, spiritual, and belief practices can affect their “perception of illness and how they approach treatment.”

Because some healthcare providers may not know the background of CAM treatments such as Reiki, Arvonia suggests that they be made aware of the spiritual aspects of these therapies before offering them to patients. This is especially true for nurses who are among the most frequent administers of Reiki.

“They are obligated by the Standards of Practice for Culturally Competent Nursing Care (n. 3) to be knowledgeable as well as supportive of their patients’ spirituality and belief systems,” Arvoni writes.

She is proposing a spiritual consent form that can help prepare practitioners to disclose specific information regarding Reiki or other spiritually associated CAM therapies. The form will identify the spiritual origin of Reiki and disclose how practitioners obtain energy from a Reiki master during a spiritual ritual. She also suggests offering the USCCB's guidelines regarding Reiki and how it conflicts with Christian beliefs.

Send this blog to every doctor or nurse that you know and ask them to do what they can to protect their patients’ spiritual welfare by encouraging their healthcare facility to adopt the spiritual consent form.