Without question, nursing is a demanding vocation. In fact, it may be one of the most stressful professions, as nurses are in close and often continuous contact with illness, debility, loss, and death. Yet, unlike police and fire fighters, other "first responders" in tragic situations, nurses often lack the supportive resources to assist with work-related psychological consequences.1
The International Council of Nurses defines job stress as "the harmful emotional and physical reactions resulting from the
interactions between the worker and her/his work environment where the
demands of the job exceed the worker’s capabilities and resources."2 Organizational demands such as excessive workload, inadequate staffing, role conflict, non-supportive work climate, and lack of teamwork can contribute to burnout from work problems.3
Compassion fatigue results from relationship issues with patients and families -- nurses internalize feelings of sadness, loss, and guilt associated with the compassion they feel for those they nurse. Often referred to as "the cost of caring," compassion fatigue is understudied and rarely the focus of preventive interventions.4 Hence, nurses are charged with undertaking their own plans for self-care to counter the deleterious demands of nurse work.
The use of complementary approaches within the United States is growing exponentially. Reiki therapy is a modality of increasing popularity because it is non-invasive, inexpensive, and not dependent on technology. The premise for Reiki therapy is that through the medium of light touch, positive life force energy can be channeled to one's self and others.5
Reiki is postulated to realign, recharge, and rebalance biofield human energy that fosters optimal conditions for health and healing, including an increased resistance to stress. Lasting three to five days, the positive effects of Reiki have been noted for sleep, pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, muscle tension, and depression. While systematic investigation of Reiki outcomes is limited, there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence describing the positive effects of this intervention.
Four publications have described nurses' use of Reiki therapy for self-care.6-9
These authors note that self-Reiki has the potential to foster numerous outcomes for nurses, including having a greater sense of balance and centeredness, reduction of stress, adding clarity to job focus, enhanced nurse satisfaction with work, and a greater sense of personal awareness, which, in turn, can increase engagement in self-care behaviors. While we can't quantify this yet, it makes sense that nurses can better promote the health and well-being of their patients if they take better care of themselves. Early recognition of stress-related symptoms, and implementing a self-care action plan to counter workplace demands, can facilitate both a healthier professional and personal life.10
Consider the following. At your next educational event, invite a Reiki therapist to be present at breaks to demonstrate the therapy, or plan an entire educational event focusing on complementary approaches. Be sure to include in this offering a "show and tell" component, rather than simply having a lecture on the modality. Ask your patients what complementary approaches they have tried outside of the institutional setting, and what their experience was.
The American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) has published a position statement endorsing energy work such as Reiki as a valid nursing intervention to render holistic care for one's self and others.11 Now is the time to begin learning about and integrating these novel approaches that promote wellness, recovery, and, in turn, hope.
- Boyle DA (2011). Countering compassion fatigue: A requisite nursing agenda. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 16(1), Manuscript 2.
- International Council of Nurses (2009). ICN On Occupational Stress and the Threat to Worker Health. Retrieved from: http://www.icn.ch/images/stories/documents/publications/fact_sheets/19H_FS-Occupational_Stress.pdf.
- Aycock N & Boyle D (2009). Interventions to manage compassion fatigue in oncology nursing. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 13(2): 183-191.
- Bush NJ (2009). Compassion fatigue: Are you at risk? Oncology Nursing Forum, 36(1): 24-28.
- Engebretson J & Wardell D (2007). Energy-based modalities. Nursing Clinics of North America, 42(2): 243-259.
- Cuneo CL, Cooper MR, Drew CS, Naoum-Heffernan C, Sherman T & Walz K (2011). The effect of Reiki on work-related stress of the registered nurse. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 29(1): 33-43.
- Vitale A (2009). Nurses' lived experience of Reiki for self-care. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(3): 129-145.
- Brathovde A (2006). Reiki for self-care of nurses and healthcare providers: A pilot study. Holistic Nursing Practice, 20(2): 95-101.
- Gallob R (2003). Reiki: A supportive therapy in nursing practice and self-care for nurses. Journal of the New York State Nurses Association, 34(1).
- Bush NJ & Boyle DA (2012). Self-Healing Through Reflection: A Workbook for Nurses. Hygeia Media: Pittsburgh.
- American Holistic Nurses Association (no date). Position on the role of nurses in the practice of complementary and alternative therapies. Retrieved from: http://www.ahna.org/Resources/Publications/PositionStatements.