Healing PTSD Part 1: Reiki

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Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is no laughing matter- millions of people are affected by this condition, which is caused by a wide variety of sources. You may automatically associate the term with soldiers returning from active combat or childhood abuse, but the fact is, trauma can stem from many different events in a person’s life. Yes, things like war and rape are some of the most severe triggers, but things like sudden illness, natural disasters, death of loved ones, and domestic violence can leave scars that just don’t seem to heal on their own. PTSD is a very real and complex condition where the brain and body are stuck in a hardwired reaction loop, triggered by certain stimuli, which then perpetuates a cycle of stress responses (sometimes called “fight or flight” responses) that range from the mildly irritating to the completely debilitating. The initial shock and trauma of the original event gets replayed in the mind, training the body to panic over and over again, long after the real threat is gone.

Because this condition is so intricate and deeply personal, the treatment options are varied, running the gamut with medication, exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), and alternative treatments like acupuncture, Qi gong, massage, Reiki, Craniosacral therapy and more. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore some of these modalities and their benefits in treating PTSD, starting today with Reiki.

While there is not much scientific research into the clinical effectiveness of Reiki (we’re getting there!), what has been studied is showing serious promise for complex psychological conditions like PTSD.

  • In 2014, a multi-year study demonstrated that soldiers who engaged in a 3-week multi-modal program (including Reiki) in complementary and alternative medicine (officially called the “Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program”) showed very significant (p<0.001) improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety.
  • In 2012, a group of active military members were given 6 sessions of either their usual treatment or a combination of Healing Touch (very similar to Reiki) and guided visualization. Participation in these alternative sessions showed significant reductions in overall PTSD symptoms (p<0.0005), and specifically depression (p<0.0005), mental quality of life (p<0.002), and cynicism (p<0.001).

When it comes to non-controlled studies and in-the-field observations, there is more evidence that Reiki is a powerful tool in healing PTSD.

  • In 2001, an experienced nurse and therapist found positive results when applying Reiki healing to survivors of torture in Sarajevo.
  • In 2012, a renowned doctor of internal medicine and clinical instructor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine published a report of her 30+ years of using Reiki and Therapeutic Touch on her patients, including those with PTSD, with great results.
  • In 2013, a clinical nurse published her findings on various patients she had treated with Reiki, one of which was a woman suffering from severe PTSD and panic attacks, who was able to reduce her medication and manage her anxiety on her own after just a few sessions.
  • In 2014, a paper was published outlining the use of Reiki and other complementary practices by traditional healers in rural Guatemala to alleviate PTSD in their communities, to great success.
Young woman having a reiki treatment
Young woman having a reiki treatment

If you were to do a detailed search in the medical and scientific community about the healing effects of Reiki, you could find quite a few papers and reports, and if you are truly curious, I highly recommend you pour a cup of hot tea and get reading! Even to those who don’t fully understand how Reiki works, the positive effects are undeniable, and when you combine those with the complete safety (no side effects!) of this type of treatment, it’s no wonder that more and more people with PTSD are seeking Reiki practitioners to join their healing teams.

Of all the wonderful effects of Reiki, there are a few that are specifically beneficial to PTSD sufferers:

  • The increase in parasympathetic activity (“rest and digest” part of the nervous system) can help cut off the fear and panic circuit, allowing a break in the destructive stress cycle.
  • The safe and healing presence of the practitioner can help the client learn to relax and build trust with closeness and light touch.
  • The serene environment offers a safe haven from common trauma triggers, allowing the mental and emotional defenses to lower.
  • The subtle shift in energy during the session can help to release the repetitive “stuckness” that many people with PTSD face, and empower them to respond differently to certain stimuli over time.

Reiki is an especially wonderful and effective tool in healing from PTSD, because it is so safe, gentle, and noninvasive. The effects of energy work compound over time, so it’s best to plan on regular sessions when dealing with something deeply set and complex, like most psychological or nervous disorders. However, the calm and relaxation can be enjoyed right away while you’re on the table, and that in and of itself, is one of the most powerful healing forces in our bodies!

If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD or a related stress disorder, I invite you to give Reiki a try. There are no rigorous tests to endure, insurance hoops to jump through, or side effects to consider. It’s just pure, healing, loving energy, with the power to change your body and mind!

If you are a veteran living in northern Colorado, I encourage you to check out the Healing Warriors Program. I am a provider for this local non-profit organization and we offer free and discounted complementary care services to veterans and their families to help with PTSD and other health issues.