Introduction and Literature Review
A few years ago I embarked upon my own journey into psychotherapy and as I was having weekly therapy sessions I found myself immersing into this new inner world that had opened itself to me. I had this yearning to dive deep into these portals of growth and awareness that were opening themselves to my consciousness. However I felt like a part of my being was not addressed through the psychotherapeutic process. There was a void in my growth process and no matter how many therapy sessions I undertook this void within just grew. I came across a book by John Welwood ‘ Perfect Love Imperfect Relationships, (2007) ‘ a psychotherapist himself he talks about that void as ‘Holy Longing’ I realised that I needed to tap into that infinite source that I was yearning and it was the spiritual part of myself that was not being acknowledged through my psychotherapeutic process. It was around this time that I started to look into how I could address this part of myself that was demanding to be seen, and through this searching I discovered holistic healing methods.
As I had discovered from my psychotherapy training and my personal therapy that my personality traits were linked to the ‘schizoid’ – (1983, Paul Ware) personality adaptations. Through this personality adaptation I had formed strategies to take of myself through stressful times, I had formed these strategies in childhood and continued to use them throughout my adult life. I became aware that I found it particularly difficult to connect my physical body with my emotional state, even when experiencing emotions I very much kept myself in my cognitive thinking or head activity, i.e. day dreaming or disassociating and zoning out. This was becoming an issue for me in terms of my progression in the therapeutic process. So I opened my perspective to look at how I could integrate my body with my mind and spirit, in order to experience and access my emotions. I was led to ‘Reiki’ a form of laying of hands holistic healing method. I had not come across this modality of healing but my curiosity led me to try it out. I continued to have reiki alongside my psychotherapy sessions and I feel that it has enhanced my understanding of myself and I discovered connection between the somatic pain in my body with my emotions and my spiritual connection, and through the combination of reiki and psychotherapy I was able to access and release those hidden, fragmented and traumatised parts of myself.
After this discovery I started to research the links between reiki and psychotherapy and the impact on the client’s wellbeing. I came across Jungian psychology (Jung1961, 1977) he discusses in his writings concepts such as the ‘self’ and the ‘soul’. Robert Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhr, (Living Your Unlived Life, 2007) interprets Jungian concepts and talk about how subconscious archetypes play out through our conscious living. I realised that somehow I wasn’t able to bridge this gap in my own process of psychotherapy alone and I wanted to know how this was integrated and what the importance of having a holistic approach was. Again I was curious to look at how we can bring a more holistic approach to the client in their healing process. This is when I came across a training manual by Richard Curtin a practicing psychotherapist since 1975 who discovered Reiki and decided to train as a Reiki Master, since 1996 he has been developing ways to use talking therapy with a more holistic approach (Psychotherapeutic Reiki, 2012). Richard Curtin in his book expresses how psychotherapy can be used with Reiki for a more holistic approach for healing and he in his book breaks this down with case studies on how this can be done safely and effectively.
At this stage I wanted to know the effectiveness of Reiki on clients wellbeing and I came across this empirical research an experimental study conducted by Linda J. Dressen & Sangeeta Singg, Ph.D on ‘Effects of Reiki on pain selected affective and personality variables on chronically ill patients’ (ISSSEM journal, Vol 9, No.1 Dressen 2011). Their research focussed the effectiveness of Reiki on pain, mood, personality and faith in God and sampled 120 people who met the criteria for this study and all received 10 sessions of reiki. Their finding were that Reiki was effective on all areas of research focus and was effectiveness of Reiki persisted over long periods of time. Reiki attunement are seem to be vital for training and effectiveness of Clients. As I looked into the modality of reiki I discovered on the Reiki Council website www.reikicouncil.org in the research section there are a variety of research conducted in various settings and environment that show the effectives of Reiki.
I then found a reiki practitioner and started having regular reiki treatments. At this point I had been journeying with Reiki for over two years alongside psychotherapy and I have found many beneficial factors, including the integration of fragmented parts of myself. Although I have continued to keep my psychotherapy and reiki separate in that I go to different therapists for each modality, I was able to gain benefits from both. I was looking at whether the two could be integrated effectively and the conflicts that may bring up as well as the benefits. So I decided that I wanted to know how the experience of Reiki related to others in order to explore this area I decided to embark on this piece of research.
My research project focuses on a phenomenological and qualitative approach, which is described by http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/phenomenological+research
‘Phenomenological research an inductive, descriptive research approach developed from phenomenological philosophy; its aim is todescribe an experience as it is actually lived by the person.
