A team of doctors have recently written a paper explaining why alternative medicine practices such as homeopathy and reiki should no longer be used in clinical studies. According to the authors, studies on these unscientific practices are a waste of already limited resources. Reiki practitioners paint a different picture, suggesting their treatment adds to medical science rather than diminish its value, and is therefore deserving of trials.

David H. Gorski and Steven Novella have co-authored a paper calling for the end of clinical trials of “highly implausible treatment,” such as homeopathy and reiki. The authors believe that testing for this “pseudoscience” is a waste of already tight medical budgets and only “serves to lend legitimacy to otherwise dubious practices.” In a recent press release, Gorski and Novella explain how, in their opinion, more “biologically plausible treatments” should move onto randomized trials and how the continuation of studying holistic treatment is “a losing proposition.”

When it comes to treating patients, traditional physicians and spiritual healers often butt heads. Long Island-based mother-daughter spiritual healers, AnnMarie Citarella, a Reiki master teacher, and Theresa Citarella, a Reiki practitioner, explained to Medical Daily their feelings on Gorski and Novella’s proposition. “I’m disappointed because I think that with clinical trials that they can actually prove the benefits of Reiki. They will prove that this is such a wonderful and positive way to deal with people who are sick,” AnnMarie said.

Regardless, her daughter, Theresa, added that she doesn’t feel a lack of clinical trials on the alternative healing would seriously affect Reiki’s popularity. “Obviously the science will help it if there is solid research backing it. There are people in this world that need that science,” she said, adding that even without trials, “Reiki will continue on.”

According to the duo, Reiki is meant to be used alongside science-based medicine, not in place of it. “This doesn’t take away from medical treatment. … This is not to diagnose them or anything. It’s meant to work in complementary solidarity,” AnneMarie said. Rather than working to cure the disease, AnnMarie focuses on relieving its symptoms. “Even though the cancer is not completely gone, the side effects are much less,” she explained, referring to the results of her clients undergoing chemotherapy. “Reiki can never harm someone. If you are open-minded, then it is only going to help,” her daughter added.

Gorski, however, painted a different picture of this complementary relationship between holistic care and sciences, explaining to Medical Daily via email that the once-separated practices are now increasingly integrated. “The two are no longer separate. They are being combined in a specialty that was originally called 'complementary and alternative medicine' (CAM) but has been reborn as 'integrative medicine,'” he said.

According to the doctor, this integration is anything but good and detracts from rather than contributes to science-healing. “If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse,” Gorski said. “Integrative medicine undermines the scientific basis of medicine by 'integrating' magical thinking and pseudoscience with evidence-based medicine. There’s a reason I tend to refer to this as quackademic medicine.”

The paper is just a suggestion at the moment, and currently many highly reputable medical organizations back the use of holistic care alongside science to help speed up a patient's healing process. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer, the Cleveland Clinic, and MD Anderson Cancer Center, just to name a few, all offer holistic-based medicine programs alongside traditional treatment.

“If they do stop the trials, reiki will never stop,” concluded AnnMarie, alluding to an aspect of her healing that is simply immeasurable in scientific terms. “You have to experience it. You can’t talk about it. Everyone should at least experience it just once to understand.”

Source: Gorski DH, Novella SP. Clinical trials of integrative medicine: testing whether magic works? Trends in Molecular Medicine. 2014.