Updated: May 27
Crystal healing is an alternative medical technique in which crystals and other stones are used to cure ailments and protect against disease. Proponents of this technique believe that crystals act as conduits for healing — allowing positive, healing energy to flow into the body as negative, disease-causing energy flows out.
In our series on healing crystals and alternative medicine, we have learned that when traditional medicine fails, alternative medicine seems the way to go. Over the years, alternative medicine paved the way to a multi-billion dollar industry and surveys show the continuous rise of faith in these ancient beliefs. There are some businesses and wellness brands who are already acting on this resurfacing trend, either reorienting their businesses towards a more inclusive approach, whereas others focus on community building around their niche.
With so many brands and businesses contributing to the rising popularity of wellness and community-based alternative medicine, it is important to understand and be educated on the underlying research and science that backs various claims.
The Controversy Surrounding Healing Crystals
Although crystal healing has seen an upsurge in popularity in recent years, this alternative treatment is not popular with most medical doctors and scientists, many of whom refer to crystal healing as a pseudoscience. Scientifically , there is no evidence that crystal healing can cure diseases, because we have never found diseases to result from a so-called energy flow in the body. No scientific studies have shown that crystals and gems of a specific chemical composition or color can treat a particular ailment.
Healing crystals remain popular at health spas and at New Age health clinics, sometimes incorporated into related practices of massage and Reiki. Using crystals in such environments may help induce relaxation, although this effect is also speculative.
How Gemstone Treatments Work
During a gemstone treatment session, a healer may place various stones or crystals on the body aligned with chakra points, roughly in the regions above the head, on the forehead, on the throat, on the chest, on the stomach, on the gut, and on the genital area. They may select the stones used and their positioning for the symptoms reported by the patient. This process is influenced by the healer's knowledge of, and belief in, the chakra philosophy of disease and energy imbalances.
Crystal healing also involves the use of crystals and stones worn on the body or placed under pillows to ward off sickness, shed negative energy or absorb positive energy, according to Crystal Vaults, a company that sells such crystals, which it refers to as "talismans" or "amulets."
Healing Crystals, Wellness, and the Placebo Effect
While there are no scientific studies on the efficacy of crystal healing, there is a study that suggests that crystal healing may induce a placebo effect in a patient who receives this type of treatment.
Placebo effects are effects that accompany a treatment that are not directly due to the treatment itself acting on the disease of the patient, according to Christopher French, head of the anomalistic psychology research unit at the University of London.
A person may feel better after undergoing crystal healing treatment, but there is no scientific proof that this result has anything to do with the crystals being used during the treatment. In 2001, French and his colleagues at Goldsmiths College at the University of London presented a paper at the British Psychological Society Centenary Annual Conference in Glasgow, in which they outlined their study of the efficacy of crystal healing.
In his study, French gave 80 volunteers booklets explaining the sensations they might have while holding crystals, including tingling limbs, increased concentration, and heightened energy. Following that, he gave half of the participants genuine gemstones and the other half fakes made of cheap plastic. Those volunteers holding a fake were just as likely to respond physically as those holding the real thing. French’s conclusion: The power of suggestion -- not flowing energy -- was to credit.
"There is no evidence that crystal healing works over and above a placebo effect," French told Live Science. "That is the appropriate standard to judge any form of treatment. But whether or not you judge crystal healing, or any other form of [complementary and alternative medicine], to be totally worthless depends upon your attitude to placebo effects."
As French pointed out, there are many forms of treatment that have no therapeutic effect other than a placebo effect. However, while these treatments might make you feel better temporarily, there is no proof that they can actually cure diseases or treat health conditions. If you're suffering from a serious medical issue, seek treatment from a licensed physician, not an alternative healer, French said.
Understanding Placebo-based Treatments
Some psychologists support the notion that if one believes in the power of healing crystals, that they just might help to generate positive benefits.
The mere act of taking control of your destiny can often boost hope, brighten mood, and improve your ability to cope with a chronic condition, says psychologist Stuart Vyse, author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition."