Qualitative research research dealing with phenomena that are difficult or impossible to quantify
mathematically, such as beliefs, meanings, attributes, and symbols; it may involve content analysis. ‘
My research is conducted using the ‘relational centred phenomenological research design’ (Finlay). Phenomenology was a concept coined by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century, Husserl’s was concerned about exploration and study of ‘structures of consciousness and phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness’- (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology). My interpretation of Husserl’s concept of ‘phenomenology’ is the exploration of experience of my participant and her consciousness her inner perceptions, the fabric of her story. In order to immerse myself into the participant experience and truly see through her eyes, and be guided through her inner world. I had to ensure that I was able to set aside my own presumptions and perceptions and truly listen to her experience, with empathy and to describe her sense of embodiment.
My participant Aisha is a friend that I’ve known for several years, our friendship will have influenced my data and research findings. However Aisha through our friendship will have also shared certain aspects of her experience on a more intimate level. Aisha is a pseudonym to protect my participant’s identity and therefore Aisha may have found it easier to share information through her anonymity.
I approached Aisha about my interest in her journey with Reiki and she wanted to share her story and I explored with Aisha that I would be sharing my findings about this research. Aisha wanted to ensure that her identity was protected throughout and I have ensured through the transcript of the interview that any location or names have been either changed or erased. The interview was conducted at Aisha’s home, and dialogue was over 45 minutes and Aisha gave consent for the interview to be recorded. I conducted debrief after the interview with Aisha to ensure that she felt comfortable about the interview and we talked about any feelings that were bought up through the interview. I kept in touch with Aisha after the interview to support her through any residual after effects of the interview process. In the spirit of transparency I have shared the transcript of the interview my findings of the interview itself at various points of the writing of this research with Aisha. Aisha has contributed by her feedback and she has expressed how reading my findings have opened a door to her inner world that she had not bought to her own conscious awareness, and she found the process deeply enlightening.
In the interview itself I allowed Aisha to tell her story and only asked her questions to clarify or describe her experience so as not to stop her flow of description. The initial transcript is very fast paced and it difficult to keep up with Aisha’s narrative. I found to easier to read and listen to tape and stopping at keys points, I immersed myself in the interview. Until I could find any systematic recurrent themes (Finlay 1999) these themes helped to describe phenomenological experiences of Aisha and later I discuss the psychological influences of these themes on Aisha’s experiences.
Aisha comes from a Pakistani heritage and she was born in the UK. Although the interview itself was about Aisha’s lived experience of Reiki, Aisha exploration of this topic led us into many spheres of her journey spanning over fifteen years. In her story Aisha describes the traumatic events that triggered periods of ‘depression’ Louis Delasiauve (1856). She describes in her narrative how these periods affect her and the types of support she receives from her GP and health professionals. Cultural and familial expectations and pressures, lack of support and isolation. Aisha also speaks about her struggle to keep herself off anti-depressants overcoming a possible long term use or co- dependency of anti –depressants.
Aisha story describes pivotal events of divorce, bereavement and relocation that affect her wellbeing she describes how she managed to overcome feelings of isolation, loss and grief. Aisha describes her every day struggles, how her world is impacted by her emotions and how she is unable to cope with being a parent to her children. She describes her journey of reiki how she manages to find some support through her pain, she manages to build relationships. Above all how from a world devoid of hope she was given a way of connecting herself to others and then eventually to herself.
I chose the three themes ‘honour and shame’, ‘loss and lost’ and ‘disembodied and disconnected’ ?and then subsequently?as I discovered throughout Aisha’s interview a running thread linking all three states of being. I wanted to expand on the concept of honour and shame for Aisha due to her cultural background and heritage, as without understanding the impact of these concepts you cannot grasp the level of disconnection experienced by Aisha on all levels of her being caused by internal and external factors.
The reason I chose to explore the losses in Aisha’s life experience was because they were the triggers that led Aisha into her experiences with reiki. I felt it was important to explore the impact of the losses for Aisha and how her inner world was shaped through the void that was created through those losses.
The idea of disembodiment came to me as I was immersed into the idea that Aisha could not connect to parts of herself and her emotional body, and that reiki had such a profound impact on Aisha because it linked her physical body with her emotional pain and soothed her.
