Relief washed over a man’s face as he watched his wife doze off in her hospital bed after receiving reiki therapy.
“She hasn’t slept in days,” he whispered to a Brigham volunteer, a certified reiki practitioner who had provided the therapy.
The scene is a familiar one for Sharon Dickinson, MDiv, coordinator of the hospital’s Reiki Program, who recounted it recently as an example of how certified reiki practitioners help care for patients by relaxing their body and mind.
Stemming from the Japanese words for “universal life energy,” reiki is a healing and meditation practice that promotes wellness and resiliency. At the Brigham, volunteers deliver reiki therapy as a hands-on relaxation technique that helps promote the body’s natural immune response. It is not affiliated with any religion.
Volunteers start a session by turning on soothing music or eliminating distracting noises, dimming the lights and then placing their hands in standard reiki positions on the head, shoulders, arms, hands, lower legs and feet. After the 15- to 25-minute session, the volunteer quietly slips out of the room to leave the patient in their state of deep rest.
Reiki is not an alternative to medicine, but rather an integrative way of healing when practiced in conjunction with traditional medical care, Dickinson explained.
“Our bodies come equipped with an immune system that ordinarily works very well, and it works best when we’re in a relaxed state,” she said.
Powered by Volunteers
Aside from Dickinson, the Reiki Program is entirely volunteer-staffed. Now celebrating its 10th year, the program has 73 volunteers, who range in age from 21 to 85 and come from a variety of backgrounds. Retired nurses, students, stay-at-home parents and working professionals all make time to come to the Brigham for two hours a week and practice reiki.
“A volunteer walks in and they carry with them a contemplative calmness,” Dickinson said. “They’re open-hearted, they’re kind and they’re so dedicated.”
Nina Averbuck, who has volunteered with the program for a year, said being able to provide reiki to patients and staff is the best part of her day.
“It’s the greatest gift when someone tells you that you’ve helped them relax and focus on feeling better,” Averbuck said. “Reiki is so powerful, and I’m so glad that I can share my passion for it with others every day.”
On average, volunteers collectively administer about 30 sessions a day. When not serving patients, they also provide reiki to faculty, staff and trainees. On the second Wednesday of each month, they set up “Reiki Shares” on Braunwald Tower 2 mezzanine from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to administer reiki to anyone who would like it.
Like a Comforting Hug
Dickinson, who is a certified reiki practitioner, recalled an experience when a patient she was working with asked her to stop the therapy about five minutes in so they could take their pain medication. The next day, the patient told Dickinson that in the short period between when the session ended and when the nurse arrived with the medication, their pain went away.
Patients who shared their reactions to the therapy have stated that they felt refreshed and calm after receiving reiki. Following one session, a patient said it was like receiving a comforting hug, Dickinson said.
“Everyone at the Brigham is devoted to patient care and healing,” Dickinson said. “Some accomplish this through conducting groundbreaking research, others through administering innovative medical practices. Reiki volunteers care for patients through relaxing their body and mind.”
For more information about volunteering with the Reiki Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Patients and families interested in receiving reiki therapy can speak with their nurse to request a session.
“Behind the Scenes at the Brigham” is a monthly series that provides a glimpse of the people whose everyday contributions help make the Brigham a world-class institution. Is there a team you’d like to see featured? Send your ideas to email@example.com.