Reiki in healthcare
By Deborah Flanagan, Contributing Editor
Editor's note: This article appeared originally in the November 15, 2010 International House of Reiki newsletter and appears on the International House of Reiki website in the Articles section.
I’ve been working at the Initiative for Women with Disabilities (IWD) at NYU Medical’s Hospital for Joint Diseases for almost a year now, offering patients Reiki and reflexology sessions. I researched many hospitals in New York City to find out more about the integrative therapies being offered, and was thrilled to discover IWD, as it is truly a remarkable and unique place.
The Initiative for Women with Disabilities Elly and Steve Hammerman Health & Wellness Center is a multi-disciplinary center committed to providing respectful medical, gynecological, and wellness services for women and adolescent girls with physical disabilities. Empowering women with disabilities to pursue a healthy lifestyle is central to all IWD components including mind-body physical therapy, nutrition consultation, exercise/fitness classes, and social work services. Wellness services include acupuncture, massage, Reiki, and reflexology.
"All too often we're touched and we’re considered medical objects and we lose a sense of ourselves," says IWD Director Judith Goldberg. "Our goal is to bring us back into our bodies through all the complementary and other modalities we have here."
Many of the patients at IWD are dealing with issues such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and rheumatoid arthritis, and mobility varies greatly from patient to patient. Goldberg herself was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a brittle bones disorder. She can relate to her patients' experience, and the patients coming to the center can relate to her: "I spent a lot of time in hospitals, and also encountered a lot of different barriers that the women have here. So I serve as a role model. I'm out in the community. I work. I'm management in a major medical center, and by my example I show them that I can go out and do what you need to do.”
Working in a medical setting
Working in a medical setting, is in many ways, very different from the way I see clients at my private practice. At IWD I see patients for 30-minute sessions once a month (normally I see private clients for hour sessions). IWD makes the most of their limited office and treatment room space (they even convert offices temporarily into treatment room space several times a week!) but even so, there's a waiting list for Reiki sessions. As a result, I don't see returning patients more than a few times a year. This lack of frequency makes it harder to assess the effectiveness of the Reiki sessions, though I'm happy they are able to make Reiki available as much as they do. The other integrative therapies and programs at IWD face the same space and scheduling restrictions.
Beyond these major differences, the need to be flexible is key (and something I enjoy as it helps me in my personal Reiki practice). For example, some patients aren’t able to transfer easily to the massage table and so I do their sessions in their wheelchairs. Sometimes it’s too painful for a patient to lie on her front or back and she’s only able to lie on one side on the table. I do the session placing my hands in positions differently and a bit more creatively than I normally do, and use lots of pillows to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
This makes it more of a collaborative effort and is a good reminder that a Reiki session should always be collaborative. It’s less about a giver (the practitioner) and a receiver (the client) and more about sharing Reiki the way you dance with a partner (an analogy Frans Stiene uses in class, and one that really resonates with me).
Judgement and compassion
At IWD I don't have access to patients' charts and therefore I'm not aware of various diagnoses, unless the patient mentions something in passing at the beginning of her session. This is good in many ways, again, it keeps me flexible and doesn't allow me to make a judgment determining what I think the patient needs (e.g. "spot treating" a painful knee or lower back instead of letting the Reiki energy guide me). This also ties in with the precept, "Be compassionate to yourself and others," because I can't be compassionate if I'm judging.
It also helps me to cultivate "beginner’s mind," a term used in Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts, which refers to having an attitude of openness and lack of preconceptions. Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki put it this way, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." Similarly, with Reiki I want to tap into the many possibilities for healing.
Instead of focusing on the person's illness, pain, and/or diagnosis, I focus on staying present and being that "great bright light." I focus on the "great bright light" that lies within the patient as well, seeing her whole and healthy, and sharing with her whatever she needs during the Reiki session.
Talking with patients about Reiki
Many of the women at IWD participate in more than one program at the Center. Approximately 50% of the women I see are familiar with Reiki and have experienced it before or are practitioners themselves. The remaining 50% have tried other healing modalities so are usually very open to trying a Reiki session. It's wonderful to work with women who are not only open to trying something new, but also are looking to play a key role in their treatment, and find Reiki or other integrative modalities useful in supporting themselves in this way.
The previous Reiki practitioner at IWD gave readings after each session, so when I first started working at IWD I needed to explain to patients that I don't work this way. In response to patients' questions, "what did you pick up or notice?" I would explain that sometimes my intuition isn't always correct, and in fact, it can limit and sidetrack them from connecting with their true self and the Reiki energy. I would ask them what they noticed and tell them that each of us usually has the answers we seek within us, and that connecting to this is far more powerful than anything I could say.
A sense of community
Another thing that sets IWD apart is the sense of community among the staff and patients. Everyone knows each other and is quick to offer support and encouragement and a welcome smile whenever anyone enters the Center. For example, a patient was coming to see me for a Reiki appointment and she takes her electric wheelchair on the subway. Many of the subway stops don't have elevators and those that do, unfortunately don't always work. She encountered a broken elevator and had to go back uptown to the next stop that had a working elevator, and then traveled 20 blocks back downtown in her chair (in the rain, by the way) to get to the IWD offices. By the time she arrived (still in good spirits), she had missed her appointment and I was scheduled to see another patient. The second patient gave up her appointment and let the first patient (who had traveled for over two and a half hours by this point) take her spot. That day both women had a lot to teach me regarding the Reiki precepts, "Do not anger," "Do not worry," and "Be compassionate," and I deeply value the opportunity to learn from them, as well as to be a part of IWD.
Deborah Flanagan is a Reiki teacher/practitioner and reflexologist who has a private practice in New York City and works with patients at the Initiative for Women with Disabilities, part of NYU Langone Medical Center, as well as Spa Services for in-patients at the Hospital for Joint Diseases.