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Legal issues with Reiki and other Bodywork and Energy Work Modalities

All Reiki and bodywork/energywork practitioners face substantial legal questions and problems in our society, since touch itself is usually viewed as suspicious, and possibly somehow related to sexual activity. In the United States, there is a tendency for lawsuits often to be filed for seemingly small, or frivolous causes. Any practitioner should be aware of current State and Federal laws, proposed legislation, and local sensitivities. This is especially true for the Reiki practitioner, since Reiki is a direct touch modality, with only the client and practitioner present.

It should not be necessary to remind the Reiki practitioner that any attempt to diagnose, treat or prescribe for any illness or condition for a client is strictly illegal. This includes claims of ability to improve or cure any such illness or condition. Even though there are encouraging reports about Reiki from the medical community, or its use in hospitals, the Reiki practitioner can only refer clients to the material from the medical community, without saying that they actually provide the benefit or results described. A Reiki practitioner can only say that Reiki provides the opportunity for relaxation and the relief of stress, so that the client's own natural healing abilities can function more freely.

In addition, a practitioner should not accept clients/students with whom they have another professional relationship, especially one of perceived authority [in my case, a schoolteacher and psychotherapist]. As a practical matter, I do not accept clients/students who are under 18, or any of my current high school students or those clients who I already see in psychotherapy. There might be an occasional exception for a hospitalized minor with a life-threatening condition for receiving Reiki, but in such a case, the parent must also consent and also be present during the entire session. Even then, I would prefer to do as I do with other conflicts, which is to provide a referral to another competent Reiki practitioner or bodywork/energywork provider.

The basic principal for legally and ethically safe and proper work is that the client/student must consent to whatever actions will take place during a session or class, and must have the right to alter such consent at anytime during the session. This consent must be fully informed. The best way to do this is to have a waiver [hold-harmless agreement] on which the client can describe what kind of consent and what kind of limitations with hold for the session or class. A discussion of Reiki hand positions and signing of the form should take place before the session or class to make sure that the client/student fully understands what is being proposed. For this reason, all clients/students should be of legal age to sign such a document, or have a parent present to sign for them, in addition to the person signing for themselves. Even this measure will not prevent attempts at legal actions, but it will serve as a gesture of goodwill, understanding, and agreement between adults as to how a Reiki session will be conducted.

My waiver provides specific check boxes for making breasts, groin, and buttocks off-limits [which boxes I always expect to see checked off, and which provide a defined opportunity to express such limitations], as well as check boxes to express other limits for touch. In addition, I provide a space for the recipient to describe special needs or wants for receiving touch, based on their unique life experiences. I keep these signed waivers permanently. I also tell the recipient that they may either further limit or stop touching at any time, without explanation as to why, or may lift one or more restrictions in the same way.

Certain problems to avoid are those pertaining to areas which might be touched, or those about types of clothing. I generally say that the entire body may be touched, without exception, [as a way of urging the client to be clear about their wants], unless the recipient clearly restricts touch by checking off those areas which should not be touched, those which should receive Reiki from a distance of several inches, or those which should receive no Reiki at all.

At times, Reiki clients report feeling additional hands on their body [which are not the provider's hands, or those of any other person present]. This puzzling sensation [which Reiki practitioners understand through experience] might produce legal consequences if not fully explained ahead of time. I always explain this possible phenomenon prior to a session and urge the recipient to ask me to stay where I am then and to look or feel at the point that they think that they feel another hand. Invariably, they are surprised to find my hands at quite another location which is nowhere near to the point at which they feel this "phantom" touch.

When I start a session, I always ask verbally if I may begin. In addition, if I sense that the recipient is uncomfortable with touching, I will ask if I should stop, or provide Reiki from several inches above the body. Although I am personally comfortable about giving touch to anyone on any part of the body, in my actions, I presume that the recipient might be uncomfortable, at least initially, with anything which I might do, and conduct myself accordingly.

Reiki insurance for the practitioner is of some use, but will usually exclude coverage for those acts which might be viewed as against the law. Such insurance usually is required by a facility in which you will do Reiki, as a "feel-good" safeguard. If there is ever any doubt as to the possibility of the recipient being litigious, I suggest having another trusted adult in the session room at all times. Remember, every Reiki student is also a Reiki client for the purpose of this discussion, since giving and receiving Reiki is part of every class curriculum.

Touching another person in a any way or area which is not part of everyday social interactions can be, at times, very difficult for a client to accept initially, even though the client voluntarily chose to ask for a Reiki session. Such touching has always been taught as part of the traditional 14 hand positions. It brings a responsibility to the provider to anticipate the recipient's needs and fear/uncertainty about being touched by an approach which explains, reassures and does not do anything, even symbolically, which might trigger being uncomfortable. When in doubt, do not touch a client until any such issue is clearly resolved without any pressure or suggestions. The practitioner must always provide a safe and reassuring location and atmosphere for the client, as well as one which limits the practitioner's possible exposure to legal actions.