We now explore these themes in more depth;
Honour and Shame
When Aisha initially went to her GP in a state of panic, agitation and desperation her response from her GP was not what she had expected. She had felt so isolated and disconnected from herself and everything around her. Her known world was falling apart and she was grasping in desperation, her paramount priority lay in how she could survive in this changing tide. On one level even though she had been in an abusive and dysfunctional relationship she had the sanctuary of comfort in the norm of her life as being as her mother had lived hers and probably her grandmother. In fact she had witnessed and had been told throughout her life that this is how it was? Now she had stood up and she had made a stand that she was no longer going to follow what had always been the norm, what was expected? She stood in this place of defiance and yet she was all alone. Her mind no longer understood what was even right, should she have stayed? Aisha mentions in her interview and there is always an underlying current in her dialogue about the expectations of her family, sometimes spoken and sometimes it is hidden behind the silence of unspoken words;
‘I’m going through my divorce and everyone is against me.’ (Transcript A-T1)
In that moment although Aisha is speaking at a high speed to reflect the ‘high rate of agitation’ (in her words) she was feeling, beneath this wave of feeling I sensed the complete abandonment, isolation and despair. She had been cast out of her relationship, her family and her community her feelings of inadequacy are apparent. As in her community it is the woman who is at fault bringing shame onto the family even in asking for a legitimate divorce. Slowing done her words I could feel this huge wave of all-encompassing and engulfing shame.
‘So I came back here and I knew the choice I had was go on antidepressants because I was getting really, really… I wouldn’t stop crying and I felt helpless, I felt powerless, I felt lost, I wanted my home back, the kids were playing up, they wanted to go back home. We felt disorientated all the time, not sleeping, no friends, very isolated, no one that understood me, a lot of emotional things going on for me-‘ (Transcript-A-T9 )
Aisha is identifying her pain as a collective pain she is taking it all on herself, she is taking on all the responsibility of this failed relationship on her shoulders. Coming back to the place where her family live and leaving behind her ‘home’. She was not welcomed by her community or family she was shunned, she felt ‘isolated and powerless’ (in her words). This move for her was to her probably even more painful than her initial divorce, as now she was back in her community. I sensed this through the underlying meaning behind her words as she states she feels’ powerless, she knows her choice is to go onto anti-depressants.’ She is so overwhelmed by her emotions that she feels her only choice is to numb them.
Aisha turns to Reiki to help her as she doesn’t want to end up on anti-depressants, she finds a practitioner that helps her and she takes regular sessions of reiki, she expresses at this time that;
‘When I was having it in XXXXXX, what that was guy was doing on me, after a while I felt it wasn’t working because my relapse would be very soon. From point of feeling – with him in particular, I think that’s because I was getting quite ill. (Transcript A-T10)
This transaction was poignant in expressing that Aisha was at a very low point, her body was expressing her emotional pain through physical pain at this point. This to me is a turning point in that Aisha’s emotional pain is so unbearable and deep rooted in her psyche that her body takes on her somatic pain through her body.
Throughout her interview Aisha does not at any point talk about her relationships with any friends or family members that she may have gained support from. Thus highlighting Aisha’s sense of being exiled from her community and cast out. You get the flavour throughout the interview that Aisha feels as though she has been torn away from the womb of and left a child and baby to fend for herself. You get the sense of her going from one healer to the next to gain nurturing and a sense of being held through her pain. I immediately form a picture in my mind of a baby exposed to the elements, left to cry and weep until someone holds it for a while and soothes it. The baby is soothed for a while and then it is again left where it was until it needs to be held and soothed. This extract of Aisha’s transaction helped me form this image in my mind of this baby needing soothing;
‘I spoke to this very lovely, lovely man, he was absolutely lovely and even on the phone he made me feel so welcome and I just said, ‘Look I’m interested in this group.’ He said, ‘Is there any specific reason?’ and I said, ‘I’m in a really bad way.’ So he took me on under his wing’ – (Transcript- A-T1)
The whole concept of honour and shame is about this idea of instilling a sense of stigma onto the victim, that they are somehow tainted. Therefore not worthy of having any connection with others adding to the victims sense of desolation.
Loss and Lost
Loss has been a major trigger that initiated Aisha into seeking help from her GP regarding her emotional state of being. Initially it was the loss of her relationship that was the trigger into her state of isolation;
‘I was going through a really, really difficult time and I wasn’t coping. I was very emotional, very much on my own and isolated.’- (Transcript A-T1)
As Aisha describes her feelings you feel her sense of loss and grief that was underlying the loneliness and isolation. A vacuum or void that was created through the loss of her relationship, you can sense that at this point Aisha was bereft stripped of all her known life, as through this divorce she had experienced loses from her home and community. I got a picture of Aisha feel completely lost in this void of darkness where nothing was known to her anymore, in this world of shadow she was grasping at anything that felt familiar. Her only solution was to ask the GP medicate her and to numb her excoriating feelings of abandonment.
