Reiki clinic at MetroHealth offers an alternative to conventional therapy

In a darkened room, used normally for chemotherapy, reiki practitioner Anita Hayes works on client Fran Gonzalez. Many people, like Gonzalez, choose reiki to relieve stress. “Reiki really helps to focus your mind, body, spirit and soul,” she says.

The door closes. Shoes come off. Rolled-up towels go under the knees, soft pillows under the head. The clatter and conversations of the hospital fade away against a backdrop of delicate, harplike music and the sound of bubbling water.  The room is otherwise still and quiet as reiki practitioners, one at either end of each table, lightly lay their hands on their clients’ bodies: the neck, the collarbones, the forehead, the solar plexus, the instep.

A half-hour later, the clients of Hands to Heart Reiki Clinic emerge into the bright fluorescence of the MetroHealth Medical Center hallway feeling refreshed, relaxed and, for some, pain-free.

“Oh my gosh, that was wonderful,” client Fran Gonzalez tells the clinic worker who is writing down a post-therapy pain assessment.

The hospital’s clinic offers unconventional therapy for those who have found conventional medicine only goes so far.

A group of MetroHealth nurses interested in integrative therapy — which merges conventional medicine and complementary practices — created the clinic about three years ago to provide free reiki sessions for the hospital’s outpatients.

Reiki’s effectiveness remains scientifically unproven, but the MetroHealth clients are happy — and the clinic is operating nearly at capacity. Close to a dozen people, some regulars, some walk-ins, come to the MetroHealth Medical Center’s Cancer Care Pavilion once a month to lie on the three, sheet-draped tables in a darkened room that normally is used for chemotherapy.

Janelle Goetz relaxes as reiki practitioner Anita Haynes places her hands over Goetz’s body during a recent reiki session at MetroHealth. A group of nurses who received a grant from the hospital auxiliary took reiki classes and have now set up a once-a-month clinic at MetroHealth.

Dr. Mikao Usui developed reiki in Japan in 1917; Hawayo Takata brought the practice to the United States in 1938. Reiki is based on the idea that an unseen life-force energy, which is the basis of life, flows through everyone. Reiki practitioners believe they can tap into that energy, which flows through their hands into their clients. The stronger the life force, the better the person will feel.Julie Peevers of Rocky River comes to the clinic every month for relief from fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that results in muscle pain, fatigue and tender points throughout the body.

The 61-year-old also regularly undergoes massage therapy to relieve her constant aches. But she prefers reiki because it is less intrusive — the touch is gentle and her clothes stay on. “I was surprised that someone who hardly touched you was so able to change my pain,” she says. “It does create well-being and maybe for over an hour I feel no pain.”

Peevers has been coming to the clinic for about a year. She thinks reiki “lovingly rearranges your energy waves.” But she laughs as she says it, acknowledging it all sounds a little … well, crazy.

“But that’s how it feels,” she insists. “I can’t say enough positive about it.”

The nurses who created the reiki clinic were part of a larger group at MetroHealth that has met for several years to educate others about integrative therapy. The group surveyed patients and discovered they wanted reiki therapy.

So three nurses and the hospital chaplain obtained a grant of around $2,000 from the hospital’s women’s auxiliary to pay for reiki training and to purchase supplies: CDs, radios and the portable massage tables.

They sought and received approval from the hospital’s cancer board medical director to open the Hands to Heart clinic. They developed a policy for energy therapies, which the medical staff accepted and sanctioned. They also established credentialing guidelines for the volunteers who wish to practice at the clinic.

Since then, the initial group — who have taken the classes required to become reiki masters — have themselves trained nearly 100 people from the community and established a reiki circle, where MetroHealth employees trained in reiki practice on each other.

Rosanne Radziewicz, one of the three founders, says reiki has found acceptance among the hospital’s nurses as a complementary therapy. But the doctors are “a bit of a more challenging group to get,” she said, because there are no medical studies that prove reiki’s effectiveness.

Despite such resistance, health-care professionals nationwide are increasingly providing reiki in a variety of clinical settings, according to the federal government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. More than 2.2 million U.S. adults have used reiki, NCCAM estimates.

The results at MetroHealth have been encouraging, Radziewicz says, judging by the pre- and post-session pain ratings from clients. With the support of MetroHealth, plans are in the works to take reiki sessions to patients staying in the hospital.

“We have a lot of work to do to bring people back down into what I call holism — to heal in different ways,” Radziewicz says. “It has to come slowly.”

The clinic’s clients have a range of health problems that range from cancer to lupus. Some are amputees. Others are terminally ill. Many have symptoms for which no answer has been found.

Gonzalez, the client from Parma Heights, began receiving reiki treatments about six months ago to help her reduce the anxiety she has felt since her mother and her son died at about the same time.

She has tried other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, with lesser results.

“Reiki really helps to focus your mind, body, spirit and soul,” she said. “It helps me to realign and have a perspective so I can get back to my core and work from that place. It’s so much better than popping a pill and think that’s the answer.”

Radziewicz, an RN who also is a reiki master, has been administering reiki for five years. She thinks the training has helped her to reconnect with her nursing instincts.

Nurses spend a lot of time touching patients, Radziewicz says, but not always in the compassionate way some sick people need. Reiki can fill that need.

“It’s such a simple thing and it makes such a difference,” she said. “Sometimes just the energy helps the people achieve their greatest good.”

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