Reiki Case Studies

Reiki Complements Healing from Bladder Cancer. (August-October 2007)

Patricia Sheehan CChem MRSC Reiki Master Teacher/Practitioner
Dublin, Ireland

Case: Practitioner’s View
Case: Client’s View
Observations & References
How Reiki Works
Way Forward

Case Practitioner’s View

Michael phoned frantically for a Reiki Treatment in August 2007. Michael had heard about Reiki through Family and friends. His family and friends had spoken strongly about Reiki. Michael was an international business man and very active. Michael came to his first Reiki session having been with his GP. The only offer the GP had to present to Michael based on his state of anxiety and panic was anti-depression medication. This, Michael felt was not the path he wanted to go. He needed to find a way to deal with the fear that had now taken over his mind and body.
He had got a growth removed from his bladder and had just received the results. The growth was cancerous and also the growth was so virulent that the recommendations were for him to have his bladder fully removed. The medical diagnosis was that the type of cancer he had would most likely have a microscopic amount remaining in his bladder which would contaminant the bladder. The medical diagnosis was 99% certain that this would be the case. Michael received medical advice from Ireland, UK, USA and Sweden on his diagnosis and all gave the same advice to remove his bladder.

Michael arrived for his first Reiki Treatment. He was panicky, upset, anxious and fretful. He had got the growth removed from his bladder in the last week and was dazed as to what lay ahead for him. The first treatment I gave him was mainly to relax him. His breathing calmed and his heart beat relaxed during the treatment. I completed the treatment and he still was very much in his head, consumed by his thoughts. His mind was racing however he felt his breathing and heart had relaxed. He decided he would come back for another treatment. My recommendation was to have four consecutive treatments over the next four days to accelerate the amount of Reiki energy he could receive. When one receives four treatments on consecutive days you draw more energy in on day 2, 3 and 4, as the Reiki energy stays in the body for approximately 48-72 hours after you have received the treatment.

After Michael’s first four Treatments he began to feel calmer and relaxed after each treatment and he felt it carried him through the day until his next treatment. It is so important to be as relaxed and calm as possible when you have a chronic condition as when you are deeply relaxed your body is in its’ natural state of healing. That is, there is energy available to work on the area that needs it. The energy used by worry, anxiousness, upset, fear and anger take away vital energy from the body and thus inhibits energy & healing to the area that needs it most, in Michael’s case his bladder. So I was really happy with Michael’s progress in that he felt relaxed during the treatments and he felt he could cope better at home. Negative Thoughts and emotions are very draining on physical energy. Reiki is calming on the mind which allows the Client to be clearer and not be as upset or be consumed by negative thoughts and emotions.

After Michael’s first four consecutive treatments, we decided that twice a week would work and continue to support him. Depending on each person and their condition a course of treatments is recommended to suit each person.
During Michael’s treatments, his main worry was did he need to have his bladder removed and was the cancerous growth they removed as bad as the medics had said. Michael traveled to UK, US and Sweden to discuss his prognosis. He also continued to discuss his case with his consultant here in Ireland. All consultants across the globe gave the same diagnosis “to have his bladder removed as there was a 99% chance that there was a microscopic amount left in his bladder which could be fatal over time.” During this time the Reiki treatments were focused on clearing his mind to assist him in being relaxed with all his discussions he was having with the medical consultants. Michael found the treatments allowed him to be clear and calm when talking to the consultants. Again every aspect of dealing with a chronic condition needs people to be as relaxed and calm as possible, to allow vital energy to be available for the area that is ill. So Reiki in between his trips to the consultants brought him a sense of calmness and peace during a very harrowing experience.

As Michael was going through his Reiki Treatments, he had a huge sense of fear. During his treatments we worked on the fear. Mindfulness and Guided Imagery were included with Reiki.

To his and my amazement his fear was not of having cancer but his fear was of being in a hospital. We worked on this during one of the treatments. What came up for Michael was his feeling of fear, panic and abandonment he felt around hospitals. When he was seven, the hospital policy was for limited parental visiting. As a child he felt a lot of fear, panic and abandonment. As an adult he know that his parents where always caring and supportive in his life. However knowing this does not make a difference to the memories that can be locked into the body.

