nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ruby Does Reiki, And Demonstrates Human Vulnerability To Quackery

I'm not a TV watcher, but my eye was caught by a TV "reality" show episode where the reiki nonsense played a part.

Most people have heard of the TV show Ruby.  An obese woman works to lose weight and we follow her through her travails.  It's the usual intersection of manufactured drama and reality...which media marketers refer to as "Reality TV."

I was reading, minding my own business, when I heard the word "reiki" from the episode playing in the background.  For those who have not been educated about reiki, it's a form of healing. These methods are based on the idea that the body is surrounded or permeated by an energy field that is not measurable by ordinary scientific instrumentation. The alleged force, said to support life, is known as ki in Japan, as chi or qi in China, and as prana in India. Reiki practitioners claim to facilitate healing by strengthening or "balancing" it. (adapted from Alternative Therapies, Mar/Apr 2003).
For a scientific assessment of reiki see Dr. Stephen Barrett's article on Quackwatch, or go to the research literature here (Intl Journal of Clinical Practice, June 2008), for a review of randomized clinical trials, where the kindest thing that could be said was
"In total, the trial data for any one condition are scarce and independent replications are not available for each condition. Most trials suffered from methodological flaws such as small sample size, inadequate study design and poor reporting."
It's amazing how often these nonsensical therapies are based on elements or forces that can't be felt, heard, seen, or measured by any methods known to science.  In fact, the proponents revel in the fact that they've discovered something that can't be verified  (that's why it's "special").   But notice that if something can't be verified or measured it's harder to debunk...which is to their benefit.

All dubious and implausible therapies rely on this.  And while it's true that "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack,"  we should not support claims that fly in the face of all we experience in the world.

Nevertheless, humans are extremely vulnerable--especially under the duress of pain and suffering--to suggestion and misinterpretation.

Back to Ruby.  According to a "close friend" (spouse, actually), Ruby has been inching her way to some sort of revelation that causes her to fail in her life, her obesity being the proximate result.  In this episode, well-meaning friends take her to see Gabriela, a Reiki Master (whatever that is...sort of like Glenda the Witch of the North, I guess).

Watching the session reminds me of hundreds of thousands of patients who'ved come to see me, troubled and confused, whose experience of the therapeutic session lets them open up to their distress.  Nothing to do with me or's the setting.

Gabriela positions Ruby semi-supine and does some really comical hand waving and intense gestures, following by brushing hand movements (my wife asked me to quit laughing).  All without touching Ruby.

...who gets distressed and begins to cry, reacting defensively to a situation that's been manufactured by underlying problems and an expectation that something might actually happen.

Anyway, the session is a flop, and Gabriela is left standing there. Afterwards, her friends discuss the implications and everybody agrees that the Reiki Master "opened doors" to Ruby's feelings.  I agree that the setting was one where problems could surface.

One problem.  None of this has anything to do with reiki.  It's a consequence of setting and expectation.  Identical reactions occur in a doctor's office, with a psychotherapist, or in an intervention.   Or, frankly, in any situation in life where an event strikes a vulnerable chord.

Best of luck to Ruby, but I think the producers will continue to tease the viewers along, hinting around at a revelation to occur in the future.  What it will be is anybody's guess:  the stereotype for the Helping Culture is sexual abuse as a child.  But the specifics are unimportant.  The viewers are along for the ride, and the network will milk all the money out of it that people will tolerate...until they get bored with this fad and move on to the next.

I'm vulnerable to this stuff, too.  I don't think any of us are immune.  We are desperate for meaning and hope in life.  Immersion in stories like this is a form of virtual living.

And quackery like reiki steps right in to take advantage of that need.

Meanwhile, I need to get back to the planet Earth.

Doc D
Oh, BTW.  Don't write and tell this stuff helped you.  Of course it did, that's the point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am glad I read your post today. I understand where you are coming from. I am sorry you feel so upset about this. I am glad you shared. Thank you. I love you.

One day you will know me. And understand why I wrote what I did. In the meantime, I send you light.

Doc C

A board-certified anesthesiologist who despises Reality T.V.

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