Doing Voodoo On Your Spine (Not)

In the fifteen years since integrating Reiki with my bodywork sessions, I’ve only had one client get creeped out by it.

Oddly, she was a craniosacral therapist, and thus (I thought), should have known better. Craniosacral therapy, like other forms of “energy work,” is..subtle, and attracts attention from Quackwatch. The practitioner puts her hands on your head with surpassing gentleness and does…almost nothing.

People often get substantial relief from pain and other symptoms after receiving it, however, so craniosacral therapists continue to make a living.

My clients seem to respond to the Reiki, so I keep using it. My current theory about why it works is one part subtle stimulation of the nervous system, triggering a relaxation response, and one part placebo effect. If I want to visualize a healing purple light pouring through my hands and intelligently directing itself toward my clients’ malaise, well, it keeps me entertained. And lots of people like that sort of thing.

But after the craniosacral therapist became visibly uncomfortable, I stopped the Reiki immediately and checked in with her after the session. Respecting my clients’ boundaries is a top professional responsibility, and I let her know it. We’re cool.

The interesting thing to me, however, is that subtle forms of therapy often seem to be as effective as more aggressive treatment, if not more so. There’s still lot we don’t know about the nervous system. Often all the body needs in order to heal itself is the tiniest little nudge, where all the manhandling in the world does nothing.

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