I became aware that Aisha’s loss of relationship with her husband symbolised a loss that ran deeper into her subconscious. Although Aisha experienced abuse and betrayal in her relationship with her husband the comfort of the security even in the dysfunction was something that was torn away from beneath her feet. So she was floating in this darkness with no ground to lay her feet and no safe haven or light to guide her to herself. The abandonment was something she had possibly experienced long before as a child from her parents or caregivers at crucial times of her development or at significant points as a child. These ‘primal wounds’ are once again opened up as they were always there beneath the surface, still sore and now exposed and infected. Even Aisha’s tone and language when she is describing her emotional state reveal her regressed age as she talk she expressing herself in a very childlike manner. Her tone was at higher pitch and her pace fast and without spaces to take any breath.
The next point she again seeks help for her emotional state in when she experiences another loss, this time the bereavement of her nephew. This time Aisha’s was in such an emotional and mental turmoil that she was prescribed anti-depressants. For me it was significant that after Aisha’s treatment of anti-depressants were proving to be non-effective as her body kept becoming customised to high doses of medication. This for me symbolised that Aisha was in trauma and experiencing post-traumatic stress and her prolonged symptoms suggest that she was experiencing PTSD (Post traumatic Stress Disorder). This in itself suggests that Aisha was experiencing or reliving a series of traumatic events and in her psyche, she was probably re-experiencing previous traumatic events as well as the most recent one. Her body was not coping with the high amounts of stress hormones released in her body. Her undertones when talking about this time in her life was that she felt hopeless she had been introduced to the mental health team and this was for her the end of the road. She describes this period;
‘Shaking, crying, like I would kill myself feeling I’m going to kill myself, I’m sick of this life.’(Transcript A- T4)
With her external losses of her relationships, community and loved ones there is also the underlying loss of herself, lost to herself. There is a sense of Aisha’s lack of identity, the emotional vacuum in her life is so vast that it has swallowed up her sense of being, she is sick of this life. As it is devoid of any direction or hope this endless cycle of plunging into the depths of despair, her identity is linked to her emotional wounds and there is no sense of who she is beyond that.
Learning to carve out a path for herself or to find meaning in her life beyond this rollercoaster of emotions is what would eventually become her saving grace. This happens through the connection with the therapy group and community that Aisha becomes a part of;
‘All 100 people used to sit around, or people used to leave, because some people had to leave, but the rest of us would sit around in a big circle and hold hands and used to meditate for 15 minutes and that’s the healers as well, that’s the people that used to go there and that was really beautiful. (Transcript A-T4)
When Aisha describes this period of her journey and the group that she was part of, there is a sense that her hope had been ignited she describes the experience of meditation as’ beautiful.’ This focus on a higher purpose or power, had somehow shifted her energy from the hopeless lost place to a place of direction.
Her gains of friendships and connections within the healing community eventually for Aisha that void of emptiness in her life is filled. She is the able to find herself through the process of the Reiki as she gains more understanding of her own needs she is able to meet them. Aisha is also able to stabilise herself and create a foundation through this growth and therefore she is able to move out of the instability and un-groundedness of the void onto the path of her own recovery.
Disembodied and Disconnection
Throughout Aisha’s interview I sensed a deep void, a place of emptiness and desolation, that a lack of connection had created, a disembodied state of being, this remained a constant thread interwoven in the fabric of the interview. Every now and again there are connections with others that have responded to Aisha’s cries for help, and there are times where she is completely missed, and again she is floating between two worlds of existence and non-existence, not being able to ground herself firmly on this plane instead becoming rootless.
This concept of Aisha’s state of being came to me as I was immersed in her first meeting with her GP she describes how she was ‘very much on her own and isolated’ and she felt she needed to be on anti-depressants. Her doctor instead of prescribing her medication connected with her through Reiki;
‘I was very, very high rated and very agitated, and she came around and she stood behind me and put her hand on my shoulders. Gently on my shoulders and she said, ‘Just close your eyes and just take deep breaths and just try to relax.’ For about five minutes she did on my shoulders and then she put her hand on my head for about five minutes and then she said to me, ‘Now, how do you feel?’’- Transcript A-T1)
Through Aisha’s words I felt this sense of relief as she described how she was feeling so isolated and on her own this had manifested in her feelings of anxiety and agitation. I felt that at this point Aisha had felt like her GP was just present for her and created space for her to just be, there was an attunement and connection between the GP and Aisha. This was a powerful connection for Aisha as her GP had soothed and connected with her when she had needed it the most. However this connection does not last for Aisha as she goes to see her GP after a couple of weeks and she talks about the theory of Reiki and a story about distant healing. The onus is of what is left unspoken, there in Aisha voice is a grain of disappointment with her GP’s lack of connection to her and she goes on to speak about Reiki, ‘ so what if it takes pain away?’ (Transcript A-T1) I sensed frustration and agitation in these words almost as if the next part of the sentence that were left unspoken by Aisha were, ‘what about my pain?’ Aisha’s experience of her GP missing her during her second visit then leads her to disconnect with herself as she explores learning reiki to treat others rather than seeking treatment for herself. In effect she abandons and disconnects with herself, as a result of her experience of abandonment by her GP.
