Over the last month, several people have asked me whether you can absorb or take on the illness or emotional state of someone you’re treating. This question becomes more pressing as we start treating a variety of people and conditions.

Therapists of all stripes know the feeling of being depleted after working with many people in a day or after working with certain types of clients. Most complementary and alternative therapies include techniques for protecting, sustaining, or rebuilding the practitioner’s energy before and after sessions. Reiki does not.

What makes Reiki unique? In Reiki we connect directly with life essence, our essence—the ground of our own being and the ground of being for everyone else. We engage that “something” that imbues all life and that is not separate from us.

While I had no idea what Reiki was when I first encountered it, feeling depleted by other people was a big issue for me. Working in a psychiatric halfway house after graduating from college, I had learned the hard way that I didn’t know how to maintain my own boundaries. I was a sponge and paid the price. When my husband first heard Hawayo Takata talk about Reiki, she mentioned that you didn’t pick up things from other people. When I heard this, I sensed it was true and felt enormous relief. It was exactly what I needed to know in order to take that First Degree class.

I learned that when we place our hands on someone, we automatically align with that pulsation of life essence, and the person we treat resonates with that vibration. It doesn’t matter whether we are conscious of this or not. This is the protection implicit in the practice—we are “working” outside of a dualistic environment and there is nothing to harm us.

You know this experience: when you finish treating people, you feel relaxed, centered, and connected. In a sense, you are not “doing” anything. In the treatment, you initiate and maintain the connection by placing your hands on the person. The healing process takes place between the recipient and Reiki.

And, once in awhile you might find yourself feeling disturbed after a treatment. If that happens, look to see if you are trying to do something, to make something happen, or if you are attached to an outcome. Check to see if the client is mirroring something about you, perhaps your own personal issue. It may be something in their condition or their personality. That said, occasionally we encounter a person we are not comfortable treating, and we may or may not know why. In those moments, respect your own needs and intuition. You are not required to treat them, and you can always refer them to someone else.

Lastly, it goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—at the heart of our practice is self-treatment. Whether we are caring for others professionally, caring for a family, or just trying to get through our day, we need to care for ourselves. Do take the time to treat yourself every day.