These fears were still a memory in his body. Michael on a logical level felt there was no issue with this. Most people would have had certain things that happened in childhood and we all move on. However we are all aware of post traumatic stress and the effects this can have on the body. Traumatic stress, even though resolved in the brain can impact a person’s nervous system and lodge in the memory of the body at a cellular level. Reiki can work with the body to release this memory at a cellular level and then unlock and release vital energy for the body to heal and also alleviating the experience of fear of hospitals. As a Medical Physician would know, operating on a patient who is relaxed has a much speedier recovery than someone who is tense or anxious.
Sometimes we can store cellular memory from the past in our body that restricts the amount of available energy to us to-day. During these treatments Michael let go a lot of fear. He always said that he felt much lighter, more up beat and positive after the treatments. This motivated him to do things that made him happy. He went for walks in the park, meet friends etc. Again feeling positive is so important and doing things that make you happy. During a Reiki session serotonin is released in the brain.

The release of serotonin automatically triggers all the neural pathways in the brain, allowing the brain to be more effective. This allows the client be more positive and thus enhances the healing abilities of the body.
Also during these Treatments I found very little energy going to his Bladder and a lot of energy was taken in around Michael’s heart and his throat. Reiki will always go to the root of the out of balance. So for these sessions Michael was healing his fear and panic.

Michael felt at one stage that his Bladder was ok. I said that the only thing to do was to refer to his consultant and take the consultant’s advice. He said that the consultants said that there was no other recommendation but to remove the bladder.

Michael finally made the decision that Sweden was where he would have his operation to remove his bladder.
We continued his sessions including mindfulness, visualizations and guided imagery with Reiki to support Michael to visualize his whole trip from getting on the aeroplane, to going to the hospital, having the operation and also visualizing his recovery and visualizing what the consultants would say about his recovery. We included visualizations as part of each Reiki Session. We repeatedly visualized how Michael would feel, what the Consultants would say and how quickly Michael would recover. This helped to calm his mind and focus on a positive outcome. When visualizations are done during a Reiki session, it is very powerful, as the Brain is operating at Alpha Level(7-14Hz deeply relaxing state) during a Reiki session. Clients are very receptive at Alpha Level, as it taps into the subconscious part of the brain.

Michael had a total of 16 Reiki sessions before leaving for his Operation. Michael invited me to travel with him and to give him Reiki on the days before his operation. In the 3 days prior to his operation he had three half hour sessions each day in between preoperative preparations. He began to panic after some discussions with his consultants. Having his Reiki and visualizations between consultations brought him back to a state of calm. The Consultants were aware of him receiving Reiki and welcomed anything that would allow him to remain calm.
During his operation I gave Michael some distant healing.

The consultants said that the operation went very well. His surrounding organs were very healthy and so healthy that they made a new bladder from part of his bowel and also his new bladder is inside his body. There was no colostomy bag and there may have been a tube coming outside the body if the surrounding area was unhealthy. So the operation went the best possible way. His old bladder was then sent off for a biopsy and the results came back.
“There was no level of cancer at all in his bladder.”

The Consultants couldn’t believe the results of the biopsy. Michael called me to give me the results and he also said you wouldn’t believe it but the consultants said the exact words we said during the Reiki and Visualization sessions. “They were surprised and amazed at the operation and his recovery.”

Michael left the hospital in three weeks, three days before the anticipated due date. Michael went back to Sweden 4 weeks later for a planned 4 day stay. He stayed 1 day. Michael got no colds or infections in the following year. Michael recovered fully back to health adjusting to his new bladder.
Michael has now made some radical life changes to re-balance his life.

Case Client’s View:

Michael has very generously added some extra comments and views to his case, as a reference for people facing the uncertainty he faced.

Michael’s Comments:

I came to your session having been with my GP. The only offer he had to present me based on my state of anxiety and panic was anti-depression medication. This I felt was not the path I wanted to go. I needed to find a way to deal with the fear that had now taken over my mind and body.

Reiki was a subject I had been exposed to from both family and friends. People spoke about it in a strong way. A friend of mine who was a Reiki teacher had spoke to me via phone from Switzerland during my stay in a hospital in USA. They noted the sensation of feeling a problem in my stomach area, a sharp point of pain being felt in their hand as they performed distant healing on me.