Then it isn’t till several years afterwards that Aisha is again open to Reiki when she had suffered bereavement and she is already on anti-depressants but the treatment is not effective for her. She calls a practitioner who runs the therapy group and instantly feels connection;
‘I spoke to this very lovely, lovely man, he was absolutely lovely and even on the phone he made me feel so welcome and I just said, ‘Look I’m interested in this group.’ He said, ‘Is there any specific reason?’ and I said, ‘I’m in a really bad way.’ So he took me on under his wing.’ – Transcript A-T1)
Aisha is then introduced to a group therapy setting, there I feel as she is talking that she finds a sense of community and she feels ‘welcomed’ validated by these healers and practitioners. She describes how she meets other people who come to these healing groups and so she finds a sense of belonging and connection. It is this powerful connection and attachment within this group that she is able to eventually come off the anti-depressants and begin her journey into recovery. Even in her moments of relapse she was able to find connection. As she describes in her experience with distant healing when she was going through a period of experiencing loss and grief, I realise that this was a turning point for her as she felt that powerfully connected with the people from this healing community that she even felt affinity without direct contact.
Throughout Aisha’s journey with Reiki I felt that through Reiki Aisha was able to consolidate her emotional and somatic pain in her body. Bringing her awareness into her body was a way of bringing her disembodied state and fragmented parts of herself back into the awareness of her body, she describes this physical process in her words about how she is experiencing the reiki sessions;
‘I suffer from heartache as well, I used to feel like around that area where they used to put their hand, all tingly and soothing, when you have a tender – it’s been touched and it’s painful, but it feels nice and soothing and it feels very soothing around my chest and my stomach area.’ Transcript A-T10).
Aisha goes onto to describe her experiences of Reiki as if she is a sponge and soaks up the energy from healing hands, my interpretation of her statement would be that she has been able to integrate parts of herself through the connection. By finding connection through attunement, validation, empathy and security within this community. Aisha was able to eventually regulate and sooth and connect with herself.
‘Even when I was really, really upset and there’s something emotionally going on and we talked about the heart chakra, I don’t know what happened but there was a point I felt like that big problem didn’t matter to me.’ (Transcript A- T11).
Aisha was no longer in a place between the existence and non-existence she had the tools and awareness to be able to access the disembodied parts of herself, and understand and implement the process of integration.
When I had chosen the themes to explore in more depth, I didn’t realise how they flowed and intertwined into each other. What I discovered through the exploration of these chosen themes, was the multi-dimensional level of the human experience and how we cannot box off and compartmentalise the human experience and by doing so we can lose the interrelatedness within those experiences. The process of human experience is not a linear one but a web of connection, once we can recognise this we can then understand that healing and recovery needs a holistic perspective.
This research in itself has bought about lots of areas of discussion and analysis that I would like to delve and explore further at this point.
Reiki is a modality that use touch in the therapy process, so how does that sit within the psychotherapeutic process? There are number of points highlighted by Benjamin and Shonen-Moe in their book ‘The Ethics of Touch (2003) reflecting on using touch in therapy and the confusion that our society has about ‘sex, touch and intimacy’ that colours our perception about a ‘non touch’ culture. However they highlight that in itself has created a void where there is a disconnection split between mind and body. They go on to expand that this has manifests in the western culture as psychotherapists work with the mind and body workers such as massage and physical therapist works solely with the body. Curtin in his book ‘Psychotherapeutic Reiki (2012) talks about how touch theory can be made safe and ethical. Therefore bridging the gap between body and mind and working more holistically in therapy.
There are a number of differing ideas on touch and psychotherapy Somatic Psychotherapy (Wilheim Reich 1930), Reich developed body psychotherapy and looked at the connection between the body and the mind, and however his methods were controversial and some would argue violated his patients. In recent times body psychotherapy founded by somatic psychology has been used extensively with clients suffering trauma in methods such as EMDR, EFT and mindfulness. Donald Winnicott (1969) looked at attachment and how holding therapy provided an opportunity for the client to meet ‘neglected ego need and allow true self to emerge’- Playing and Reality, Winnicott & Rodman (2005).
