A Critical Review of ‘Crystal clear: Paranormal powers, placebo, or priming?’ and ‘Hypnotic susceptibility, paranormal belief and reports of crystal power.’
I am currently a PhD Biotechnology student and crystal enthusiast. As such I am always on the lookout for scientific studies based around alternative healing, especially what is known as ‘crystal healing’. The general logic behind crystal healing is that crystals facilitate healing through various techniques, which include the placement of stones on chakras of the body, combinational therapy with Reiki or simply by wearing or having them in your environment where they act as potent symbols of positivity and spiritual well-being (Ref 1). Crystals are used as healing tools, but the descriptions and definitions of exactly how crystals leads to healing are often not well expressed. I will discuss the following concepts relating to crystal healing:
- Its symbolism,
- Belief-based healing with reference to the power of suggestion and placebo effects,
- Observed results can exist scientifically before understanding,
- Known benefits of alternative healing disciplines and its applicability to crystal healing; and
- Logical limitations of crystal healing given current knowledge (just as one would not use cancer medication for a headache – so cancer medication has limitations in the treatment of headaches)
The scientific community has generally dismissed crystal healing as a form of pseudoscience (Ref 2). It is viewed as a belief-based healing system working with the power of suggestion that generates placebo effects (Ref 2). It is clear that any person with a science degree would surely be ridiculed for promotion of crystal healing or any alternate version of energy healing (hence me writing this under my alias). As a scientist and agnostic atheist I have a slightly different view on the matter and would like to discuss the scientific knowledge and scientific gaps surrounding such forms of healing. There are actually no reliable scientific studies on crystal healing, probably because of the stigma associated with it and there is no scientific authority to say what crystal healing actually is or could achieve.
“Definition of healing (noun) in English: The process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.” – Oxford Dictionaries
One of the most cited information critiquing crystals healing is that of Drs French, O’Donnell and Williams. The research was presented at two international conferences (Ref 3 and 4), but has not been published in any peer reviewed journal. Information straight from the source is lacking as well and thus I had to make do with second and third-hand information (Ref 2, 5 and 6). The study looked at whether crystal healing believers and sceptics could ascertain the ‘energetic’ differences between real and ‘fake’ crystals when held in their hands and meditated upon for 5 minutes. It was found that both groups reported similar impressions regardless of the crystal being real or a glass substitute or whether they were paranormal believers or not. Primed participants reported crystal-induced sensation more often than non-primed participants and believers were twice as likely to report sensations due to their increased susceptibility towards hypnotism and suggestion. Feedback regarding sensation included tingling in the body, improved attention, balancing of emotions, a rise in hand temperature, an increase of energy levels, an improved sense of wellbeing, relaxation of the forehead, stimulation of the brain, an increased swallowing reflex and the “activation of all levels of consciousness”. Six participants (of 80, 7.5%) reported no sensations. Apparently, the most reported sensations were that the participants’ hands warmed during the session or that they felt an increase in concentration (sensations involving the head).
“The power of suggestion, either explicit or implicit, seems to be the not-so-mysterious power that may convince many that crystals have the potential to work miracles. The data presented are consistent with the idea that believers in the paranormal are more susceptible to this power.”
– Dr C. French.
These results have been widely portrayed as evidence that crystal healing ‘does not work’. I would like to point out a few things regarding this study:
1. It has been scientifically shown that;
a. One’s body, especially one’s hands, heats up during meditation (Ref 7),
b. Meditation alters brains waves and increases concentration (Ref 8),
c. Meditation improves your mood and psychological well-being (Ref 9 & 10),
d. Several breathing techniques including yoga, meditation and chanting restore optimal homeostasis in the body by reducing allostatic load in stress response systems (Ref 11).
2. There is no difference between glass and crystal at a chemical level (i.e. silicon dioxide, SiO2) and various amorphous minerals (without crystalline structure such as glass) form staples of crystal healing. For example: obsidian (volcanic glass), opal, tektite, amber (organic resin), chert, jet and moldavite (Ref 12 & 13).
The bias of the researchers is apparent with their statement “potential to work miracles”, which is aimed at ridicule and not to establish whether there is a scientifically measurable benefit. Using the same logic as these researchers one can ridicule cancer medication if a researcher tried to apply it to curing headaches or AIDS, because it will also not have the “potential to work miracles”.
Allowing subjects to meditate during the study introduces noise into the results and conflates the apparent effect of the crystals with the known effect of meditation – the two essentially become inseparable as the sensations investigated during the study can all be attributed to meditation alone. Hence, this study did not measure the effects of crystals, but rather the effects of meditation – or their combination, which equates to an inconclusive result. Also trying to determine whether candidates could feel ‘crystal energy’ is not a well-defined question and is laced with subjective bias (as indicated by ‘the power of suggestion’). The observations in the study are basically irrelevant with regards to any test of crystal differentiation let alone to establish if crystals have any contextual healing or benefits for patients.
