Exploring Reiki

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated June 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Reiki therapy is a Japanese integrative health technique that delivers gentle, non-invasive touch to promote relaxation, reduce pain, and alleviate stress and anxiety. While reiki is not a replacement for conventional medical treatment, research supports that it may be an effective complementary treatment to other treatments. 

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The history of Reiki

Reiki is a form of energy healing that originated in Japan in the early 20th century. The term ‘Reiki’ is made up of two Japanese words: ‘Rei,’ which means ‘universal’ or ‘God’s wisdom,’ and ‘Ki,’ which means ‘life force energy.’ Some people believe that reiki means ‘mysterious atmosphere, miraculous sign.’ Dr. Mikao Usui developed reiki in the 1920s as a spiritual practice. Reiki healing focuses on the concept of a universal energy that animates all life, and aims to release energy flows while balancing and harmonizing the body's energy fields.

The Usui System, also referred to as Usui Reiki, is a spiritual healing practice that traditionally involves the reiki practitioner placing their hands on or slightly above the person’s body to transfer healing energy and therefore maintain a flow of energy between the practitioner and the client. This constant flow of energy is used to promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, speed healing, and improve overall well-being. For this reason, reiki is also referred to as palm healing.

What happens during Reiki sessions?  

Reiki sessions often last around 20 to 90 minutes. Some reiki practitioners may perform Reiki for the entire session, whereas others may take integrative health approaches and combine talk therapy and Reiki.  

During your reiki treatment, you may be asked to fill out an intake form and discuss your goals and expectations with your practitioner. If you have any injuries or concerns, communicate them upfront. The professional reiki practitioner may create a relaxing environment to support healing using calming music, comfortable blankets, soft lighting, and, potentially, essential oils.

When it comes time for the therapist to practice Reiki, they may ask you to lay down on a Reiki table or mat. They can then hover their hands above your body or utilize gentle touch to redirect and balance body energy. If you prefer light touch, you can let your reiki master know; the practitioner can also utilize distance healing for those who prefer no touch. Unlike some forms of massage therapy, you will remain clothed during Reiki sessions in therapy. 

As reiki treatments are intended to promote deep relaxation, they might not involve extensive discussions. However, after your appointment, your reiki practitioner may have a conversation with you about your experience and how you are feeling. Before each session, they may also ask you where in your body you’d like to relieve pain. Depending on your symptoms, their therapeutic techniques may vary.

What are key Reiki therapy principles?

Reiki is based on five core principles, which serve as a foundation for the practice. These principles include the following:

“Just for today, I will release angry thoughts” 

This principle is intended to help you recognize your angry thoughts and allow yourself to release that energy while accepting more positive thoughts. Although feelings of anger may remain, this principle teaches clients that thoughts can be separate from emotions, and changing your thoughts may change your emotional reality. 

iStock/JLco - Julia Amaral

“Just for today, I will release thoughts of worry” 

According to the principles of Reiki, energy comes from within. If you can release worries about the future, you may embrace the present. During your Reiki session, practice letting go of the thoughts that worry you, telling yourself you can come back to them after you’ve finished your session. This practice may aid in long term stress reduction as you learn to be more present in each moment.

“Just for today, I will be grateful”

Studies have found that emphasizing gratitude can improve mental and physical health. In reiki practice, centering gratitude is thought to channel positive energy and promote natural healing. Try to think of who and what you are grateful for during your reiki energy therapy session. 

“Just for today, I will expand my consciousness” 

Mindfulness and appreciation for the present are key components of reiki’s energy healing technique. You may expand your consciousness by considering your body, spirit, and needs. You can also consider the reiki aspects of the people and living beings around you. 

“Just for today, I will be gentle with every living being”

In Reiki, positive energy is gained through kindness to everyone, including yourself. By incorporating these principles in your life, you may experience an improved sense of balance, well-being, and positivity. 