In relation to this research I wanted to explore the theories relating to touch therapy bridging the gap between mind and body. These discussion have been ongoing throughout history of psychology and psychotherapy and in my interpretation, we are now not looking at whether mind and body are interconnected but rather how can we incorporate and develop healing and therapy modalities to use a more interconnected approach to encompass mind, emotions and body in safe and effective ways.
My next area of consideration and deliberation was the question; – did reiki actually create the healing of Aisha or was it her finding connection and support that she needed? During Aisha’s period of her finding a reiki group where she attended regularly and started to take her children, she made connections with both practitioners and clients. I felt that Aisha at this point had built relationships with the practitioners, she gained support from the group and also individual practitioners. She mentions that at this point her depression was subsiding. From the isolation that Aisha had initially felt from making these relationships ad connections with the reiki group, there was a sense of progression for Aisha in her state of being. Richard Erskine, Janet Moursund and Rebecca Trautmann in ‘Beyond Empathy’ (1999) discuss the importance of relationships and contact in relationships and the disrupted contact that in turn can cause trauma and psychological dysfunction. They identified eight relational needs for secure and intimate relationships with others;-
1) the need for security, 2) validation, affirmation, and significance within a relationship, 3) acceptance by a stable, dependable, and protective other person, 4) the confirmation of personal experience, 5) self-definition, 6) having an impact on the other person, 7) having the other initiate, and 8) expressing love (Erskine, Moursund & Trautmann, 1999).
During Aisha ‘s interview when she speaks of this period of her journey, through her expression and nuances I ascertain that Aisha was having many of her relational needs met through the relationships and support she made with this group. This is in itself would have given her the foundation for recovery. In Aisha words;-
‘I had six of them working, and they didn’t charge me; they just did it because they thought I was a lovely person and they gave me that time, that commitment.’ (Transcript – A- T11)
The question then raised is did reiki make a difference at all or was it merely the connection made through the therapeutic process and relationships that helped Aisha recover? Going back to the initial research that had led me to myself seek reiki as a modality for healing, the empirical research an experimental study conducted by Linda J. Dressen & Sangeeta Singg, Ph.D on ‘Effects of Reiki on pain selected affective and personality variables on chronically ill patients’ (ISSSEM journal, Vol 9, No.1 Dressen 2011). The research was conducted on 120 volunteers splitting these volunteers into groups of 30, each participant was allotted 10 bi- weekly sessions of reiki consisting of 30 minutes. 30 participants were given actual reiki by a trained reiki practitioner who had received reiki attunement. 30 participants were given material to read but had no reiki treatment given. 30 participants were given treatment emulating reiki but without a trained practitioner who had not received reiki attunement. Based on this study the conclusion was that attunement is necessary for reiki and that false reiki practice would not be effective in enhancing desirable changes in pain, affective states personality traits or spirituality.
Whilst doing this research another query that raised itself was-; did Aisha overcome grief of her trauma and bereavement naturally or was it the reiki that actually supported her recovery?
Kubler- Ross’ Death and Dying’ (1969) proposes that there are five stages to grief an loss:- 1. Denial and isolation, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. The five stages do not especially take place in a specific order nor are they specifically based on singular bereavement as losses in life can mean that an individual may still go through stages of grief, according to Kubler – Ross.
Aisha had identified that she had experienced loss initially when she came to her GP due to her divorce and this would identify that Aisha was going through loss of her relationship and this in itself would have triggered the stages of grief for her. Later she mentions that she was prescribed anti-depressants due to suffering bereavement. Aisha at this point is a distressed state and when she was allocated a CPN is when she discovered the reiki group. Looking at the findings from Kubler – Ross through her identification of the stages of grief she then elaborated on how an individuals could be supported through any of the stages of grief and loss. In Aisha’s case through the support of the reiki group she was supported through her bereavement, and initially through the loss of her relationship she was supported by her GP who introduced her to reiki. In my interpretation there appears to be e clear connection between the relational needs (Erskine, Moursund & Trautmann, 1999) and the overcoming of the stages of grief described by Kubler Ross (1969). This highlights that healing is not a linear process and therefore should not be considered as such, the human healing processes are interconnected and interdependent, therefore the approach to healing should also be multi-faceted and multi-dimensional.
