Reiki and HIV/AIDS

Originally from the Ontario Reiki Programme Centre – given to The Healing Pages by kind permission

Many complementary and alternative therapies are used daily in Canada; 70% of the populace uses them, but for those living with HIV/AIDS, the proportion is more than 89%[i]. One such therapy is Reiki, a hands-on healing modality that is being widely used as an adjunct to conventional therapies in the US, and is starting to be recognized in Canada. Reiki therapy is safe and non-invasive. It is being used in hospices, nursing homes, emergency rooms, operating rooms, organ transplantation care units, pediatric, neonatal and OB/GYN units; facilitating relaxation and recovery and decreasing anxiety and pain[ii]. It can be a helpful addition to conventional therapy for HIV/AIDS and cancer patients[iii], [iv]. For instance, St.-Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Centre in NY and Siloam in Philadelphia provide Reiki treatment and training for HIV/AIDS patients and family[v].

According to the classification of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the US National Institute of Health (NIH), Reiki belongs to “Biofield Medicine, which involves systems that use subtle energy fields in and around the body for medical purposes”[vi]. One Reiki study being conducted under the NIH auspices, “The Use of Reiki for Patients with Advanced AIDS” is currently recruiting patients. This study investigates the use of Reiki, an energy-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) intervention, as an approach to improve well-being for patients with advanced HIV/AIDS. The study is looking at changes in participants’ anxiety, depression, pain, quality of life, and spiritual well being[vii] – Reiki has been found effective in all of these areas at various times.

For Reiki to be applicable in HIV/AIDS treatment requires that it address in some way the primary symptoms. In addition to a compromised immune system, the effects of HIV/AIDS that this article will focus on are pain, side effects of the drug therapy, and the psychological impact of the disease and its prognosis.

Immune System Function

Reiki has a salutary effect on the immune system, though the full extent of it has yet to be determined. One-half hour of Reiki causes significant increase in salivary Immunoglobulin-A (IgA) [viii], and decreases in blood pressure and anxiety. (Immunoglobulin-A protects the body’s mucosal surfaces from infections and is the main mechanism for providing local immunity against infections in the gut and respiratory tract.) An increase in a primary immune system component is significant – any enhancement of the function of the immune system must be carefully explored to determine how extensive it is and how it affects a disease that compromises that system.

“Both anxiety and depression have been independently associated with suppression of immune function (decrease in natural killer cell activity and other measures of lymphocyte function, increase in cortisol)”. [ix]  As Reiki has been shown to be “an effective modality for reducing pain, depression, and anxiety” [x], its effect on negative emotional states may help improve the immune functions over time. Indeed, this effect may go part way to explaining its support of the immune system, but is not likely the entire mechanism (considering a significant increase in IgA was measured after only a half-hour of treatment).  


Reiki has been found to be effective for dealing with pain, including severe pain: “We use probably 50-80 percent of nonpharmacologic methods in our NIH pain clinic, meaning non-medication. The things we use include massage, relaxation, hypnosis, and Reiki therapy, which is also very helpful in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndromes.”[xi] – Ann Berger, R.N., M.S.N., M.D., Medical oncologist specializing in pain treatment, Chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. Hartford hospital reports that Reiki provides significant pain relief for surgery patients[xii]; Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute concluded that Reiki showed a highly significant reduction in pain in a pain management study including cancer.

Medical studies using sham and blinded practitioners have been carried out with Reiki, and it has been shown to be effective for pain management significantly more than can be explained by placebo or just caring. In a study of Reiki for treating HIV-related pain and anxiety [xiii], Pamela Miles found that newly trained Reiki practitioners perceived reductions in pain and anxiety when they performed Reiki on themselves or classmates. “In an evaluation of the program, it was noted there was a decline in reported pain after the Reiki treatment; on an 11-point scale, the average pain rating dropped from 2.73 to 1.83. Results were similar for the anxiety scale, with mean anxiety dropping from 32.6 to 22.8.” Learning first-level Reiki only takes about a day and has no significant age or ability barriers. Miles found no significant differences between improvements whether oneself or a classmate did the treatments.