I found this very strange that a person 6000 miles away could sense what I could not feel. The morning after the hospital specialist post a Cat-Scan identified a suspicious object in the region of my bladder and prostate.
-Post testing on my return to Dublin the diagnosis was a tumor in my bladder, which was a high grade tumor. The medical recommendation was removal of the bladder.

The shock and anxiety following this information created a sense of total fear and a why me sensation…this took me on a path of life changing events.

My first session with Reiki in your practice gave me a sense of calm having entered your place totally confused and frightened.

My fear of hospital was unknown to me, but it was a major part of my fear, my mind was all over the place.

Reiki treatments brought me calm, peace, acceptance, inner awareness, and I visualized what was ahead in a positive way through visualization.

Everything we talked off during the sessions came to be. Medical teams where totally surprised. To this day 18 months later I have not had a complication from the surgery causing further medical treatment. My surgeon continues to be amazed at my recovery and sense of calmness in dealing with the side effects of the operation.

And don’t underestimate visualizations .I remember being awake in the post op area. It was a strange place in which it was assumed I was asleep. The doctors kept commenting on the stable readings of all my vital signs. They where completely amazed. Blood pressure – breathing etc etc all normal. They did not expect that based on the severe surgery I had just undergone.

I remember in our sessions your words re the doctors would be surprised with how well I would adjust post operative. Since the operation I have traveled Asia, Middle East, South America and USA on regular basis and living in continental Europe and Ireland. Many people with this surgery do not return to normal life – as complications can limit their mobility.

8 weeks post surgery I was strolling in Paris for a weekend visit. It was amazing how I had reached that mountain. Had lunch in a beautiful square and walked back to my hotel with a sense of accomplishment I have never experienced in my life.

All these things I felt were a continuation of our sessions during autumn 2007. Seeing things and doing them…..

I continued in my global work traveling across the globe and managing a busy life style.

My mind had adjusted to taking more time to enjoy places I visit, and to work with my people with a far greater sense of humanity in my day to day work style.

Observations & References:

Reiki Session 1:
During the session Michael’s Breath Calmed and Heart Beat relaxed. Michael noted that he was calmer after the treatment.

Note: There are many studies to prove that Reiki is calming on the mind and thus relaxes breathing. A relaxed breath has many beneficial effects on the body. A relaxed deep breath increases both the amount of fully oxygenated red blood cells and it releases waste products, carbon dioxide which chemically changes into carbonic acid and needs to be eliminated through proper respiration. If allowed to accumulate, toxins and carbonic acid drains the body’s essential energy. Reiki allows the Client to deeply relax, which may otherwise be very difficult when faced with a difficult medical diagnosis.

Reiki Session 2, 3, 4:
During these sessions Michael felt that his mind was beginning to become clearer.

Reiki supports the client to have more positive thoughts and emotions. When a client is not as emotionally and mentally upset, there is a greater amount of energy available to the physical body for healing.

Reiki Session 5 to 16:
During these sessions, the main focus was on Michael’s emotions and thoughts around fear and anger.

Fear and anger are very destructive emotions on the body. It has been noted by many nurses that the people who get cancer are generally very nice people. People can have unresolved emotions from the past that end up in the body unless they have a way of being aware of them and have access to release them. Subconscious thoughts need to be released from the body to provide vital energy for the body. When hidden emotions are released, there is an increase in energy flow. Energy flow is vital for well being.

Reiki Session Pre Operative

During the time just before the operation: The focus was on calming the body and mind and guided imagery of the operation and recovery.

How Reiki Works.

Reiki is simply allowing vital energy to flow through the body. The many reported benefits of Reiki include reducing stress, increasing energy and boosting the immune system. Our thoughts and emotions whether conscious or subconscious affect the flow of energy. When we are positive the energy flows freely, when we are negative the energy is restricted. Reiki healing re-energizes the mind, body and emotions by focusing energy back to where we need it most.

From a scientific perspective, Quantum Physics can explain vibrational healing practices such as Reiki. At an atomic level everything that exists in the universe vibrates energy. The electromagnetic output of the whole body can be measured using and electromyograph and the normal biological frequency of the human body is around 250Hz (wavelength cycle per second).When tests were carried out on people who used healing energy such as Reiki, it was found that body frequency registered in a band between 400Hz-800Hz. This is a much higher vibration than what we normally operate at and is beneficial to maintaining a healthy body.