In order to understand more about the struggles that Aisha was experiencing, it is important to understand the relevance of the cultural scripting. Steiner’s original script matrix (1974) was developed further by Suhith Shivanath and Mira Hiremath (2003) to take into account a person’s individual script influence, the scripting through their religion and culture and the scripting through wider white society in which they live. Aisha is of Pakistani heritage and born in the UK, without understanding these script influences on Aisha and her psyche and being, we cannot look at the reason why she was more inclined towards unconventional healing and therapy methods of reiki rather than conventional psychotherapy or counselling methods. Shivanath & Hiremath in ‘The Psychodynamics of Race and Culture (2003) highlight the dilemmas faced by minority cultures they talk about Muslim, Asian and African cultures and the concept of ‘izzat’ which is an Arabic word meaning, ‘family honour’ . ‘It is a concept closely linked with gender, sex, respect for elders and respect for community.’- Shivanath & Hiremath (2003). They go onto describe how if a woman left her husband this would cause shame to the family in the eyes of the wider community. Some women are then told very clearly that they will be disowned by their larger communities. This shed light on the theme highlighted in the findings of Aisha interview ‘Honour and Shame’ and how the intertwined cultural script plays a role in the isolation and lack of support that Aisha is subject to from her family and the wider community. Shivanath and Hiremath conclude that the world of psychotherapy is predominantly white middle class and the perception to minority cultures is that they will be not be understood and that therapist will not have an adequate awareness of the barriers that minorities face.
Pearl Drego Cultural Parent, Oppression and Regeneration (1996) Drego shares her research on the influences of culture and religion and the injunctions (Eric Berne, 1964) of a Gujjar tribe of Indian women. She highlights in her research how culture and religion are intertwined within cultural parent, the message bought into script that become injunctions interjected child belief messages such as, ‘don’t belong, don’t exist, don’t be you’, for girls in particular. Her study shows how through culture and religion the fabric of oppression is already present and reinforced for female children. In Aisha’s case the connection between culture and religion would be central to her idea of self and the struggles within herself and these struggles will have compounded the impact on her well-being, her sense of disempowerment.
Drego and Shivanath and Hiremath highlight the pivotal role of the cultural parent and the impact of cultural script. With links between culture and religion on a person’s psyche and the impact on a person’s view of the world, we cannot negate that Aisha would have been looking for a more spiritual route to healing and therapy. When Aisha had the experience of bereavement is when describes her darkest time. Death holding such a spiritual implication for Aisha through her belief system it is easy to understand how she may have felt that reiki would offer her solace. At this time she describes how reiki and regular meditation supported her recovery, she also describes the mystical connections and experiences she encountered during distant reiki she received.
We find it hard to articulate our sense of spiritual absence in this “non-religious age” and we are trying to find a personal language for our yearning, our search for meaning, in whatever way we can. Through history there has been debate into the human psyche and where does ‘spirit’ fit into our whole concept of being human. A present psychology is at a pivotal point as the yearning or as Welwood would describe ‘holy longing ‘runs through our society psychology and psychotherapy is at a pivotal point.
Neurological research has begun to explore the link between brain changes and spiritual practice such as regular meditation. Hoelzel et al (2008) research based n FMRI scans (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan 20 mindfulness mediation practitioners and 20 control, found that there were significant changes in the brain over periods of regular meditation influencing emotional regulation in participants. This meant that meditators had more likelihood of being able to modify their emotional responses and be able to calm themselves more easily. For Aisha having the experience of meditation would have been an invaluable tool to help her become empowered in her own recovery and healing process. Also Aisha describes how she would sit in a large group holding hands and meditating, in that connection of others and feeling she describes her experience as ‘beautiful. John Welwood in his book ‘Toward a psychology of Awakening’ (2002) describes depression as a ‘loss of heart’ he talks about depression stemming from specific losses or persisted loss since childhood. He states that depressed people talk about their loss personally and turn away from their pain and the pain begins to congeal that’s when depression sets in. Welwood goes on to discuss how a meditative approach to emotions can helps us open to feelings directly without trying to analyse them or discover their meaning. So therefore instead of trying to control emotions or read into them, we can learn to experience them in their immediacy to remain present. So when Aisha describes her most powerful experience of distant reiki that she receive when she was feeling overwhelmed by her feelings of sadness and loss. She was at time experiencing the flow of her own feelings and being present with them, whilst focusing on the receiving of the reiki from her practitioner. This can be interpreted as being at one in meditation with herself and receiving attunement from the collective ‘Divine’ source. It is interesting that the three most powerful experiences that Aisha describes with reiki are all at times when she was present with her emotions and received reiki at the point of experiencing those emotions. The first time was she was introduced to reiki by her GP and the second time was when she received distant reiki and the third was when she was experiencing the withdrawal symptoms of coming off anti-depressants and she then was having six practitioners working on her at the same time. The presence both from herself and from the practitioners who were working with her was vital for the experience to be of great significance to Aisha and support her healing process.
