Updated: May 21
As practitioners (on ourselves and others), the more we do Reiki, the more we discover inner landscapes that often need healing. One of the blessings of being human is that we feel so much in response to the world around us. Our experiences sometimes include personal trauma. Reiki is one of the most powerful personal tools I know for healing trauma, and I'd love to share my guidelines with you for how I approach it in healing.
What is Trauma?
The American Psychological Association website defines Trauma as "an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives." It took me years to recognize that some of my actions and patterns had been developed as a response to traumas in my own life. Part of what allowed me to see and begin healing around that, was leaning into my daily Reiki self-practice.
With clients, trauma can be a lot easier to spot once you're keeping an eye out for it. Your clients may have acute trauma, chronic trauma, or complex trauma. Acute trauma may occur because of a distressing event. As a result of what they have previously been through (whether recently OR years ago)their energetic system expresses a trauma response. In many ways, it is as if their body is still in a fight or flight even if nothing immediate seems to be of concern.
In session space, this can look like clients with high anxiety who have trouble processing what you're saying even if it is simple. They may energetically feel fragile, or they might even show up as demanding or aggressive. A combination of an inability to maintain reason, scattered thought & attention, easy confusion, and worry, often points to acute trauma. Even if the trauma happened a while back, clients in trauma may be energetically stuck in the moment. We see so many people going through life in this way that it may even be normalized for them, or for us! However, if there is an acute trauma response, then unwinding it with Reiki is ideal, so that other traumas don't build on top of it.
It's not uncommon for people seeking healing to have varying degrees of trauma, so at the outset it's good to remember that, and to listen in to the cues that your client is showing you, in how how they react to what you're saying and doing. Be kind, compassionate, and thoughtful in your responses to them. It's easy to get frustrated if you're communicating with someone who can't seem to focus, and has a high distress level, but if you realize that they are being affected by something scary, then it's easy to be compassionate. If you feel you can't hold the space for your own emotional reasons, or if you recognize that they are going through levels of anxiety or challenges with reality that are beyond your educational awareness and ability, then you can always bow out of the session.
Chronic trauma occurs when someone has been through multiple recurring experiences of trauma. Domestic violence in which there are multiple episodes of abuses is an example of chronic trauma. Bullying, societal or cultural threat and intimidation, war, or even long term illness, can all lead to chronic trauma. When the body system is overwhelmed and goes into a fight-flight-or-freeze mode, from which the client isn't fully able to return, then there is trauma, and it becomes chronic through repetition. Soldiers who have been to war and return with flashbacks, extreme exhaustion or depression, physical pain, emotional flashes (aggressive angry outbursts or emotional meltdowns), and other intense symptoms that are related to previous experiences, are all examples of how chronic trauma can play out. Most law enforcement officials I've seen in Reiki sessions have a form of chronic trauma, and I also consider whether it's at play for anyone who has an ongoing chronic illness.
Trauma becomes complex trauma when multiple forms or sources of trauma build on top of one another. This is the most common form of trauma I've seen with clients, as they may have some combination of childhood traumas or neglect, and current traumatic experiences intertwined, such as a recent car accident and near death experience that resonates with years-old memories for the client.
Healing Trauma with Reiki
As a Reiki practitioner, healing trauma with Reiki is not something that can be forced. Part of trauma is often that the sense of personal safety and personal power of the client has been taken away. This is the same if you're healing your own trauma within. So with Reiki, we always want to be very gentle, and trusting the flow of energy to do the heavy lifting. This means:
Use Less Words. It's tempting to want to explain away trauma, and heal a client's trauma mindset by explaining to them what happened and why. While some explanation of the nature of trauma is absolutely helpful, remember that emotions can not be explained away. They must be felt and released in the body in order to clear. Less words during session, and less time psychoanalyzing the trauma, will allow your client to simply feel.
When I have clients who want to talk, I hold space to listen, and try to allow the client to be heard. Times when I haven't been able to effectively do this, the client and I have then gone in mental circles around the trauma, but they don' t feel better in a lasting way. Thus, it's best to use less words, and let your client have the experience of being with their body, and with the Reiki energy. This can effectively be done whether you are distance healing or in person.
Use A Full Body Approach. To help heal trauma in the body, draw your client's nervous system back into a neutral state. You can do this by focusing healing Reiki systematically head to toe, and front to back, in the style of Hayashi's hand positions (see the Reiki 1 Manual if you've taken Reiki Training with me). This helps distribute and balance energy throughout the meridian system. If your client seems to be especially wound after the first 25 minutes, then on a second session, begin by focusing into their adrenals at their back, the base of their sacrum, and feet, before laying hands wherever called.
I always trust intuitive laying on of hands, as this is what the original founder Mikao Usui did, and even Dr. Hayashi expressed that it was ideal. He only developed hand positions to help students who might not yet have developed education and sensitivity in that process.
Do 3 Sessions Minimum. For trauma or stress, I usually suggest to clients that they have a minimum of 3 sessions. The first session allows them to receive an overall balancing Reiki, and for you to notice what they need in order to drop into surrender and safety within their body. Again, this is the same whether in-person or via distance. The second session creates deeper release for what was previously unseen. The third session creates balance in the client's body. Some clients need more than 3 sessions. You will both know as you begin to work together. Still other clients may seem great after just one session, but the rest of the sessions create deeper realignment and balance.
Believe your client. If your client says before or during session they have been through something traumatic, believe it. If they tell you something that sounds traumatic (like an abuse story of some sort, or a terrible interaction) but they don't tell it as traumatic, they may be numb, or they may not realize the level of trauma they are experiencing. Whether you are in conversation or not, take this information into your practitioner process, and recognize from that point forward, that you're healing trauma--even if they came in for something else.
Keep it extra gentle. For clients with trauma, keep it extra gentle. I'm a fairly boisterous person, and a bit of class clown at times. We have so much fun in sessions, and I don't believe that healing has to be super serious all of the time. That said, when a client has been through trauma, or is moving in the world with layers of complex PTSD and doesn't know it, I've found through trial and error, and many experiences, that they are best served with gentleness, soft-spoken words, slower dialogue, and a simple, practical approach. Sly humor, sophisticated intellectual approach, and tough love don't belong in a trauma-based session, even if your client is an intellectual type, or speaks with a lot of off-handed self-depreciating humor. These may be coping mechanisms for the trauma.
Know when you're out of your depths. Remember many people have trauma, and as a Reiki practitioner you can hold a beautiful space. If you feel inspired to learn more about how to be trauma-informed as a practitioner, there are many in-person and online trainings around how to hold space for people who have experienced trauma. Taking classes and learning more can only help you to hold a safer, sacred space for your clients' healing. At the same time, if you are ever with a client and feel that the work has moved beyond your skillset, always refer out. To truly hold space for others, we must develop a gentle awareness of when the work is going into spaces that are not about Reiki, or are not a part of our healing skillset.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Post below!
And if you would like to receive healing or go deeper in this discussion through private session or practitioner consult work with me, send me a message!
DAILEY LITTLE is a healing practitioner, transformational life coach, ordained Priestess, and teacher who founded Healing Heart Reiki to help others navigate life with joy. She offers private sessions, and teaches classes in healing and mindset from a magical peaceful corner of the world in Northern California. For more info see: www.SantaRosaReiki.com