Additionally, this apparent ‘crystal energy’ is not defined nor can it be measured (this can be either due to its non-existence or due to the fact that we do not possess the necessary equipment of measurement). Thus, the question posed is one of pure psychology and personal beliefs. The researchers want to rely on the subjective responses of the participants rather than hard scientific measurements. What exactly was the null hypothesis in this case? What where the researchers trying to establish? The whole environment surrounding this experiment was contaminated with bias and subjectivity right from the start and therefore, no conclusions of substance can be obtained from such work.
Next, to contrast the effects of crystal and glass, which are both tools of crystal healing, is akin to comparing water and ice in the preparation of beverages and asking patrons to ‘taste’ the difference – it is effectively the same thing and logic holds that should crystals have a ‘spiritual energy’ this energy should technically be very similar in nature to that of glass because it has the same origins in this instance. Therefore, I do not deem this research as evidence to the ineffectiveness of crystal healing, since it has conflated its variable factors and also shows a lack of clarity on the part of the authors on the subject their investigation.
An experiment which does not comply with a proper scientific method will not yield any informative results. The worst form of science-abuse is when an experiment serves only to facilitate the satisfaction of ego behind a veneer of scientific method for an already prejudged outcome.
I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that sometimes treatments work, but we don’t necessarily know why, for instance a recent study reported that a hysterosalpingography treatment with poppy seed oil increases the rates of on-going pregnancy and live births in seemingly infertile women. It was reported that on-going pregnancy occurred in 39.7% out of the oil-contrast test group of infertile women within 6 months of the treatment and that oil-contrast had a higher efficacy (10.6%) than water-contrast methods (Ref 15) (yet nobody knows why and the effects of poppy seed oil on female fertility have long been suspected, since 1917, but no-one had investigated it properly until now). Factually we see that medical science includes treatments which work but “why” it works is unknown. Yet few would extend the same courtesy to alternative healing disciplines such as crystal healing in the correct context. Truth be told the poppy seed oil treatment overlaps with herbalism and if the herbalist had prescribed the poppy seed oil treatment for infertile patients would it also have been ridiculed?
I would like to make a few suggestions on possible methods to study the effects of crystal healing. One would be the direct investigation of the placebo-effect of crystal healing by giving people crystals to wear or have in their environment, opposed to those receiving (for instance) a block of wood instead and determining the physical as well as psychological effects of each. It could be done in a double-blind investigation where on the one hand patients are not made aware of the apparent effects, while on the other hand one where they are. The results must be measured in a scientific manner such as measuring the levels of hormones in the bodies of participants which are associated with an expected result. This would include the measurement of cortisol or endorphin levels of patients receiving long-term alternate healing or stress management treatment as opposed to those that do not, such studies have been already been conducted on meditation with favourable outcomes (Ref 16). Studies could also include analyses of brain behaviour, such as those done for acupuncture (Refs 17 & 18), another alternative healing discipline which has also been ridiculed and labelled as pseudoscience despite studies to the contrary.
It is known that stress induces illness through the release of corticosteroids in the body (Refs 11 & 16), which predisposes people to infection and inflammation (Ref 19). Stress exacerbates disease, including the leading causes of mortality in the US namely; heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, as well as morbidity disorders, such as depression, anxiety and chronic pain (Ref 16). Lowering of stress levels therefore aids in the prevention of disease and lessens the symptoms of pre-existing diseases or ailments (Ref 11). This falls right within the scope of crystal healing, which aims to provide a relaxing (non-judgemental) environment for the client with the use of non-invasive, highly symbolic and chemical free tools.
How or why exactly many people have benefitted from crystal healing we cannot yet conclusively answer, much speculation still exists and I have yet to see definitive results that show that people simply cannot benefit from such treatments in any possible way. I would like to state that it is highly doubtful that crystal healing (or any other alternative healing) will cure cancer or AIDS. Furthermore, both practitioner and client should realise and be responsible about it when an ailment has moved beyond the exclusive assistance of crystal healing (the same goes for crystal healing on animals). However, I do feel strongly about the fact that our society relies too heavily on substance abuse (such as pharmacological and recreational drugs, nicotine and alcohol) for every perceived problem, especially for minor and stress-induced ailments, where holistic healing provides a safer, long-term and generally less expensive alternative. There is a context for crystal healing where a properly defined and designed study can evaluate its benefits beyond the simplistic subjective observations of participants.