Reference 1. Pg: 7

The UK Reiki Federation – Research & Development

The Science Behind Reiki – What Happens in a Treatment?

Reference 2. Pg 8

The Electrograph, From Wikipedia

It is common to use many other vibrational energy methods for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes in conventional medicine. These include ultrasound, radiation and laser.

Reference 3. Pg 9

Reiki Technique Study to Control Chronic Pain in Diabetic Neuropathy
Reiki also reduces pain. When the body has reduced pain this has many benefits on the recovery time for the patient. Many patients have shorter hospital stays due to reduced pain.

Way Forward:

We are all too aware of the need for a cost effective health care system. The reliance on high drug costs cannot continue. We must look at more natural ways of staying healthy where possible. Also as all drugs have side effects, the introduction of natural therapies must be introduced to complement health care where possible. In the UK the NHSS provides Conventional Health and Complementary Health as part of their medical card system. This provides choice to use whatever health system will provide the best results. This is not currently the case in Ireland. Medical card holders are only entitled to receive medication and no access to complementary health, thus increasing our dependency on high health costs.

The introduction of Reiki and Life Skills to foster positive ways to maintain health are vital for us to sustain a healthy nation. There is a real need for everyone to be educated, empowered to transform their view of health and learn to manage their health from within themselves. This, in partnership with conventional medicine is the way forward.

One approach is for Reiki & Life Skills education to be provided as part of Multidisciplinary Community Based Health Teams. Also for Reiki & Life Skills Teachers and Practitioners to work in partnership with Medical doctors in their community.

In Health & Partnership

Transforming our View to Health Bringing out the best in everyone

Patricia Sheehan CChem MRSC Reiki Master Teacher/Practitioner & Life Skills Consultant.

Member of RFI
Member of IACT


Reference 1.

The UK Reiki Federation Research & Development

The Science Behind Reiki – What Happens in a Treatment?

Independent research by Dr Robert Becker and Dr John Zimmerman during the 1980’s investigated what happens whilst people practice therapies like Reiki. They found that not only do the brain wave patterns of practitioner and receiver become synchronized in the alpha state, characteristic of deep relaxation and meditation, but they pulse in unison with the earth’s magnetic field, known as the Schuman Resonance. During these moments, the bio-magnetic field of the practitioners’ hands is at least 1000 times greater than normal, and not as a result of internal body current. Toni Bunnell (1997) suggests that the linking of energy fields between practitioner and earth allows the practitioner to draw on the ‘infinite energy source’ or ‘universal energy field’ via the Schuman Resonance. Prof Paul Davies and Dr John Gribben in The Matter Myth (1991), discuss the quantum physics view of a ‘living universe’ in which everything is connected in a ‘living web of interdependence’. All of this supports the subjective experience of ‘oneness’ and ‘expanded consciousness’ related by those who regularly receive or self-treat with Reiki.

Zimmerman (1990) in the USA and Seto (1992) in Japan further investigated the large pulsating bio-magnetic field that is emitted from the hands of energy practitioners whilst they work. They discovered that the pulses are in the same frequencies as brain waves, and sweep up and down from 0.3 – 30 Hz, focusing mostly in 7 – 8 Hz , alpha state. Independent medical research has shown that this range of frequencies will stimulate healing in the body, with specific frequencies being suitable for different tissues. For example, 2 Hz encourages nerve regeneration, 7 Hz bone growth, 10Hz ligament mending, and 15 Hz capillary formation. Physiotherapy equipment based on these principles has been designed to aid soft tissue regeneration, and ultra sound technology is commonly used to clear clogged arteries and disintegrate kidney stones. Also, it has been known for many years that placing an electrical coil around a fracture that refuses to mend will stimulate bone growth and repair.

Becker explains that ‘brain waves’ are not confined to the brain, but travel throughout the body via the perineural system, the sheaths of connective tissue surrounding all nerves. During a treatment, these waves begin as relatively weak pulses in the thalamus of the practitioner’s brain, and gather cumulative strength as they flow to the peripheral nerves of the body, including the hands. The same effect is mirrored in the person receiving treatment, and Becker suggests that it is this system, more than any other, that regulates injury repair and system rebalance. This highlights one of the special features of Reiki (and similar therapies), that both practitioner and client receive the benefits of a treatment, which makes it very efficient.