HIV/AIDS Medication Side Effects

Some of the side effects of HIV/AIDS medication [xiv] that Reiki may be able to address are: pain (Abdominal, Arthralgia (joint pain), Headache, Neuropathy (pain in arms/legs/hands/feet) and Myalgia (muscle pain)), Depression, Fatigue, Insomnia (sleep problems)[xv], and general Malaise.  The list of medication side effects is extensive[xvi], and the impact of a treatment on an individual will vary – while other effects may be reduced, specific studies would have to be done. Reiki’s effect on pain was considered above; the psychological impact of Reiki treatments is discussed below.

Psychological Effects

The impact of Reiki is on three levels: physical, mental, and spiritual – the Ki state is considered one of coordinated body, mind, and spirit, similar to the state brought about by practising meditation, yoga, or qigong. One of the early Reiki studies [xvii] found that not only is Reiki “an effective modality for reducing pain, depression, and anxiety”, but that it is also “effective in enhancing desirable changes in personality and strengthening the faith in God.” Reiki has no religious affiliation, nor is an enhanced religiosity per se an intended outcome of Reiki. However, spiritual growth may enhance the patients’ ability to cope with the life changes resulting from their illness.

 “Outpatients with HIV/AIDS have been able to reduce psychiatric medications under medical supervision when using Reiki Self-treatment. It is of interest that people with HIV/AIDS also report greater openness to availing themselves of the benefits of conventional pharmaceutical treatment and increased ease of compliance after user using Reiki self-treatment.” [xviii]  The secondary impact then is that patients will likely have better outcomes from their conventional treatments, providing a “positive feedback” effect (one improvement begets another, which improves the first result, and so on).

There is also the matter of empowerment, both for the person with HIV/AIDS and their partner or caregiver. Anyone with a serious illness loses some sense of control, due to the illness, to their dependence on other people for help, and due to their dependence on the doctors and hospitals for their recovery. Especially as anxiety and depression can amplify these feelings, leading to a downward spiral. Partners and caregivers can suffer themselves, both from feeling like they cannot help enough, and in their own right as caregivers, die to stress. Having a tools to help relieve some symptoms on their own or for their partner can provide people with a renewed sense of having some input and control over their lives.


Reiki provides persons with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers tools to deal with body, mind, and spirit, all of which are adversely affected by the illness, the medications, and the long-term prognosis. Anyone can learn Reiki, and it is useful immediately upon learning. Experimental results showing reduction in pain by one-third by newly trained HIV/AIDS patients provides a compelling argument for making Reiki available to everyone who is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS when they are ready for a mind/body treatment to augment their other treatments.

Reiki can help HIV/AIDS patients reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and more – they can improve their outcomes with other therapies that they are undergoing. Reiki’s salutary effect on the immune system may have long-term impact.  Experiments are needed to determine the full extent of the effect of Reiki on the immune system. New programmes could contain protocols to monitor the immune system functions of treated patients (as compared to those not receiving the treatments). But we should not wait for experimental results to institute training and treatment programmes in legitimate care centres for patients and their families. Such programmes, like those at St.-Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Centre (NY) and Siloam (Philadelphia)[xix], can begin providing immediate relief and support to HIV/AIDS patients.


The Ontario Reiki Programme Centre is an Ontario not-for-profit corporation dedicated to providing Reiki programmes in health care centres. They provide presentations, training and treatments, and have a comprehensive website (at of research on this non-invasive therapy. Therapists and teachers are registered with the Canadian Reiki Association. These articles are presented as part of our mandate to inform people who may benefit from Reiki that this therapy exists, and how it has been shown to apply. This material may be used to promote Reiki and Reiki programmes in health care centres so long as the material is used intact and includes the copyright and attribution.

Reiki is a complement to treatment by a physician. It does not provide services in lieu of a doctor, nor is it a medical diagnostic tool. However, there is a growing body of opinion that integrative medicine that takes advantage of all parts of the care spectrum as appropriate is more effective (and cost-effective) than allopathic treatment alone.

Author: Peter Zorzella, BASc, RT-CRA, founded the Ontario Reiki Programme Centre to make healing through Reiki available to everyone who could benefit from it. Peter is a registered teacher with the Canadian Reiki Association; in addition to the work associated with the Centre, he has a clinical practice South of Ottawa.




Common: P. Miles, G. True, Reiki – Review of a Biofield Therapy. History, Theory, Practice, and Research, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Vol. 9, No 2, pp. 62-71 (2003)


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