Crystal healing forms part of what is known as Mind-Body medicine based on psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) (Ref 19 & 20), where “PNI provides biochemical evidence for the communication interface among emotions, thoughts, perceptions, and the neuroendocrine and immune systems.” Mind-Body medicine or alternative medicine can provide support to conventional biomedical based models of healing (Ref 21 & 22) and together they have the potential to heal patients on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels as well as preventing disease through the enhancement of an individual patient’s innate healing capabilities. There are even discussions surrounding Mind-Body medicine effects at a quantum level (Ref 23)! So perhaps the patients of crystal healing or crystal healers themselves feel the energetic differences at a quantum level through the use of crystals as quantum tools? It would most certainly complicate any scientific measurement, but as long as both parties still remain reasonable as to the limits of crystal healing– then I say let them be and let them enjoy the experience for what it is. In this world rampant with stress and a never-ending rush towards the next item on the to-do list, we far too often forget to let ourselves simply be and to create a supportive environment where our bodies can heal from the demands we place upon it and where we can reinvigorate our immune system. Crystals and crystal healing seem to hold some of the answers to creating such a beneficial environment. Perhaps the next scientists will focus on designing a solid scientific study with measured scientific results to evaluate the benefits of crystal healing even when science does not know “why”.
- Ilse Truter (2006) CRYSTAL HEALING and GEM THERAPY – “Using energy vibrations to heal and harmonise”. SA Pharmaceutical Journal. 54-57
- O. Micke et. al. (2010) Mystical stones in oncology: crystal healing power or perfect nonsense? Trace Elements and Electrolytes 27(2): 73-79
- French, C. C, & Williams, L. (1999). Crystal clear: Paranormal powers, placebo, or priming? Sixth European Congress of Psychology, Rome, 49 July 1999.
- French, C.C, O’Donnell, H. and Williams, L. (2001) Hypnotic susceptibility, paranormal belief and reports of crystal power. British Psychological Society Centenary Annual Conference, Glasgow, 28 March 2001.
- My Informed Life (2014) Does crystal therapy really work? Article
- David Derbyshire and Celia Hall (2001) New Age crystal power is all in the mind. Telegraph Article
- Kozhevnikov M., et. al. (2013) Neurocognitive and Somatic Components of Temperature Increases during gTummo Meditation: Legend and Reality. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58244. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0058244
- Sara W. Lazar et. al. (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 16(17): 1893–1897.
- Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014) Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for Improved Psychological Well-being: A Qualitative Examination of Participant Experiences. J Relig Health (2014) 53: 849. doi:10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0
- Melissa A. Tanner et. al. (2009) The Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology 65(6): 574-589.
- C. C. Streeter et. al. (2012) Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses 78: 571–579.
- Katrina Raphaell, 1985. Crystal Enlightenment: The Transforming Properties of Crystals and Healing Stones. Aurora Press, USA.
- Michael Gienger, 2009. Healing Crystals: the A-Z guide to 430 gemstones. Earthdancer Books, Scottland.
- Leonardo, quoted in J. Cacioppo, L. Tassinary, and G. Berntson, eds. Handbook of Psychophysiology. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press 2000, 20. Retrieved from J. H Austin (M. D.) (2006), Zen-Brain Reflections.
- Kim Dreyer et. al. (2017) Oil-Based or Water-Based Contrast for Hysterosalpingography in Infertile Women. New England Journal of Medicine.
- Rose H. Matousek, Patricia L. Dobkin and Jens Pruessner (2010) Cortisol as a marker for improvement in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 16: 13-19.
- B. Pomeranz. Scientific research into acupuncture for the relief of pain. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1996; 2:53–60
- T. Kaptchuk. Acupuncture: Theory, efficacy, and practice. Annals of Internal Medicine 2002;136:374–383.
- Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser et. al. (2002) Psychoneuroimmunology and Psychosomatic Medicine: Back to the Future. Psychosomatic Medicine 64:15–28
- Susan Slager Johnson and Robert F. Kushner (2001) Mind/Body Medicine: An Introduction for the Generalist Physician and Nutritionist. Nutrition in Clinical Care 4 (5): 256–264
- Roxana Delgado et. al. (2014) Assessing the Quality, Efficacy, and Effectiveness of the Current Evidence Base of Active Self-Care Complementary and Integrative Medicine Therapies for the Management of Chronic Pain: A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature. Pain Medicine 15: S9–S20
- Judy Singer and Jon Adams (2014) Integrating complementary and alternative medicine into mainstream healthcare services: the perspectives of health service managers. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 14:167
- Journal of Nonlocality Round Table Series Colloquium #3. (2013) Tinkering with the Unbearable Lightness of Being: Meditation, Mind-Body Medicine and Placebo in the Quantum Biology Age. Journal of Nonlocality 2 (2): 1-68
C. G Jung, M. -L. von Franz, Joseph L. Henderson, Jolande Jacobi and Aniela Jaffé eds. Man and his Symbols. New York, USA, Anchor Press Books, 1964.
For a comprehensive list of meditation benefits with links to scientific studies please see: SCIENTIFIC BENEFITS OF MEDITATION – 76 THINGS YOU MIGHT BE MISSING OUT @ LiveandDare.com
1. Tumbled crystal – ponce_photography @ Pixabay Free Images
2. Clear Quartz –wingsofcomapssion @ Pixabay Free Images
3. Flower of Life Leonardo da Vinci @ Wikimedia Commons
4. Metratron’s Compass Cube by TheCatHatter @ ANS Online Store
5. Amethyst – abyszz @ Pixabay Free Images
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