It is interesting to note that Dr Becker carried out his study on a world-wide array of cross-cultural subjects, and no matter what their belief systems or customs, or how opposed to each other their customs were, all tested the same. Part of Reiki’s growing popularity is that it does not impose a set of beliefs, and can therefore be used by people of any background and faith, or none at all. This neutrality makes it particularly appropriate to a medical or prison setting.

– Tamisha Sabrina

Reference 2. From Wikipedia,

An electromyograph detects the electrical potential generated by muscle cells when these cells contract, and also when the cells are at rest.

Abnormal results may be caused by the following medical conditions (please note this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of conditions that can result in abnormal EMG studies):

Anyone suffering from Degenerative diseases can find relief in Reiki.

Reference 3

“Reiki Technique Study to Control Chronic Pain in Diabetic Neuropathy”, The Department of Public Relations & Marketing Communications, University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Centre is studying Reiki, to determine whether chronic pain in diabetic neuropathy can be controlled, thereby increasing the patients’ quality of life. This is one of the first studies of this technique funded by the National Institutes of Health, and has the full support of the University of Michigan Health System.

The Reiki Clinic at the Tucson Medical Centre in Arizona has a team of Reiki practitioners who give Reiki to patients in their rooms. The program first began in the Cancer Care Unit, but has since expanded to many other areas in the hospital. Conditions treated at the Reiki Clinic include cancer, pain, chronic conditions, postoperative surgery, and they also deal with childbirth. (Source: “Reiki In Hospitals” by William Lee Rand, Reiki Master,

Brewitt, B., Vittetoe, T, and Hartwell, B., 1997. “The Efficacy of Reiki Hands-On Healing: Improvements in spleen and nervous system function as quantified by electrodermal screening”. Alternative Therapies, July 1997, Vol.3, No.4, pg.89

Improvement in spleen, immune, and nervous system function were quantified by electrodermal screening, and a reduction of pain, an increase in relaxation, and more mobility was reported in patients with chronic conditions as multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia, thyroid goiter.

Distant Healing

By Elizabeth Targ, MD

Published in Noetic Sciences Review

Can one person’s thoughts influence the experience or the health of another — far away? While there are many complex and meaningful aspects to the practice of prayer or hands-on healing, a sixty-four million-dollar question remains: Is there an effect at a distance?

In December 1998, forty scientists from universities and research laboratories around the United States gathered at the Swedenborg Chapel at Harvard University for a three-day conference jointly sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Harvard University School of Medicine. Their focus: to examine and evaluate data on a remarkable phenomenon baffling to modern medical science. The attendance list was confidential, and the proceedings closed. Preliminary data presented at this conference suggested that we are on the verge of an explosion of evidence to support the efficacy of distant healing.

The term “distant healing” and the more precise but cumbersome “distant mental influence on biologic systems” (now adopted by the National Institutes of Health) — is an attempt to find a way to objectively describe the outcome of what others call psychic healing, energy healing, or prayer.

While distant healing has historically received little attention from mainstream medical institutions and laboratories, a substantial body of published data supports the possibility of a significant effect. Over the last forty years, more than 150 formal, controlled studies of distant healing have been published more — than two-thirds of them showing significant effects (a less than one-in-twenty likelihood of the effect having occurred by chance; in scientific terminology, p <.05). The most exciting and the most controversial studies in the area of distant healing have involved human beings as subjects. These studies are challenging to design because of uncontrollable factors such as hope, expectation, and the role of the relationship between the healer and the patient. A seminal paper presented at the 1998 conference was "A Study of Distant Healing as an Adjunctive Intervention for People with Advanced AIDS," initiated by IONS member Fred Sicher. This project, recently published in the Western Journal of Medicine , represents five years work by a research team at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC). While many studies of distant healing have focused on more benign conditions -- such as headache, high blood pressure, or recovery from minor surgery -- after interviewing numerous healers, Sicher had observed that many healers feel they do their best work when the need is greatest. The healers suggested that if we want to see a significant effect on someone's health, there has to be a significant motivation -- the patient should be in extremis. Continuing his survey, Sicher also found that, unlike in many healing studies, distant healing is not usually performed as a one-time effort. Most of his interviewees stated that they tend to work with patients over a period of time, often many weeks. In an effort to bring the scientific approach in line with this "community standard," Sicher then proposed that a study of distant healing should involve people with an incurable disease such as AIDS, that the treatment should occur over at least two months, and that many healers be involved.