Welwood (2002) states that therapists often inadvertently close down their clients experiences by putting it in a familiar interpretive box. He goes on the say that the most powerful healers and therapists are those who can model authentic presence and bring it into their work. Unconditional presence promotes and encourages healing by allowing us to feel the contracted parts of ourselves and integrating it into that connection to ourselves and that which is universal in nature. He states that it is not enough just to feel but we must both see and feel therefore making that connection. As Welwood describes the ‘unconditional presence’ I feel that is a real connection between presence and the meeting of the relational needs that (Erskine, Moursund and Trautmann, 1999) describe. It is the attunement that leads to the somatic shift when the connection between mind, emotion and body is made. The contraction that Welwood describes is how Erskine describes as ‘dissociative defences’ these are as Erskine goes to state in his article-: Inquiry, Attunement, and Involvement
in the Psychotherapy of Dissociation (TAJ 1993) ‘More than just understanding, attunement is a kinaesthetic and emotional sensing of the other.’ In the presence of the phenomenological experience.
So far we have come to the understanding of combination of how the combination of the spiritual healing method of reiki combined with the meeting of relational needs has bought about recovery for Aisha.
Throughout Aisha’s interview she pointed out that she felt more connection with some practitioners than she did with others. I wanted to explore how whether presence and attunement was enough for the healing process or did Aisha need to have connection with particular practitioners for that to happen?
The theory of ‘transference’ was coined by Sigmund Freud (1920) who stated that client’s transfer feelings form their early lives onto others. Based on Freud’s theory of transference Aisha was able to connect to some practitioners more than others, this was due to her own early childhood and historical experiences and how those coloured her perceptions in the present. The psychodynamic theory is based on working through ‘transference and countertransference.’ Therefore in Aisha experience even though she not have felt a connection with some practitioners rather than others, she will have been able to gain benefits. As Aisha mentioned that she did not feel a strong connection towards the male practitioners in the group or the male practitioner who she later met with when she moved area. However by continuing to work with them she was able to gain connection and therefore overcoming and healing a part of herself that associated male figures as being emotionally unavailable. Therefore building a relationship and feeling safe with the practitioner is essential foundation for Aisha however even working with those practitioners that’s she didn’t have as much connection she was able to overcome barriers within herself own processes as she states in her interview that she felt soothed even by the male practitioner that initially she couldn’t connect with over time she able to build a safe therapeutic relationships.
I questioned whether transference had effected my interview with Aisha as having a long standing friendship. Would that have had some influences on how she had responded and indeed in my own responses and interpretation during the writing of this research? The truth is we cannot avoid transference in the sense that we will as humans see through the lenses of our own reality and even when looking at it from a ‘neutral’ perceptive, you will still be influence by your subjectivity and counter transference. This is in itself the crux of this research the dance between the inter-subjectivity of the participant and the interpretation of the researcher.
Initially I was focused on discovering Aisha’s lived experience of reiki however what I gained was much more. I gained access to a story of a woman, her struggles and her triumphs, her inner world the myriad of her being. Aisha’s story bought an understanding of the interconnected web of human experience and consciousness. It felt like each thread was intertwined to another forming and weaving a bigger tapestry. No one experience was stand alone, each experience led into another and then back again.
What I realised from Aisha’s story was the importance of human connection, her connection to others and their connection to her with ‘unconditional presence’ (Welwood 2003) helped bring Aisha back to herself. Reiki was the vessel from which that presence was experienced by Aisha and it was her powerful memories that helped forge the changes in her life and continue to both comfort and inspire her. Through this human connection of reiki Aisha made connection to the infinite source of her being. All the parts of herself her mind, her body, her emotions and her spirit were merged together at one point of time through her healing experiences. It is no wonder that these memories hold such significance as for Aisha they are indeed profound and magical.
I wanted to end with a poem by Matt Licata and Jeff Foster as it encompasses the spirit, the zeitgeist and the essence of this piece of research and its findings.
Healers, therapists, friends, and lovers!
When you sit with a friend in pain,
when their world no longer makes sense;
when confusion rages and
no rest is to be found.
Just for a moment,
will you resist the temptation
to make things better,
to reassure them,
to provide answers,
even to heal them?
Will you offer your stillness, your listening,
your presence, and the warmth
of your immediacy?
Will you hold them in your heart,
with the same tenderness
of a mother holding her little one?
Will you embrace them where they are,
without needing them to change or transform
according to your own needs and schedule?
Will you stay close,
holding your own impatience
and discomfort near?
Will you look into their eyes
and see yourself?
Will you stay in the inferno of healing
with them, trusting in disintegration,
knowing that you are only witnessing
the falling away of an old dream?
Sometimes in doing nothing
everything is undone,
and love is revealed to be
the only true medicine. –
By Matt Licata and Jeff Foster
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