MONTREAL — It’s not easy coping with an illness like cancer, and some patients turn to a number of therapies to help them deal with the discomforts and side effects that go with the disease.
Wellness centres which have sprung up across Canada provide therapies that include acupuncture, yoga and Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation which claims to also promote healing.
But one critic says while the technique may be helpful, people should also be cautious and beware of fraud artists.
Reiki is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on what’s described as “an unseen life force energy” that flows through people and which causes them to be alive.
Petra Norris, a registered nurse in Toronto for more than 20 years, has been using Reiki as a healing tool since 2006. She also volunteers at Wellspring, a cancer support centre in downtown Toronto.
“It can help lessen the side-effects of chemotherapy, lessen the side-effects of depression and anxiety … those kind of emotions that go along with a difficult diagnosis like cancer,” Norris said in an interview.
She also charges between $50 and $70 per hour for a Reiki session at a local clinic, noting the cost is in line with getting an hour-long massage.
Norris stresses that Reiki is not a cure, but a way to cope.
“It’s not for everybody and not everybody is going to believe in it and that’s fine,” she added.
Joe Schwarcz, the director of the Office for Chemistry and Society at McGill University, agrees Reiki has its benefits.
“I think it can be absolutely beneficial as long as you believe it can be beneficial,” he said. “Frankly I think it all works with the power of suggestion.”
Schwarcz, who also lectures on alternative medicines, worries that sometimes people believe their disease is actually being cured and he warns that some therapists may just be in it for the money.
“I’ve looked into cases where people have been told to give up conventional treatment because the only thing doctors do is cut, burn and poison and you need these natural therapies if you want a real gentle cure,” Schwarcz said.
“My experience unfortunately has been that, in many cases, these go hand-in-hand with fraud, not with conventional therapy, because they will be making claims very often behind closed doors, that they wouldn’t say in public about curing people.”
Norris, who is a “Reiki Master,” says there are different levels of training.
Level 1 allows a practitioner to treat himself and somebody else “hands-on”, while level 2 allows a practitioner to do distance treatments where the patient doesn’t have to be in the room.
At the third level, a practitioner becomes a Master and can teach others the technique.
“Usually when I do a distance treatment, I have a photograph of the person … It’s putting my hands on the photograph and sending energy and connecting to that person and sending an intention of healing,” Norris said.
She cites as an example of a distance healer, “Adam”, a B.C. man who several years ago claimed to have cured singer Ronnie Hawkins of pancreatic cancer using energy fields.
Adam “connected” with Hawkins who was in Ontario at the time using a photograph and after numerous long-distance treatments, the cancer disappeared.
But Schwarcz says healing people at a distance is “physiologically absurd” and “absolute bunk.”
“But I have no doubt that someone believes that there’s someone else thinking about them and trying to heal them remotely, if they believe in that, they may feel better,” he said.
Schwarcz is not impressed with practitioners who like to point out that Reiki is a Japanese therapy which was brought to North America in the 1970s.
“They think that the ancient Chinese and Japanese had some sort of wisdom that we don’t have,” he said.
“I think it’s just magical thinking … there’s nothing that they knew that we don’t know today.”