In 1994 Sicher joined our team at the California Pacific Medical Center to design a methodologically airtight collaborative research project. The CPMC trial of distant healing for people with AIDS was a “proof of principle” trial. It made no effort to investigate any mechanisms. The sole purpose of the study was to determine whether or not there is an effect of healing intentions over distance. Because of the controversial nature of this area of investigation, the research protocol was discussed and reviewed by numerous scientists, by AIDS specialists, and by self-identified healers before the first patient was enrolled.

Two studies were eventually completed, a pilot of twenty patients, followed by a confirmatory study of another forty patients. The pilot, considered exploratory, produced the surprising finding of 40 percent mortality in the control group, but no deaths in the treatment group. This striking result occurred despite the fact that patients and researchers did not know who was in the treatment group, and that the two groups were balanced for CD4 count. Both of these studies are reported in the December 1998 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine.


In each study, patients were recruited from around the San Francisco Bay Area, using flyers, physician contacts, and newspaper advertisements. In the first study only men were included; the second study included women. Because of the variable course of HIV at different stages it was important to choose a group of patients at a similar stage of illness. The study inclusion criteria required all patients to have T-cell counts less than 200 and a history of at least one AIDS-defining illness (such as pneumocystis pneumonia, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or cytomegalovirus).

The patients were randomly divided into two groups using a formula that equalized both groups on factors relevant to disease course (CD4 count, age, number of previous AIDS-defining diseases). Patients in the study had an average age of forty-three years, and had been HIV-positive for an average of eight years. Baseline illness severity was calculated by summing severity scores for previous and current AIDS-defining illnesses. No significant differences were found on any of twenty-seven baseline variables. The study was triple blind: None of the patients, physicians, or researchers knew which patients were in the treatment group and which were in the control group.


Healers for the study were recruited by word of mouth and from schools and professional organizations all over the country. Because the study itself was a test of the efficacy of distant healing, there was no objective test that could be used to determine which healer might be “the best.” Healers were therefore selected using the same type of criteria that might be used in selecting any healthcare practitioner. Researchers collected names based on healer reputation among colleagues and patients. Healers were required to have had at least five years of experience as professional healers, to have performed at least ten healing attempts at a distance, and to have worked with at least two people with AIDS. The healers selected significantly surpassed these criteria, averaging more than seventeen years of experience performing healing-at-a-distance on an average of 106 people. In addition, just as one would select only a physician who believed one could get better from an illness, for the study, we selected only healers who believed the study would succeed.

The healers had an average age of forty-seven and represented a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including several medical doctors, nurses, and psychologists who also maintain a regular professional practice using nonlocal healing. Other healers included a Baptist minister, a cu-gong master, a Native American shaman, and a Philippine woman with no formal education who performed healing in the Christian tradition. Half of the healers in the study described their healing techniques as “energetic,” 25 percent described their work as meditative or contemplative, 15 percent came from devotional or religious traditions, and 10 percent described their work as “shamanic.” Many had received training or were now instructors at well-known schools of energetic or spiritual healing. A majority of healers reported working with chakra imagery for healings; other frequently reported modalities included prayer, visualization, and work with crystals.


The healing intervention consisted of each patient in the treatment group receiving healing efforts from one healer at a time, one hour per day, six days per week, for ten weeks. The healers worked on a rotating schedule so that each week, each patient was treated by a new healer. Thus, by the end of the study, each patient had received “healing effort” from a total often different healers. Each week, a head and shoulders photograph of one of the treatment patients was sent via overnight mail to a healer who was then instructed to “hold the intention for the health and well-being of the patient” for one hour a day during the time the patient was assigned to them. The healers were given the first name of the patient, the patients CD4 count, and two or three sentences describing active elements of their illness. Healing techniques were quite varied.