"There is no scientific evidence to support the medical effectiveness of any of these remedies,” he says. "But there is the possibility that they might have an indirect psychological benefit."
Wellness Rituals and the Power of Suggestion
Many studies have shown that short-wavelength blue light can suppress sleep-inducing melatonin, while longer-wavelength reddish-orange lights can stimulate calming brain chemicals, Giordano says. “Himalayan salt lamps put out a really nice, pinkish light, and it’s certainly possible that could induce a feeling of emotional well-being in some people.”
While Himalayan salt lamp sellers say their lamps give off negative ions that can boost feel-good brain chemicals, they can cite no quality studies.
“Is there something about Himalayan salt that releases negative ions in the air and has a therapeutic effect on the human body at a distance? From everything I have read, I would have to say ‘No,’” says James Giordano, PhD, a professor in the departments of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University.
“But that is not to say they don’t help some people,” he says. “And there may be other things at play that scientists don’t have the tools to study yet...sometimes we scientists think we know how things work, or don’t work, and we really don’t.”
Citing the placebo effect, Giordano surmises that the ritual of turning on a salt lamp, donning a crystal, or paying a visit to a reiki practitioner, with the expectation it can help you, can evoke measurable changes in the brain and body.
But people should keep in mind that the placebo effect, while it may lessen symptoms, can’t cure disease, says Giordano. “I view the greatest potential harm with these modalities as one of omission. If people put too much stock in these and don’t utilize medical resources needed for their conditions, that can be a real problem.”
Placebo Effects and the Influence of Suggestion
“We are talking about a real biological process, not something you are just making up,” says Kaptchuk.
Ted Kaptchuk, PhD, director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School, says the placebo effect is often wrongly assumed to be “all in your head” -- a “fake” response to an inert substance. However, brain imaging studies have shown that when a patient performs an action, for instance, taking a sugar pill or taking part in an acupuncture session, the experience activates specific regions in the brain and can trigger the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and natural painkillers.
Compounding this notion, many studies have shown that when patients are told they are receiving a drug that will ease pain, they respond twice as well as when they administered that drug secretly (through an IV or otherwise) -- a fact that suggests a large portion of prescription drugs’ effectiveness comes from the power of suggestion.
How New Age Beliefs Relate to Wellness Trends
A 2018 Pew survey found that 62% of US adults believed in at least one New Age belief (spiritual energy can be located in physical objects, psychics, reincarnation, astrology). This was true for both those who do and do not consider themselves members of a mainstream religion (although the lowest belief group was atheists at 22%). The modern crystal healing phenomenon dates back to the 1970s.
Americans -- particularly those struggling with chronic disease -- are very open to experimenting with unproven treatments.
The popularity of this pure “wellness” pseudoscience has been surging in the last few years, and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. We attribute this increasing popularity, in part, to the general rising tide of new age beliefs.
The Popular Appeal of Mainstream Pseudoscience
Crystal healing has many of the hallmarks of alternative medicine and pseudoscience, and is just another manifestation of many common themes. It is energy medicine. Proponents claim that different crystals either contain, amplify, attract, or repel different energy.
For mainstream practitioners, how does one select the optimal crystal for a treatment?
We can find many guides, which use the typical CAM standard. What this illustrates is the human tendency to develop explanatory systems and elaborate on them. We are good at finding patterns and inventive at extrapolating solutions. The history of pseudoscience is full of such systems, complex and detailed, but ultimately based on nothing tangible from the perspective of science.
The Bottom line
We base some claims on another common theme in some alternative systems – the superstition of sympathetic magic. This is the intuition that something will have an effects suggested by what it looks like.
Crystal healing is a complementary and natural approach, meaning it can be used alongside traditional medicine and has no significant negative side-effect, while the benefits of healing crystals vary on multiple levels.
Perhaps the most common benefit reported is the deep relaxation that takes place during a session. In summation, the type of relaxation helps aid general wellness and is useful when treating stress and anxiety. On an emotional and spiritual level, healing crystals can help enhance self-esteem, encourage clarity, and inspire a sense of peace and centeredness, which is why people continue to become attracted to their popularity.
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