Mental health benefits of Reiki

While more scientific evidence is needed to establish the effectiveness of Reiki for alleviating mental health symptoms, there are several minor studies that suggest reiki may be a beneficial complementary health therapy alongside psychotherapy or other primary mental health interventions. The following are symptoms Reiki may address, followed by studies that have shown positive impacts.  

Reiki and anxiety

A systematic review published in 2022 discovered that, of three randomized placebo-controlled trials analyzed, two studies found significant reductions in anxiety in those who practiced reiki compared with a placebo. 


The same 2022 review article found that Reiki appeared to show significant reductions in stress levels compared with placebos. Additionally, in a study published in Advances in Nursing Science, researchers found nursing students who received distant Reiki sessions experienced decreased stress levels.

Chronic pain

meta-analysis of randomized trials published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2018 investigated four randomized controlled studies, finding that Reiki had a statistically significant impact on reducing pain. Another study shows that reiki and acupressure are effective in reducing pain levels in patients receiving palliative care, compared to a control group of patients who did not receive reiki or acupressure. 

Depressive moods

In one study, Reiki was found to reduce depressive symptoms in chronically ill patients, and it was significantly more effective than a placebo Reiki session. Another study on participants with mild clinical depression found that reductions in depressive symptoms were maintained at a one-year follow up after Reiki sessions concluded. 

The effectiveness of Reiki is challenging to study, due to difficulty establishing placebo standardizations for hands-on healing techniques, and the inability for modern research equipment to document or track changes in the energy field.

While some studies support the idea that Reiki may be more effective than placebo, there may not be enough research to make recommendations for Reiki as a primary treatment for mental health conditions through therapy. Additionally, some studies have a significant risk of bias. Instead, Reiki is considered integrative medicine and therefore an alternative therapy option that can be used in conjunction with conventional psychotherapy or medical treatments.

What are the mental health benefits of CBT?
The effectiveness of psychotherapy has been rigorously evaluated and demonstrated through peer-reviewed research. Amongst therapeutic modalities, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the goal standard. The following studies evaluated the effectiveness of CBT in addressing anxiety, chronic pain, and depression:


Studies find that CBT can effectively address anxiety and stress-related disorders by helping clients reframe maladaptive thoughts to change feelings and behaviors motivated by anxiety.  

Chronic pain

Cognitive-behavioral therapists work with clients to modify physical sensations, reduce catastrophic thought patterns, and address maladaptive behaviors, which research shows can improve quality of life and reduce perceptions of pain. 


A meta-analysis of 115 studies found that CBT can effectively address depressive symptoms, and relapse rates of clients treated with CBT are lower than those for clients treated with psychiatric medication. 

In a 2016 study comparing Reiki therapy, CBT, and wait-list for the reduction of depressive symptoms in adolescents, both Reiki and CBT were found to be effective. However, CBT resulted in significantly greater reductions in depressive symptoms than Reiki.

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Should I connect with a Reiki practitioner?

While some research indicates that Reiki may help with symptoms related to anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and stress, the US government warns that there is not enough clinical research and medical research to show any definitive therapeutic benefits of reiki and therefore may not be recommended as a standalone treatment for mental health conditions. If mental health symptoms begin to interfere with your daily life, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist. Some licensed therapists are experienced in reiki training and CBT, among other techniques, to offer a comprehensive approach.  

If you’d feel more comfortable attending therapy sessions from home, you can try online cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is offered through platforms like BetterHelp. A 2017 review article found that internet-based CBT could be an efficacious, cost-effective way to address symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety disorders. 


Reiki offers a holistic approach to well-being that focuses on balancing the body's energy fields. The principles of reiki include releasing anger and worry while embracing gratitude, consciousness, and kindness. Reiki can be a beneficial complementary and alternative medicine for addressing symptoms of anxiety and depression, with studies finding that it can be more effective than a placebo. 

If you’re ready to try reiki or another therapeutic approach, consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance and support.

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