Patients in the study were followed for six months. Three categories of outcome were assessed: progression of illness, medical utilization, and quality of life. Eleven specific outcome measures were used. Medical data were collected by blind chart review, and quality of life/psychosocial data were collected using standardized paper and pencil tests. At the end of six months, patients in the treatment group had acquired significantly fewer new AIDS-defining diseases than people in the control group, their overall illness severity scores were significantly lower, they had had significantly fewer hospitalizations, and those hospitalizations were significantly shorter. In addition, treatment patients showed significant improvement on psychological status, including decreased depression, decreased anxiety, decreased anger, and increased vigor, compared to controls. There were no significant differences between groups on CD4 counts, which went up slightly for both groups. The treatment group also showed more recoveries from AIDS-defining diseases (six versus two), but this result did not reach statistical significance.

Extensive statistical analyses were performed by the research team and were reviewed by several biostatisticians from outside institutions to determine whether some factor other than the distant healing intervention might have accounted for the differences between groups. Analysis did not reveal evidence that any baseline factor (such as medications, ethnicity, gender, age, religious orientation) could have accounted for any of the medical outcomes. By chance, the patients who were randomized to the treatment group were individuals who had initially higher scores on measures of psychological distress; this observation opens the possibility that their improvement on psychological outcomes may represent a regression to the mean. Interestingly, changes in psychological outcomes, for example becoming more depressed, did not correlate with medical outcomes, such as becoming more ill.

Historically, the usual scientific explanation for medical improvement in the context of distant healing or prayer is that the patients’ hopes or expectations in the context of the treatment are what lead to any benefit. In the above studies, the main effect of hope or expectation is eliminated because the study was double blind. Neither group knew whether or not they were receiving the treatment, thus neither group should be differentially influenced by being in the study. This assertion relies on the assumption that the two groups had equal levels of expectation about the possibility of being treated.

The question arises: Did the group that received the treatment simply contain more patients who “guessed” or believed they were being treated? If that were the case, it would be possible that their increased level of expectation might have influenced the outcome. This question was addressed in two ways. First, the two groups were compared to see whether one group showed significantly greater likelihood of believing that they were in the treatment group. The answer to this question was — no. Despite the fact that only one group was receiving the treatment, nearly half of the patients in the control group had (mistakenly) guessed they were in treatment. More important, despite the fact that they were doing significantly better than the control group, nearly half the patients in the treatment group guessed that they were not being treated.

The second approach to this issue was to ask whether those patients in either group who thought that they were being treated showed significantly better outcomes on any measure. It turned out that in the early stages of the study, patients who thought they were being treated were those whose T-cell counts had been rising (a fact that would have been known to them and may account for their guess). In the later part of the study, patients who were showing more recoveries from AIDS-defining illnesses were more likely to guess they were being treated. Significantly, believing one was being treated did not correlate with severity of illness, with development of new illness, with psychological outcomes, or with medical utilization. Thus it appears expectation does not account for the differential benefits seen in patients in the treatment group.


No single study can be decisive in demonstrating an effect. The two studies presented here represent only the latest work in a nearly forty-year process of developing, refining, and repeating studies to evaluate the effects of healing attempts at a distance. The two current studies, like the majority of other published studies, confirm such an effect. This work raises many more questions that will be the focus of future studies. What healing techniques or attitudes are the most helpful? Are certain individuals more likely to be able to develop healing abilities? Is distant healing more effective for some conditions than others? What is the role of the patient in the healing process? Is healing additive? Is it beneficial to have groups of people sending prayers or making healing efforts? Are there certain biological pathways that are specifically affected by healing efforts? And last, of course, how does it work?

The work described here is one piece in a puzzle that is bringing together medicine, philosophy, physics, and spiritual science to create a new picture of a highly connected and interactive universe. We look forward to seeing the results of the many other studies which are ongoing, and to exploring ways of introducing these interventions into mainstream medical settings.

Elizabeth Targ, MD, “Distant Healing,” Noetic Sciences Review (August–November 1999 #49), p. 24
²D.J. Benor, Healing Research , Vol. 1. Deddington, England: Helix Editions., 1992

Elisabeth Targ, MD, is director of the Complementary Medicine Research Institute at California Pacific Medical Center, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. She was principal investigator of the studies of distant healing in AIDS described in this article.

DDistant Healing Cases

Thanks for including mam in the distant healing. She has completed a course of radiotherapy. She’s to go back to the hospital for a scan in a couple of weeks to see how successful it has been but it appears to have been so. She’s starting chemotherapy on Monday. Her attitude to date has been nothing short of remarkable so long may that continue.

Thanks, Ann