As anyone who knows me will tell you, energy medicine is my pet peeve. I call it "the snake oil of the 21st century" which is exactly what it is. There's no such thing as the "energy" practitioners purport to be manipulating, balancing, and channeling in their expensive Reiki treatments, tai-chi workshops, and reflexology sessions, so there's no point in throwing away your hard-earned dollars on any of it. Few if any of these techniques have been submitted to rigorous - and unbiased - scientific scrutiny.
This is one of many reasons why these techniques can be dangerous, especially if a person suffering from a serious disease forgoes conventional medicine for any of these forms of healing. It is also worth noting that because there is no credible scientific substantiation for this energy or the practices related to it, practitioners are not regulated and no professional standards are enforced.
What is Energy Medicine?
According to the National Institutes for Health, there are currently more than 60 healing techniques that are based on the alleged existence of a universal life force or energy which permeates all of creation. These practices include Reiki, yoga, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, tai chi, reflexology, Qi Gong, polarity therapy and a host of others.
"Energy workers" believe illness occurs when this energy becomes unbalanced and that they can restore this balance by manipulating it.
In spite of a complete lack of scientific evidence, energy medicine techniques have become very prevalent in U.S. health care. Reiki and Therapeutic Touch (aka Healing Touch, Hands of Light and a variety of other names) and Yoga are commonly found in hospitals and nursing homes, including Catholic institutions.
Most medical experts find this to be appalling, especially because these practices are completely lacking in scientific credibility. And yet every day in the U.S., many healthcare practitioners who are dabbling in New Age practices routinely walk into hospital rooms and employ unregulated and scientifically unsubstantiated treatment such as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch on patients!
Know Your Energy!
What is perhaps most confusing to the public - and many practitioners - about energy medicine is the distinction between the two forms of energy - veritable and putative - and precisely which one is involved in energy medicine.
In an overview of energy medicine, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes for Health provides a clear explanation of these two energy forms.
Veritable energy consists of mechanical vibrations (such as sound) and electromagnetic forces, including visible light, magnetism, monochromatic radiation and rays from other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. "They involve the use of specific, measurable wavelengths and frequencies to treat patients."
Putative energy consists of alleged "energy fields" that human beings are supposedly infused with. This is what practitioners of Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, yoga and others purport to be manipulating.
"These approaches are among the most controversial of complementary and alternative medical practices," the NIH reports, "because neither the external energy fields nor their therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly by any biophysical means."
Confusion among the public is caused by energy medicine practitioners who either do not know, or misrepresent, the kind of energy being manipulated. Some use terms such as "vital force" or "bioenergetic" (which can mean just about anything) either because they don't know what kind of energy they're using or they don't want you to know.
Is it Christian?
Compounding this problem are attempts by practitioners to apply a Christian veneer to these practices to make them more palatable to the faithful. For instance, some practitioners claim that Jesus may have used Reiki, or claim the energy they are manipulating is actually the Holy Spirit. Others say that one can simply substitute the name of Jesus or God for this energy force, or choose to believe its source is God, and they will not be violating Christian tenets.
But this is not true simply because the very basis of energy medicine - the energy itself - is not a Christian belief, but a thoroughly New Age concept.
"The New Age god is an impersonal energy, a particular extension or component of the cosmos; god in this sense is the life-force or soul of the world," writes the authors of the Pontifical document Jesus Christ Bearer of the Water of Life.
"This is very different from the Christian understanding of God as the maker of heaven and earth and the source of all personal life. God is in himself personal, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created the universe in order to share the communion of His life with creaturely persons."
In addition, Christians believe that man is a union of body and soul and that the soul is an essential form of the body - not an energy force.
"From a spiritual perspective, it is the soul that is the life-principle of the body, not something else. Consequently, there is no spiritual 'life energy' animating the body," write the apologists at Catholic Answers. "Any energy used as part of the body's operations" such as the electricity in our nervous systems "is material in nature, not spiritual. . . . Since this is contrary to Christian theology, it is inappropriate for Christians to participate in activities based on this belief."
Energy healers also like to refer to the Christian practice of laying on of hands as a sign that Jesus either used or was channeling some kind of energy force when He healed. However, this only reveals their lack of catechesis. The Catechism teaches us that the Christian use of the hands in healing has nothing to do with channeling energy but is considered a "symbol" of one person interceding for another.
There is so much more than can be said about energy medicine, such as what the science of physics has to say about it, the problems it is causing within the health care profession, why it is a form of "superstitious medicine," etc. For a more indepth study, see the booklets available in my series Learn to Discern: Is it Christian or New Age? (These booklets are small and inexpensive but are packed with facts and are great for evangelizing!) You can find them by clicking on the "New Age Resources" button on the navigation bar above.