Does energy healing work?
Answering that question takes more than reading the research. It requires understanding the research, how it all fits together, building layer upon layer of insight until we reach an answer.
Today, I want to present my answer. It took me years to develop, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else. I hope it will give you some insight into how to answer this question, whether it comes from a friend, a client, or just from yourself.
The four levels of “does energy work?”
If your doctor recommends a pill, you might ask, “Does it work?”
We know the biochemical mechanisms for pharmaceuticals. We know that pills in general help people. Your question is really, “Will this particular pill help my particular condition?”
Here’s the thing: With energy healing, we don’t know how it operates. Today’s physics, chemistry, and biology have no mechanism for chi. We don’t have a consensus that energy healing, in general, helps people. Before we can determine if a particular energy technique will help your particular condition, we first have to determine if energy healing is a real thing, or if it’s all placebo.
Here are the four questions we need to answer, in order:
- Is chi real?
- Does chi affect living cells?
- Does energy promote health in multicellular organisms?
- Does energy healing help humans?
Let’s go through each question, and look at the research that answers it.
Is chi real?
Is this energy part of the physical world? Not in a “reach out and touch it“ sort of way, since many real things cannot be touched, like photons and gravitons and dark matter. But does it exist out there in the world, as opposed to just existing in my head?
This is a physics question. To answer it, we need physics studies.
Fortunately there have been several studies looking at how energy healing affects water.
Yes, water. Inanimate matter that has no beliefs and so is not affected by placebo.
Stephan Schwartz measured the heat of water. The technical term is infrared reflectivity, but that’s just a very precise way of measuring heat. He found that energy healing increases the infrared reflectivity of water.
William Tiller looked at the acidity of water, as measured by pH. The strongest acid has a pH of zero, the strongest base has a pH of 14, and neutral is in the middle at 7. Tiller found that, when he and his students intended the water to increase in pH, they could get it to increase by between half a point and a full point. And when they intended the water to decrease in pH, they could make it decrease by between half a point and a full point. This research has been picked up by Melinda Connor for a modality-agnostic certification she’s working on, and she has found that hundreds of practitioners are able to affect the pH of water.
So, energy healing affects the physical properties of water. It exists out there in the physical world, and effects inanimate matter.
Does chi affect living cells?
We’re still not ready for humans. The next step after inanimate matter is cells in a Petri dish.
Beverly Rubik studied E. coli, the default bacteria used in a lot of research. She heat shocked the E. coli, meaning she heated it up to the point where it was almost dead. The Petri dishes that received reiki recovered far better than the Petri dishes that did not. Now, the point isn’t that we can make really healthy E. coli. The point is that E. coli don’t know what you’re doing to them, so they are not subject to placebo, but they are still affected by energy healing.
Ankur Jhaveri took human bone cells (osteoblasts). He starved them, then put them in a calcium solution. The bone cells that received energy healing absorbed more calcium, as though they were getting ready to grow.
In all research, there’s the possibility that the results are just coincidence. Some E. coli is healthier than other E. coli, and maybe through sheer luck the healthy E. coli wound up in the Petri dishes that received the energy healing, and would have recovered whether the reiki practitioner was there or not. And so, all research publishes the probability that it was a coincidence, called the p-value.
The probability of coincidence for all the research I’ve discussed so far is less than 1 in 1,000. To put that in perspective, this is 10 times stronger than medical research, which aims for 1 in 100 confidence, and 3 times stronger than physics evidence, which aims for 1 in 300 confidence.
In other words, this is compelling evidence.
(Tiller’s research did not publish the p-value, but was quite reliable and impressive.)
Does energy promote health in multicellular organisms?
Gloria Gronowicz studied mice with cancer, like you would find in many labs around the country. She found that mice receiving energy healing were less likely to have their cancer metastasize. Again, the probability of coincidence is less than 1 in 1,000.
Gary Schwartz studied the growth of several types of seeds, finding that seeds receiving energy healing grew significantly faster. On this one, the probability of coincidence is less than 1 in 10,000.
Faring better with cancer, longevity, and growth. That’s strong evidence that this energy can promote health.
Does energy healing help humans?
Now that we have strong evidence that energy healing exists out there in the world, affects living cells, and promotes health in multicellular organisms, we’re finally ready to ask about humans.
Randomized placebo-controlled trials provide strong evidence that energy healing can reduce pain and anxiety in humans.
I know the research best for osteoarthritis, since it’s my specialty. Dur-Fa Lu did a randomized controlled trial on knee osteoarthritis, and found that it significantly reduced pain and increased mobility. Andrea Gordon did a placebo-controlled trial of energy healing for knee osteoarthritis, and found the same thing. And of course, I’ve found the same over and over in case studies in my practice.
“Does energy healing work?” is really for questions. We answered each of them in this post.
Does chi exist? Yes. It affects water, so we know it’s out there in the world, not just in our heads.
Does chi affect living cells? Yes, it affects cells in a Petri dish, which are also not subject to placebo.
Does energy promote health in multicellular organisms? Yes, it helps mice with cancer, and increases the longevity and growth of plants.
Does energy healing help humans? Yes, in randomized placebo-controlled trials, it demonstrates reduced pain and other benefits.
Learn more and ask questions on my live stream
Every weekend on Facebook, I geek out about energy on my live stream, Ask an Energy Scientist.
This weekend, I’ll talk about how I use this research when talking with clients, answering your questions as I go.
That’s today (Sunday) at 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Just join my Facebook group, Energy Healing Lab, and you’ll get a notification when it starts.
Looking forward to talking with you!